The Inner Life of Cats

The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions


By Thomas McNamee

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Our feline companions are much-loved but often mysterious. In The Inner Life of Cats, Thomas McNamee blends scientific reportage with engaging, illustrative anecdotes about his own beloved cat, Augusta, to explore and illuminate the secrets and enigmas of her kind.

As it begins, The Inner Life of Cats follows the development of the young Augusta while simultaneously explaining the basics of a kitten’s physiological and psychological development. As the narrative progresses, McNamee also charts cats’ evolution, explores a feral cat colony in Rome, tells the story of Augusta’s life and adventures, and consults with behavioral experts, animal activists, and researchers, who will help readers more fully understand cats.

McNamee shows that with deeper knowledge of cats’ developmental phases and individual idiosyncrasies, we can do a better job of guiding cats’ maturation and improving the quality of their lives. Readers’ relationships with their feline friends will be happier and more harmonious because of this book.



Chapter One

The Kitten

The little black kitten had never felt snow. The snow was fresh-fallen powder, and a single pair of tire tracks led from the gate to the ranch buildings. She called for her mother. She tried to climb out of the tire track, but the snow crumbled beneath her paws and she fell back in. She could not walk very well, but she could walk, so she did, crying for her mother with every step. Night was falling.

She came to a building that smelled of food, and there were people inside, but there was also a dog barking. She continued along the tire track and came to a bridge. After a long moment of hesitation, feeling the deep booming of the water below, the kitten hurried forward, silent now. She followed the track to a wooden wall and could follow it no farther. She struggled along the wall through stiff grass and sharp-crusted snow, afraid, calling again for her mother. She found a little opening in the wall, just whisker-wide, and slipped through. The building smelled of strange things but was not so terribly cold.

She found a pile of rags, licked the snow from between her toes, and fell asleep.

The next morning, a still, cold morning, I saw a little black shape darting amid the unidentifiable junk in the equipment barn. A few clumsy minutes of chase and I had captured the kitten, who quieted as I held her with one hand and tucked her into the front of my jacket. She was shivering.

There was no answer when Elizabeth and I telephoned our only neighbor, an old Norwegian bachelor rancher, the only conceivable source for the miraculous appearance of this tiny furball. I went out looking for tracks, but there weren't any leading from his place. Then I found the kitten's footprints, smaller than a dime, still brightly visible in the snow all the way down our driveway from the county road, more than a quarter of a mile. There were tire tracks in the road showing that a vehicle had turned around. Someone—who? why? in the middle of the night, in a blizzard—had just dumped her there. What kind of person could do such a thing? We were twenty miles of icy dirt road from the nearest town, Livingston, Montana.

She gobbled the tuna and leftover chicken without looking up, and slurped the milk till her belly pooched out tight. It had a little white star at the center, matching the prim white bow tie at her sternum. She was otherwise all black. I cut down a wine box and filled it with spruce needles and leaf duff, and she used it right away, scratching busily to hide her deposit, watching us with wide eyes as we watched her back in proud delight.

We had no call to be so proud, for all cats naturally use litter boxes at first exposure as long as they feel calm and welcome, because the litter box sufficiently resembles the scent-marking spot that all their kind, including their wild ancestors, employ to proclaim, "This is home."

We exiled her from the bedroom that night, but in the morning she greeted us at the refrigerator with her black stump of a tail straight up and vibrating—the universal cat gesture of greeting and confidence. Her evident understanding of indoor life and her readiness to be cradled in palm or elbow made clear that this was no barn cat, nor victim of abuse. The vet in town declared her female, healthy, about three months old, and likely to be "on the energetic side." Her good cheer, he said, was probably partly due to having been tenderly handled as a baby and partly to an inborn sunny nature, a roll of the genetic dice.

Counting three months back made her birthday in August. We gave our gift from the god of chance the name Augusta.

Augusta's first order of business on the ranch was to make a mental map of her new home. It was more than geographic. In the first days after her arrival, the snow kept her confined to the house, and she spent hour on hour tracing the contours of every chair, table, bookcase, telephone, carpet edge, window frame, and pencil holder. She also was also mapping things invisible to people—mouse trails, bug spoor, hundreds of scents tracked in from outside.

