The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey into the Feline Heart

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Drawing from literature, history, animal behavioral research, and the wonderful true stories of cat experts and cat lovers around the world, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson vividly explores the delights and mysteries of the feline heart. But at the core of this remarkable book are Masson's candid, often amusing observations of his own five cats. Their mischievous behavior, aloofness, and affection provide a way to examine emotions from contentment to jealousy, from anger to love. The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats will ...
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Overview

Drawing from literature, history, animal behavioral research, and the wonderful true stories of cat experts and cat lovers around the world, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson vividly explores the delights and mysteries of the feline heart. But at the core of this remarkable book are Masson's candid, often amusing observations of his own five cats. Their mischievous behavior, aloofness, and affection provide a way to examine emotions from contentment to jealousy, from anger to love. The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats will captivate readers with its surprises, offering a new perspective on the deep connection shared by humans and their feline friends.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Bestselling author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson gives us another brilliant exploration of the animal kingdom with this look at the secretive, playful world of cats. Masson explores feline emotions, debunks myths, and honors the cat's place as a companion to humans.
Publishers Weekly
Prevailing wisdom holds that cats are aloof, smug, quintessentially distant-especially when compared to dogs-but Masson, in his latest exploration of feelings in the animal world, argues otherwise: "cats," he says, "are almost pure emotion." He establishes nine basics (narcissism, love, contentment, attachment, jealousy, fear, anger, curiosity and playfulness) and, in nine casual and sometimes digressive chapters, suggests when and why cats feel each of them and how we humans might better understand our pets as a result. In the tradition of his bestselling Dogs Never Lie About Love, Masson's exploration is a warm fuzzy to the feline world: in observing the antics of his five cats (Miki, Moko, Yossie, Megalamandira and Minnalouche), Masson's tone never fails to convey his wonder for "these perfect beings who briefly and softly grace my life." He draws desultorily on history, scientific research and correspondence with cat experts and owners, but most of his book is dedicated to a highly subjective study of his beloved five, who live with him in a New Zealand paradise. Though Masson strains to establish evidence for cats' sophisticated emotional landscape (and in doing so exposes himself to accusations of anthropomorphism), cats are still mysterious creatures, and even a former psychoanalyst such as he must occasionally admit (though with a certain kind of glee) that he cannot entirely figure them out. One thing's for sure: because cats, unlike humans and dogs, have never been pack animals, much of what comes naturally to us-guilt, apology, even rage-is absent in cats. In the end, this appealing book seems as much a portrait of Masson as it is of his enchanting cats. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Masson, a former Sanskrit scholar and psychoanalyst, is no stranger to the concept of animal emotions or to the best sellers lists. Now he does for the house cat what he did for dogs in Dogs Never Lie About Love, exploring the range of feline emotions and the relationships that take place between cats and humans. What makes his works unique is that he doesn't try to give definitive scientific accounts of animal behavior, complete with definitions and cause/effect; nor does he just recount personal anecdotes. Instead, he takes anecdotal experiences and translates them into enlightened observations that shatter the myths that cats are aloof, independent, and egocentric. In a style similar to that of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's The Tribe of Tiger, he addresses in each chapter a particular feline emotion (narcissism, love, contentment, attachment, jealousy, fear, anger, curiosity, and playfulness), using the comings and goings of his five cats as examples. Although his argument that dogs and cats should be left to wander the streets and fields at will is a very controversial one, it will not deter people from reading, enjoying, and learning from this book. This should be very popular with cat lovers everywhere, especially those who want something more than a personal account but less than a behavioral treatise. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/02.]-Edell M. Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-"Too many people tend to see cats as uncomplicated creatures with few emotions- I am convinced that, on the contrary, cats are almost pure emotion," asserts Masson, a psychoanalyst. In nine chapters, he examines how cats might really be experiencing what we see as "Narcissism," "Love," "Contentment," "Attachment," "Jealousy," "Fear," "Anger," "Curiosity," and "Playfulness." However, although he refers to other experts and includes an excellent bibliography, all this seems more like memoir than science because the author is mostly relating, in a conversational style, his family's experiences with five young cats in their home in New Zealand. Accompanying Masson on daily walks on the beach, having mysterious adventures in the rain forest, or interacting in surprising ways with rambunctious children, the felines are a rich source of fascination, information, and insight. Given the small number of subjects and the short period of observation, Masson arrives at some conclusions and generalizations that many readers are bound to question or disagree with, but the spirit of inquiry is part of the charm of this book. Anyone intrigued by psychology or animal studies should enjoy this title and be inspired to look more closely at the creatures around them.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An exploration into the emotional complexity of cats, with lots of literary references but mostly personal observations, from Masson (Why Elephants Weep, 1995, etc.). What Masson did for dogs in Dogs Never Lie About Love (1997), he does here for cats. As always when considering animal behavior, he admits from the get-go that he's on sketchy ground, making speculations that are intended as food for thought: "We will probably never know what goes through their minds." There are times when readers may wonder why he chose these "primary" emotions to investigate-narcissism, love, contentment, attachment, jealousy, fear, anger, curiosity, playfulness, and a dozen subsidiary states-when he is confounded by a few of them: "Are cats narcissistic? No." Or "Is this jealousy, or is it perhaps some feline rule of etiquette?" But then, much of the time cats are nothing if not inscrutable, as Masson is happy to admit. Their mystery is much of their charm. Yet it's Masson's purpose to offer up considerations of cat behavior. Is their attachment a transference-a nostalgia-for the time when they were kittens? And when it comes to attachment, is it more to the world around them than to their human companions? (Masson believes cats are more fully happy when allowed freedom to roam, a point he presents persuasively, unlike many cat enthusiasts.) Much of what the author has to say is common sense: that cats show fear out of threat (but don't worry; they live in the moment); show contentment from a sense of security (but not happiness: that takes freedom); and can communicate acceptance (purring has been known to lower human blood pressure, perhaps because we have been chosen by one so self-possessed). Anyonewho has ever been owned by a cat will find these speculations engaging, finely tuned, and always with plenty of fond anecdotal evidence as they charge across the species barrier. Author tour
From the Publisher
“Fascinating . . . A book full of uncommon insight.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“THIS ENJOYABLE BOOK IS USEFUL FOR ITS INSIGHTS. . . . [IT] IS FULL OF GUIDANCE, BUT ITS VIRTUE IS, SIMPLY, PLEASURE.”
—DORIS LESSING

