The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World

Abigail Tucker. Simon & Schuster, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4767-3823-9

Debut author Tucker, a writer for Smithsonian and a cat lover, avoids cute cat tales while using the science and history of Felis catus to explore cats’ relationship to people. Beginning with a visit to the La Brea Tar Pits, Tucker gives a clear and comprehensible tour of the evolution of the cat. The earliest tamed cats, less domestic recruits than opportunistic invaders, may have just been the boldest of their breed, taking advantage of the food around human encampments. They were not friendly as much as fearless in approaching humans, a trait passed down to their descendants. Tucker neatly moves to the next question: Why did people keep cats around? Environmentally, cats are a disaster. A multitude of places around the world struggle with the chaos cats have caused by overbreeding and killing native creatures. Yet cats remain beloved, possibly because of how much they resemble human young—“fictive kin” in the terms of evolutionary psychologists. How do people react to their fictive kin? Tucker’s informative interviews with werewolf cat breeders, cat lobbyists, and Internet star Little Bub’s owner round out a thoughtful look at the illogical human love of felines. (Oct.)