All this was largely an exercise in olfactory memory. Only when each scent impression is recorded deep in the hippocampus is it coordinated with an image in the visual region of the cerebral cortex. That coordination is then deeply engrained. The power of your cat's memory is evident when he startles at the slightest change in his customary surroundings. Cats have five times more surface area inside their noses than we do, and three times more receptor nerves per unit of area lining that surface. Of those receptors there are hundreds of types—the possible combinations of scent perceptions, therefore, being nearly infinite.

A cat's hearing is extremely acute—the widest range, in fact, of any mammal except bats. It is equally superior in its directionality: Watch your cat's ears twitch and swivel, each moving independent of the other, as she tunes in on the precise place from which a sound is coming. For Augusta the faintest whisper of breeze on a screen, swirl of snow, or far call of raven was matter for instant, rapt attention. She seemed pure awareness.

During her explorations Augusta did not care to be interrupted. She knew her name very quickly, but she responded to it only selectively. If she was busy mapping, you could wait. She explored to the edge of exhaustion, barely managing to find a cushion or corner before sinking into dreamland. You could pick her up and haul her to bed unconscious like any other infant, all trust and contentment.

She would sleep for hours, limp as a rag doll, then suddenly be seized by a dream, moaning, teeth chattering, feet twitching, eyelids open to show not her eyes but the pink-pearlescent nictitating membrane—a sort of inner eyelid that distributes tears across the surface of a cat's eyes, like a windshield wiper constantly clearing the eye of tiny debris as well as protecting it from infection or scratches. An adult cat's eyes are as big as a human adult's, and she can open the pupils three times as wide. A sort of crystalline mirror behind her retina, the tapetum lucidum, amplifies incoming light by as much as 40 percent. That's what produces the familiar gold-green shine when a cat meets a flashlight beam in the dark.

It is that amplification that allows cats to see in almost complete darkness. They do pay a price for that brilliant advantage, however, some of which you can easily see—the narrow slit that her pupils become in bright light, evidence of her intolerance of excessive dazzle—and some of which you may think a disadvantage but doesn't really matter to the cat, namely, not much in the way of color vision. Another deficit is a meaningful one: Cats really can't focus very well up close. When you extend your palm with a couple of treats as a reward for good behavior or a trick, you may notice that your cat hesitates a moment, sniffing—finding the treat not with vision but by smell.

Augusta spurned store-bought toys in favor of a feather tied to a ribbon. As long as we moved it in just the right way—making it jump from cover, fly from chair to chair, run for dear life—she was thrilled. But if it came toward her, or flew too low or too high, too slow or too fast, there was no game. She taught us to play with her, by her rules. Every toy movement had to emulate wild prey. In this she was not being arbitrary. One of the finest-tuned of cats' senses is their perception of motion. The cat brain's attunement to the slightest gradations of movement has evolved to gauge the flight of prey or the movement of the prey's surroundings that might indicate imminent flight. The cat's visual cortex records images much as an old-fashioned movie camera does—as a fast-moving series of still pictures (faster than the camera, however)—allowing a precise measurement of speed. Hence your cat's ability to intersect the flight of a ball—or of a hummingbird—unerringly. And hence Augusta's utter uninterest in a ball or feather that did not meet her criteria for prey emulation.

A few days after her arrival, the wind known locally as a chinook—the hot dry breath of an exhausted snowstorm—gusted down from the mountains, and in half a morning our snow was gone. Out went Augusta, fearless, tail held high, to map more of her new world. It must have seemed vast, but she was entirely undaunted. We worried that our frisking horses and blundering cows would be big dangers to the tiny kitten, not to mention our case-hardened ranch cats Walter and Penny.

Walter and Penny were big, serious, barn cats. They were not quite feral, but they weren't lap kitties either. Our ranch manager kept a kibble dispenser topped up in the tack room, and on the bitterest winter nights he plugged in a little stove there, so they had a degree of domestic comfort. There was a raw toughness about them as well, however. We had had a number of nocturnal coyote forays that resulted in the deaths of our ducks (three, two, one, none in a week) and then of two ferocious geese. Coyotes had also put an end to a naïve attempt to establish a family of barn cats with a basket of barn-bred kittens. But when coyotes came raiding, Walter and Penny just took to fencepost tops and kept solemn watch. The coyotes knew better than to tangle with them.