“AN AFFECTIONATE, COMPLETELY ENGAGING BOOK full of new insights into the emotional lives of cats. Of course, all cats are interesting, but Masson’s five felines seem particularly so—and you don’t need to be a cat lover to enjoy them via these pages.”
—ELIZABETH MARSHALL THOMAS
Bestselling author of
The Hidden Lives of Dogs and The Tribe of the Tiger

“It is a rare pleasure to find a person who can enter the ‘deep and inscrutable’ feline psyche so lovingly and perceptively, and then return to enrich us with such coherent insight and understanding.”
—MICHAEL FOX, Veterinarian
Author of Understanding Your Cat

“WITTY, ALLUSIVE, AND OFTEN ENCHANTING.”
Newsday

“A WONDERFULLY THOUGHTFUL—AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING—BOOK ABOUT THE FELINE MIND.”
—DESMOND MORRIS
Author of The Naked Ape and Catwatching

“Jeffrey Masson delivers a fascinating and revealing cat’s eye view of life among the human animals. Clearly written by a man who listens, watches, and waits, much like the cats who warm his heart and satisfy his curiosity. . . . I recommend this book to any readers who wish to expand their knowledge of life in all its diverse forms.”
—INGRID NEWKIRK
President, PETA

“Engaging . . . A book filled with elegant, thought-provoking prose and astute opinions.”
Best Friends magazine

“Highly recommended . . . [Masson] takes anecdotal experience and translates them into enlightened observations that shatter the myths that cats are aloof, independent, and egocentric.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Anyone who has ever been owned by a cat will find these speculations engaging, finely tuned, and always with plenty of fond anecdotal evidence as they charge across the species barrier.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Do cats feel emotions we know nothing about? Do they surpass humans in any of their feelings? Masson sheds new light on the inner nature of these seemingly solitary and aloof creatures.”
Pet Life magazine

“This appealing book is as much a portrait of Masson as it is of his enchanting cats.”
Publishers Weekly

“Worth reading and reading again, accompanied by a purring lap cat.”
Booklist

“Masson dotes on cats, but the expresses his fondness honorably, with well-observed analyses of everything from the many functions of purring to what cats are really doing when they cut us dead. . . . One of the pleasures of living with cats is that they teach you things.”
—O magazine

“I enjoyed this book about our fascinating and often enigmatic friends the cats, and learned from it.”
—DORIS LESSING

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345448828
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/29/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.64 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, former Sanskrit scholar and Projects Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives, has written more than a dozen books, including the New York Times bestsellers Dogs Never Lie About Love and When Elephants Weep. A longtime resident of Berkeley, California, he now lives in New Zealand with his wife, two sons, and five cats.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s career falls not-so-neatly into two rather distinct phases. In his early days, as a Freudian scholar and disenchanted psychoanalyst, he was an author-combatant (he uses the term “maverick” on his Web site), challenging perceived thinking on Sigmund Freud and therapy itself.

