cover image THE CHARACTER OF CATS: The Origins, Intelligence, Behavior, and Stratagems of Felis silvestris catus

THE CHARACTER OF CATS: The Origins, Intelligence, Behavior, and Stratagems of Felis silvestris catus

Stephen Budiansky, Author . Viking $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-67

In this enjoyable, enlightening book, Atlantic Monthly correspondent and lay animal expert Budiansky (The Truth About Dogs) explores the mysterious nature of the house cat, that "least tamed and most successful of domestic species." With a narrative voice equally adept at conveying the whimsy of weird cat behaviors and the science behind them, Budiansky leads readers from a consideration of the cat's ancestors (unlike other domesticated animals, who've diverged from their wild counterparts, house cats are not a "biologically distinct species" from, say, African wildcats) through an investigation of feline society (cats are social animals when young and solitary when adult) and on to a discussion of what various laboratory experiments and observations have taught us about cats (there's a "critical window" in kittens' early lives in which they're most open to bonding with people). Budiansky offers a rudimentary cat personality test and a few extremely helpful pages on cat training, but his goal is study—even celebration—rather than advice. Nearly every unique cat behavior gets explained via evolutionary strategies. Why do cats always seem to head for the one person in the room who doesn't like them? Probably because the cat thinks they really do: people who don't like cats tend to avoid looking at them, and cats interpret averted eyes as unthreatening, even inviting. Cat owners are the obvious audience here (75% of them note that their cats chose them), but readers interested in the adaptive relationships between the human world and the animal one should also find plenty to purr about. (June)