When Augusta sniffed her way along the pole fence that served as Walter and Penny's midday observation deck, we were ready to move fast. There was some reason to fear that a pair of long-established cats could well feel compelled to defend their territory, and a territorial attack against a kitten as small as Augusta could be quick and lethal. As she came near, however, and finally passed directly beneath them, Augusta seemed to ignore Walter and Penny altogether, and the big cats, eyes half closed, returned the favor. Undoubtedly both parties were intensely aware of each other, but they did not reveal their awareness in any way perceptible to humans. From then on, Walter and Penny and Augusta were good neighbors, never friendly but always polite.

A continuation of the same pole fence separated the ranch yard from the horse pasture, where we feared she could easily be trampled. The horses were curious, gathering close to snuffle at the furry little explorer, but from how they looked at us and then at her and then at us again it seemed clear that they recognized that respect was due to Augusta. Horses understand rules when they know you are a fair dealer, and it can take little more than a nearly invisible transaction like this one for an agreement to be reached. Horses and cats have a long history of friendship. Cats are not infrequently employed as stall companions for racehorses.

Augusta sometimes sat in the window or on the fence and watched the big beasts at play, but she never entered the horse pasture. The territorial boundary was easy to recognize, since the horses grazed it close all along the fenceline. The treaty required no enforcement. But even had Augusta unthinkingly wandered into the pasture, no horse would ever have harmed her.

What had once been a home corral behind our house was now a scruffy, weedy back yard riddled with the burrows of rodents. Augusta's feather-and-ribbon practice probably hadn't been necessary, for from the first she was a highly accurate tracker. She could smell her way along a network of scent marks, dried urine, scat, stray fur, and all the other clues small creatures leave for sufficiently skilled predators to decode. More useful still, Augusta could tune in to the ultrasonic chatter of rodents deep in their tunnels. Cats can hear higher-frequency sounds than any other terrestrial mammal, quite a bit higher even than dogs—up to one hundred thousand hertz (cycles per second). People max out at about forty thousand, if they haven't been to too many rock concerts or ear-splitting bars (which probably eliminates about half of all American grownups).

Augusta's predatory prowess required snowless ground, which we did have intermittently through the winter, thanks to our valley's merciless winds. The unrelenting gusts drove visitors and unseasoned newcomers half-crazy and blew snow into heaping drifts downwind of dead brown-beaten prairie—huntable, if it was not too cold for the princess kitty, for such she was becoming.

But as she matured, Augusta became not only a princess but a deadly killer. She would wait in what seemed rocklike stillness—an illusion, because in fact she was quivering within—till the moment came for the balletic arc that would pin her prey for the fatal bite to the spinal cord. She would chomp a deer mouse down in two crunches—an ounce, give or take. A shrew was one bite, no more than a quarter of an ounce. At two ounces and therefore, I thought, beyond her capability—I thought wrong—a vole was a real chew. Pocket gophers, ground squirrels, pack rats all truly were, at least for now, impossible, but that didn't keep her from crouching flat and switching her tail at the sight of one: the infallible indicator of a mounting urgency to attack.

Augusta herself might well have been prey for quite a few of our neighbors: coyotes foremost, which were always nearby, also foxes, conceivably raccoons, black bears in chokecherry season, and abundant avian predators, including hawks, owls, possibly ravens, and certainly golden eagles. Our hope, perhaps naïve, was that keeping her indoors at dawn, dusk, and nighttime would keep her safe. We knew there were diurnal dangers—rattlesnakes, for example, which wouldn't eat her but surely could kill a curious kitten—but we couldn't imagine denying Augusta her hunting ground.

In the snow, in any case, Augusta was hopeless. It seemed clear that if she had not found her way down our driveway, she would have starved. She simply had no way to cope with snow—her paws were too small to walk on top of it, and she had no idea how to dig. Even in the absence of snow, she just could not stand the cold. When the back yard blew snow-free that winter, I would open the door and she would pad as far as the edge of the porch to survey the possibilities of a return to the hunt; with the first puff of breeze, though, one sniff of ten below, and she was back inside like a shot. We tried a couple of times just plopping her into the snow to see how she would cope. She didn't. She plowed straight to the door mewing in pain, extending her feet to have the ice picked out like a lion with a thorn in every paw.