He rankled sensibilities, attracted often-harsh criticism and lost his post as guardian of the Freud Archives. He even became embroiled in one of the most notorious libel battles of recent times, alleging that writer Janet Malcolm made up quotes in her highly unflattering two-part profile of him in the New Yorker in 1983.

In the second -- and more commercially successful -- phase, Masson has instead focused his psychological insights on a community that cannot talk back: the animal kingdom. Beginning with When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Life of Animals in 1995, Masson has put dogs, cats, mongooses, etc., on the couch, explaining that they, just like their more litigious bipedal cousins, have feelings.

"A masterpiece,” said Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of a similar classic, The Hidden Life of Dogs, “the most comprehensive and compelling argument for animal sensibility that I've yet seen."

Even amid the controversy of the early part of his career, Masson garnered positive reviews for his translations of Sigmund Freud’s letters and his passionate critiques of psychotherapy. (To be sure, he garnered less glowing ones as well.) A former Sanskrit scholar, Masson was placed in the care of the famous doctor’s archives. But when his research in those same archives turned up correspondence that he said discredited Freudian’s theories about sexual abuse among children, he made those findings public. He lost his position and faced the wrath of Freud’s defenders.

In the Nation, though, he found support. Reviewing Masson’s book on the discovery, the newspaper wrote: “Those who bother to read The Assault on Truth will probably be surprised to discover that the book is a lavishly documented, carefully reasoned work, written in a straightforward, readable style, with only occasional polemical flourishes. The passion of the book is that of a scholar trying to solve a puzzle; only now and then does the voice break to reveal the bewildered outrage and pain of the recently excommunicated disciple.”

His translation of the letters in question drew praise from The New York Times: "The publication of The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess represents an important moment of truth... The general public can now evaluate at first hand the evidence bearing on the various controversial issues raised by the letters... Of more lasting importance, however, is the insight this new edition provides into the creative process at work in the formation of a fundamentally important scientific theory."

His 1988 attack on therapy itself, Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of Psychological Healing was dismissed by many as a screed, but Time pointed out that screeds can sometimes also be wake-up calls: “Masson raises some intriguing points, even if he insists on doing so at the top of his voice. Psychotherapy is a big and largely unchallenged business in the U.S.; many of its practitioners wield considerable influence over personal lives and public policy. Once in a while, it does no harm to listen to an alarmist hollering that some of those shrinks have no clothes.”

Not until Masson turned to the psychological study of animals did he draw the widespread attention of the public at large. When Elephants Weep, written with Susan McCarthy, may have had critics pointing out that his evidence was largely anecdotal – the title, in fact, comes from a story of a circus elephant that collapsed in tears when it couldn’t learn a new routine – but an animal-loving public ate it up. Elephants has been translated into more than 20 languages and has sold more than a half a million copies in the United States alone.

That set the stage for a hugely popular follow-up Dogs Never Lie About Love: Reflections on the Emotional Lives of Dogs. A bestseller, it won praise from the Los Angeles Times for its risk-taking and uncompromising puppy love. “The strengths that this Sanskrit scholar,” she wrote, “brings to his subject are intelligence, originality and a refreshing willingness to go out on a good number of scientifically unsupported limbs in his enthusiasm for canines.”

Now for the felines. The Nine Emotional Live of Cats: A Journey into the Feline Heart, released in the fall of 2002, again won praise from Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who penned her own ode to the cat, The Tribe of Tiger: Cats and Their Culture. "An affectionate, completely engaging book full of new insights into the emotional lives of cats,” she said. “Of course, all cats are interesting, but Masson’s five felines seem particularly so – and you don’t need to be a cat lover to enjoy them via these pages."

Masson’s turn to the wild kingdom has brought him financial success certainly, but he says the rewards run even deeper than that. As he told Newsday in 1997, “I learned more about emotions from dogs than I did from my psychoanalysis. I think dogs make better therapists than Freudian analysts… and they don’t cost as much, either.”

Good To Know

Masson legally changed his middle name from Lloyd to Moussaieff in 1975.

In June 1980, when he was interviewing with Sigmund Freud’s 84-year-old daughter Anna for the position to head the Freud Archives, he walked her pet Chow in the back yard.