Once confined to quarters for the winter, which in Montana can stretch into May, Augusta loved to watch water, as long as she didn't have to touch it. A full sink, even better a draining sink, was sheer fascination. She could watch the water in the toilet for hours, and was partial to drinking from it. She loved every kind of falling water. At first she preferred a thin stream from a faucet almost turned off, but over the course of the winter her taste grew more precise. She wanted a drip, not too fast, not too slow. She would slap her paw through it and then lick the water from her toes. Sometimes she was content just to watch the drip, for an hour or more. It was an ancestral image—of an oasis, where a spring often drips in precisely the same way from mineral walls. Augusta was a desert cat.

She was in fact only a few thousand years of descent from the desert wildcat of North Africa. The domestic cat and the North African wildcat were once considered separate species, but they are now recognized as members of the same—Felis silvestris. They differ only as subspecies.1 Unlike the young of any other wild feline, the kittens of Felis silvestris lybica can be tamed almost as easily as those of a house cat. They don't look much different either. The big difference is that our cats, Felis silvestris catus, now live all over the world, some snuggling on laps, others struggling at the brink of starvation.

The first incontrovertible evidence of something resembling domestication of the modern cat was thought until recently to have been identified in northern China. In 2013 Yaowu Hu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a team of fellow researchers published their findings: In an archeological dig in the early agricultural village of Quanhucun, in Shaanxi province, they had found a number of cat remains that—as shown by analysis of the collagen in the bones and by biometric measurement—were, in their view, unmistakably Felis silvestris catus.2

The researchers also found ceramic grain containers designed to exclude rodents—proof that the people there had a rodent problem, hence a need for cats. The villagers' primary food was millet, and although cats are constitutionally 100 percent carnivorous, the bone analysis also showed that these cats were so hard up that they also sometimes dined on that grain (something today's manufacturers of cheap cat food may be relieved to know). In fact, there was one cat that ate a lot of millet—perhaps a house pet, or a cripple, in any case obviously hand-fed by humans.

The site was carbon-dated to between 5,280 and 5,560 years ago. The ineluctable conclusion is that well before that time there were already domesticated cats somewhere in North Africa or the Middle East. Presumably by trade, those Chinese cats had come more than four thousand miles from the land of their origin.

But a subsequent re-analysis of the Chinese cat bones showed them not to be related to the North African wildcat but another species altogether, a local one, the leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis (a species that would turn up in the late twentieth century interbred with our house cat species to produce the beautiful domestic hybrid now known as the Bengal, whom we will meet in pages to come). Apparently, the domestication of the leopard cat didn't last, however, because there are no longer any domestic leopard cats in China, only wild ones. All domestic Chinese cats today are the same as ours, Felis silvestris catus.3

Meanwhile, it was fairly common knowledge among inquirers into feline prehistory that a single cat skeleton had been found some time ago on Cyprus buried next to a human skeleton, dating back about 7,500 years. The cat might have been domestic, or might have been a North African wildcat brought to the island. There had been no further evidence of cat burials there, however, so the single instance was insufficient proof of domestication. Then new bones started to appear in new diggings on Cyprus, in some numbers, including one other cat buried next to a person, carbon-dated at ten thousand years ago. Being buried with a cat did suggest some sort of association more significant than just commensalism (that is, cats hanging around people and people tolerating them for the mutual advantage of rodent control). Archeologists have found that cats were also buried near people in ancient Mesopotamia about five thousand years ago,4 and cat remains were recently discovered in the predynastic elite cemetery of Hierakonpolis in ancient Egypt, buried there with humans nearly six thousand years ago.5 Pets or commensals? We just can't tell, at least yet.

The first visual representation of an obviously pet cat—it's wearing a leash—was painted on a tomb in Egypt between 2500 and 2350 B.C. Cats were common figures in Egyptian art for centuries thereafter. The ancient Egyptians loved cats. They worshiped cat-gods. They prepared dead cats for the underworld with the same respect they accorded one another's corpses. One tomb, discovered in 1888, held more than a hundred thousand cat mummies. Sacred cats prowled the temples, and pet cats purred at the foot of Egyptian beds.

(The English are now renowned for their devotion to their pussycats, but in 1888 their ailurophilia was evidently not quite so sentimental. Only one of those hundred thousand cat mummies brought from Egypt to Liverpool was preserved. It is now on exhibit in London's Natural History Museum. The rest were ground up for fertilizer.)

Once cats adopted the Egyptians, they were in civilization to stay. The relationship has not always been smooth, however. Think of all the superstitions about black cats. Cats were often blamed for the Black Plague. Cats have long been associated with witchcraft. Some people even today day are possessed by an angry hatred of cats. Yet cats continue to find their way into human homes and hearts. They live, comfortably, in civilization. But are they civilized?

When Augusta knew immediately to use a litter box and to cover her waste; when she devoted single-minded attention to mapping the minutest details of her new home; when she taught us to play with her by her own rules; when, despite her tender age, she made her own arrangements with the ranch cats and horses; when she hunted and killed and gobbled down her prey; even when she stared at a dripping faucet as though hypnotized—in all these ways our "domestic" cat was acting in patterns set for her by her wild nature. We would come to learn many more, none of which could ever be domesticated out of her.

However wild her ancient nature, Augusta's dependence on us and her affection for us were equally real, and marked her as immitigably domestic. Her species' capacity for love, and the needs that grew from it, emerged only recently in its evolution, and in many individual cats those qualities remain latent and unevoked. Kittens who grow up without human love will, in fact, most likely never show it in adult life. But given the merest touch of a tender hand, the warmth of a lap, the soothing of a voice meant to comfort and calm, even in some rather harsh environments the kitten's innate capacity for human companionship will bloom. They will love, and they will need to be loved.

Like too many other cat owners, Elizabeth and I underestimated the depth of Augusta's emotional needs. The conventional wisdom holds that cats are more attached to their territories than to their people, and that like their wild ancestors, they are essentially loners. Oh, so when she slipped beneath the covers and curled up between Elizabeth's legs, she must have been just seeking physical warmth? When she stretched out on my chest in the morning and purred, it was only because she wanted to be fed?

When we larked off to Mexico for a week to look at birds when she was only six months old, we told ourselves she'd be fine. Worse by far was when we went to New York to be married, and then to Italy, leaving Augusta at home in the care of the ranch manager's niece, whom we didn't know at all. Our cat sitter fled altogether after the first few days, leaving the manager's teenage son, the very type of irresponsibility, to pop in at our house twice a day to leave food for the now nine-month-old kitten. We asked that he also stay a while and play with her a little, but he didn't even pretend to have done so.

When we returned, Augusta wiggled between our legs purring loudly, her tail quivering straight up in joy, and we interpreted her present happiness as proof that she had in fact been fine all along. I know a woman who lived in a bleak little studio and used to go away for long weekends with boyfriends and whose cat, when she returned, always leapt into her arms in delight. She took this as irrefutable evidence that leaving the cat alone had caused the poor creature no suffering. This particular cat did not seem to mind the buildup of waste in her litter box—did not poop or pee on my friend's pillow as another cat might well have done. She ate dry kibble from a dispenser. Video cameras in experiments of parallel conditions usually show the cat looking out the window, perhaps excessively grooming, mostly just sleeping. What are we to conclude? Stick around, we're going to find out.

First let's think back a hundred years, or to anywhere even now where cats are not beloved pets. That would be most of history and much of the world. Where did Augusta's inexhaustible affection for us come from? It was probably an emergent quality, which had lain dormant in her ancestors' inner life through the centuries. Perhaps it had been selected for when cats and people first cooperated on those long-ago farms, and children and cats played, and probably slept, together. And surely it had been cultivated sufficiently in enough households through the generations that it became a reproductive advantage: Affectionate cats were protected, and well fed, and therefore their offspring were more likely to thrive—more likely, therefore, to produce more successful offspring themselves.