Masson's long-term goal is to help his wife, Leila, set up a camp for children with chronic illnesses where they can learn alternative methods to diminish pain.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Jeffrey Lloyd Masson (birth name, legally changed in 1975)
    2. Hometown:
      Auckland, New Zealand
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 28, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., Harvard, 1964; Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1978, Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard, 1970

Read an Excerpt

Narcissism

Moko

Very different from that faithful animal the dog, whose sentiments are all directed to the person of his master, the cat appears only to feel for himself, to live conditionally, only to partake of society that he may abuse it. —Buffon

The frustrated woman in The New Yorker cartoon who asks the cat on her chair, “Am I talking to myself?” expects a laugh because the obvious answer is, “Yes, you are,” since cats have no interest in what we say to them. But is this really so?

Many people are convinced that cats are indifferent to us. Some even go so far as to use the word cold, which is not really descriptive but evaluative. Most cats (of mine, only Minna Girl is a partial exception) will not come when you call them, or rather, they will come sometimes, if they feel like it, and not other times, when presumably they don’t feel like it (unless there are other factors, as yet unknown to us, that decide whether a cat comes or not). This supposed indifference to humans leads some people to conclude that cats are narcissistic—in fact that narcissism is the cat’s defining characteristic. Not only are cats supposed to be narcissistic, they are commonly called haughty, egotistical, egocentric, self-centered, selfish, self-absorbed, egomaniacal, smug, distant, unsociable, and aloof. As for their indifference, the phrase is usually “calculated indifference,” but I doubt anyone would insist that it is calculated at all.

Narcissists lack the capacity to think about other people, to take the needs of others into consideration, to subordinate their own wishes to those of someone else. They are entirely self-involved. When I was a boy of fifteen, on an ocean liner from New York to London, I somehow struck up a friendship with a man of this description, a well-known American literary critic who was on board—the young admirer and the literary lion—and I spent much of the five days en route in his company. He spoke nonstop, always about himself, his accomplishments, his books, his admirers. It was good talk, fascinating to me at fifteen and evidently to others, for he always had a crowd. However, I knew then, though I did not know the word, that the man was a complete narcissist. He had zero interest in the ideas of anybody else around him or in anything but his own thoughts, which did indeed seem at the time more interesting than those of anyone else present. However, his fine mind could not encompass the one thought that everyone else could not avoid: He was a fool.

A cat’s narcissism, if that is the word we choose to use, is not like that at all. Cats watch us all the time. Obsessively. Coldly, some would say, or at least with some detachment. They see us; they notice us. Their eyes grow big watch- ing. They do it, some say, because they have to: we represent a superior predator, someone who might do them harm. But no, even when perfectly content, satisfied, completely out of danger, they do it. Cats take us in. We will probably never know what goes through their minds at those moments. What- ever it is, though, it is not self-absorption. The assertion, then, that cats think only about themselves is clearly wrong. Cats watch us so carefully that clearly they are thinking about us. But if we ask whether they think about us in preference to themselves, the answer is probably no.

Of course, in some sense, all animals, human or other- wise, are narcissistic to a certain degree, if narcissism can be equated with selfishness. Selfishness is built into every living creature, for none would survive without a healthy dose. Are cats more keen on survival than any other creature? It would be a strange claim. Yet cats certainly seem less altruistic than dogs, for example. I would not want to think my life depended on any of my cats. I seriously doubt that they would jeopardize their own safety to save my life. Why should they? (It seems that only dogs will risk their lives routinely, possi- bly because they can understand when a life is in jeopardy, whereas cats do not seem to realize this.) However, sometimes they do seem concerned. When I swim far out to sea at the beach outside my house, the four cats have a tendency to stand at the shoreline and wait for me, gazing out. Are they truly concerned, contemplating a lifesaving maneuver, or just curious? If I began to wave and shout, I doubt my cats would alter their stance.

The willingness to do something for others may be an inherited trait, common to dogs and humans but unknown to cats, having nothing to do with notions of selfishness. Why have we never heard of a service cat, like a service dog? Ma-jor economies have been driven by almost all the domesti-cated species—dogs (as herders and drovers), goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, water buffalo, horses. Only cats are economically insignificant—probably owing to resistance. Resistance seems an essential characteristic of cats. They resist us. Cats resist even size reduction, which we have practiced with such success on dogs. You do not find cats much bigger or smaller than other cats. They are all more or less the same size. They also resist our calls to come, to move, to obey, to present themselves, to do all the things that dogs do so easily. This drives some people crazy. Cats do not even care that it drives us crazy!