And probably that household affection didn't have to be quite so specific to be sufficient. Probably we've developed a system of sympathy that has created a feedback loop, whereby the more precisely we focus our affection, the more fully, in turn, the cats explain their needs to us ("No, not there, scratch me there—ah—yes"). In any case, according to the growing body of scientific understanding of cats' emotional needs, we were doing so many things wrong that we had no right to expect even loyalty from Augusta. And yet she loved us.

And you? When you read about all you haven't done, all you've done wrong, do you also fill with shame? Or are you outraged? My grandparents on the farm in Vermont (or Iowa, or Mississippi) wouldn't even have recognized this nonsense.

Nonetheless, only a sampling of Kathy Blumenstock's "Ten Ways to Unknowingly Crush Your Cat's Spirit"6 throws long, black shadows across the universe of guilty cat owners:

Shouting: Raised voices will terrify your cat…

Punishing: Yelling "bad cat," throwing things, motioning in anger, and scolding your cat when she misses the litter box or claws your sofa tells her you are unhappy, even if she has no idea why. Grabbing her and shoving her face in a mess will leave her petrified.… All you're teaching her is to be afraid…

Hurting: Hitting, kicking, physically harming a cat in any way, from a "light tap" to a hard smack, is inhumane, evil, morally wrong, and guaranteed to instill fear in any cat, breaking her spirit, and her heart, in the process…

How about Megan Kaplan's "Top 10 Pet-Owner Mistakes?"7 At least she brings dogs in, to spread the blame.

Mistake 1: Buying a pet spontaneously.

Mistake 3: Being inconsistent with the rules.…

Mistake 4: Dispensing too many free treats.… Treats lose their training value if your pet gets them for no reason.…

Mistake 9: Failing to make your home pet-friendly.… Place litter boxes… in quiet areas throughout your home.… Plug in a night-light beside each one so your cat can find it in the dark.

Megan, had you not heard that they can see in the dark? Still, the night-lights could help us from tripping over all those litter boxes.

One more list to tell us how terrible we all, no, most of us, well, some of us, really are: "Ten Things Cats Won't Tell You," by Kelli B. Grant.8 Again, to be merciful, just a sample.

2. I pretend I'm fine, even when I'm not.… "What does a cat do when it feels good? Sleep. What does a cat do when it feels bad? Sleep."

3. My bad behavior is a result of your bad behavior.

10. I'm not really that funny.

We thought Augusta was funny. After she tore the eight black pipe-cleaner legs off her favorite toy, the Furry Spider, we molded them into the Spider Ball. Our bedroom was long and narrow, with a bare wood floor. Augusta would bound onto the bed, and we would throw the Spider Ball to the far end of the room, and she would pounce on it with such savage glee that sometimes she would turn a full somersault, and then she would grip it in her front paws and try to disembowel it with her pumping back bunny-legs. This was of course an inborn enactment of hunting and killing. And Kelli, I'm sorry, it was funny.


  • "This deeply researched book helps us understand how our cats experience the world and what they are trying to communicate to us."—Catster
  • "The Inner Life of Cats is filled with shining prose, moments of sheer cat joy--and intimate, careful scientific observation. Thomas McNamee's naturalist's eye, combined with his humor and heart, bring the always wild, yet domesticated cat into delightful, insightful focus."—Cat Warren, New York Times bestselling author of Whatthe Dog Knows
  • "Learn how to give your cat an emotionally satisfying life and create a greater bond with you."—Temple Grandin,author of Animals in Translation
  • "[An] affectionate love letter to his own cat Augusta and a perceptive analysis of feline psychology and biology that shatters common assumptions about these animals."—Library Journal
  • "Tom McNamee has provided a great service not just to cat lovers but to people like me, who don't much care for them. In this wise, humane, deeply researched book, he makes a persuasive case that these creatures are much more interesting, mysterious, and complicated than we ever gave them credit for. And they probably have misgivings about some of us, too."—Charles McGrath,former editor, New York Times Book Review
  • "An affectionate yet realistic portrait of felis silvestris catus and a definite boon to anyone contemplating adopting a cat."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Cats are fascinating beings who often get the short end of the stick when they're casually and wrongly dismissed as mysterious, solitary, and unemotional animals when compared, for example, to dogs, or when they're accused of being vicious predators on wildlife. In fact, cats, just like Mr. McNamee's beloved Augusta, are highly intelligent, emotional, and sentient animals who have rich and deep inner lives, as well documented in this seminal book in which heartwarming stories and scientific data are nicely woven together. Thomas McNamee's latest book is a much needed corrective and myth-buster for which cat lovers and cats around the world will be most grateful."—Marc Bekoff, author of The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, andCoexistence in the Human Age
  • "Elegant and absorbing, The Inner Life of Cats offers fascinating insights into the interior world of these mysterious and compelling animals. Required reading for anyone who lives with, loves, or has ever wondered about the deep and ancient connections we share with these magnificent creatures."—BarbaraNatterson-Horowitz, MD and Kathryn Bowers, co-authors of Zoobiquity: TheAstonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health
  • "To see an animal in so many ways: as a scientist, a naturalist, a human being, and a writer of uncommon sensitivity, this is Tom McNamee's The Inner Life of Cats; and this book is a gift."—Dorothy Kalins,founding editor, Saveur
  • "The Inner Life of Cats is a remarkably charming, intelligent, and heartfelt book about cats and humans. In places it moved me to tears and, at other places, to broad grins. Thomas McNamee has brilliantly combined his own experiences with cats and information gleaned from scientific studies, all in immensely readable pages. Every cat-lover should read this fine book."—Pat Shipman, authorof The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What Makes Us Human
  • "This entertaining but serious book tells everything of the complex relationship between humans and cats. Tom McNamee, in a lively and insightful account, explores the relationship from all angles, explaining the many opportunities and consequences of living with cats. This book, written in conversational language and easy to read, is filled with fascinating anecdotes, a wealth of scientific data and a great deal of thoughtful meditations. It is a complete reference on these elusive companions and it offers a passionate but objective perspective. You will find a lot to learn, regardless whether you love or hate cats!"—Luigi Boitani, co-author of Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation
  • "A compelling and profoundly rich account of the inner life of cats: you will never think of a cat except in admiration. A great read."—Thomas E. Lovejoy,University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George MasonUniversity
  • "As a conservation biologist, I have mixed emotions about cats. I am all too aware of the damage free-roaming cats do to bird populations and other wildlife, but on the other hand some of my best friends have been cats. Thomas McNamee has written a sensitive, sometimes heart-wrenching, but scientifically accurate book about these beguiling creatures and their amazing attributes. This book objectively addresses the feral cat issue as the serious problem it is. Yet, readers (sometimes teary-eyed) likely will be convinced that a cat is 'pure awareness' and, despite its craziness, quite capable of mutual love with its human companions."—Reed F. Noss, author of The Science of Conservation and Provost'sDistinguished Research Professor, Department ofBiology, University ofCentral Florida
  • "It is so important to dispel the many myths surrounding these majestic animals. This book is steeped in honesty, it's informative, extremely well-written, and truly a must for all those who would like a better understanding of and a better relationship with their cats. It is written with such an abiding love and respect for these largely misunderstood creatures, that one cannot help but be moved."—Bonnie Berman, Topical Currents, WLRN
  • "Riveting."—The Virginian-Pilot
  • "I . . . was charmed by McNamee's tale of his cat, Augusta, and his attempts to understand this essentially unknowable (but lovable) animal. The Inner Life of Cats is Augusta's life story, an engaging one interspersed with plentiful information about cats."—Washington Post
  • "The Inner Life of Cats is a wonderful blend of science and stories . . . cats often are misunderstood and [this] wonderful book is a much needed corrective and myth-buster for which cat lovers and cats around the world will be most grateful."—Psychology Today

On Sale
Mar 27, 2018
Page Count
288 pages
Hachette Books

Thomas McNamee

About the Author

Thomas McNamee is the recipient of a 2016 John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He is the author of The Grizzly Bear; Nature First: Keeping Our Wild Places and Wild Creatures Wild; A Story of Deep Delight; The Return of the Wolf to Yellowstone; Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution; The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance; and The Killing of the Wolf Number Ten. He wrote the PBS documentary Alexander Calder, which won a Peabody Award and an Emmy. He lives in San Francisco.

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