This is what some people mean when they call cats narcissistic: they will not alter their program to fit ours. It is very difficult to force a cat to do what we want. This seems to be one of the main reasons that many men in particular do not like cats: they cannot be controlled. They will not obey. Even the best-natured cat has an agenda of her own at almost all times. Even when she is doing nothing (although sleeping is hardly nothing), she does so on her own terms. Minna Girl will invariably come when I call her. Except when she will not. I call, she looks back, and then she continues on her way, not the least bit embarrassed or in any other way concerned that she has not done what I have asked. This could never happen with a dog, except under extraordinary circumstances. But for even the best-natured cat, it is an everyday experience. They hear us, they see us, they take in the request, and then they blink it away and to all appearances are completely indifferent. Yossie never does anything I ask; yet he expects me to do everything he asks. He is insistent about his food; “I want it now!” is his usual refrain. My cats are a lot like my five-year-old son, Ilan. “Fair’s fair” is a point of view utterly beyond their grasp.

I will wake up to see one of the cats and call out, “Miki!”—hoping that he will come bounding to me, rub his nose against my face, purr madly, and in other ways proclaim his pleasure in seeing me. I love morning greetings—two beings demonstrating the joy they feel in seeing one another again after a period of separation. But Miki walks past me without even pausing. All of the cats do this at some point or other. They act as if I were not there, as if I hardly mattered in their lives. Later in the same day, they will be running and playing with me on the beach, their eyes shining with pleasure, clearly delighted we are all together. I am learning to leave my expectations behind and take what comes as it comes. I seem to have no choice with cats.

Is what looks to us like studied indifference really that, or is it just that we do not entirely understand cat rules of behavior? Cats might assume, for example, that we can read their minds: “Can’t you see I am thinking of something else entirely?”—in which case for us to insist on our own agenda would be impolite from the cat’s point of view. They have something they are intent upon, a place they would rather be, a task they would rather perform, and our insistence that they conform to our plan is simply irrelevant to them. It does not occur to them to obey any request they do not themselves wish to perform or that is not self-generated.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Introduction xiii
1 Narcissism 3
2 Love 27
3 Contentment 61
4 Attachment 81
5 Jealousy 103
6 Fear 127
7 Anger 155
8 Curiosity 179
9 Playfulness 205
Epilogue 235
Afterword 241
Notes 244
Recommended Reading 249
Index 252
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First Chapter

Narcissism

Moko

Very different from that faithful animal the dog, whose sentiments are all directed to the person of his master, the cat appears only to feel for himself, to live conditionally, only to partake of society that he may abuse it. —Buffon

The frustrated woman in The New Yorker cartoon who asks the cat on her chair, “Am I talking to myself?” expects a laugh because the obvious answer is, “Yes, you are,” since cats have no interest in what we say to them. But is this really so?

Many people are convinced that cats are indifferent to us. Some even go so far as to use the word cold, which is not really descriptive but evaluative. Most cats (of mine, only Minna Girl is a partial exception) will not come when you call them, or rather, they will come sometimes, if they feel like it, and not other times, when presumably they don’t feel like it (unless there are other factors, as yet unknown to us, that decide whether a cat comes or not). This supposed indifference to humans leads some people to conclude that cats are narcissistic—in fact that narcissism is the cat’s defining characteristic. Not only are cats supposed to be narcissistic, they are commonly called haughty, egotistical, egocentric, self-centered, selfish, self-absorbed, egomaniacal, smug, distant, unsociable, and aloof. As for their indifference, the phrase is usually “calculated indifference,” but I doubt anyone would insist that it is calculated at all.

Narcissists lack the capacity to think about other people, to take the needs of others into consideration, to subordinate their own wishes to those of someone else. Theyare entirely self-involved. When I was a boy of fifteen, on an ocean liner from New York to London, I somehow struck up a friendship with a man of this description, a well-known American literary critic who was on board—the young admirer and the literary lion—and I spent much of the five days en route in his company. He spoke nonstop, always about himself, his accomplishments, his books, his admirers. It was good talk, fascinating to me at fifteen and evidently to others, for he always had a crowd. However, I knew then, though I did not know the word, that the man was a complete narcissist. He had zero interest in the ideas of anybody else around him or in anything but his own thoughts, which did indeed seem at the time more interesting than those of anyone else present. However, his fine mind could not encompass the one thought that everyone else could not avoid: He was a fool.

A cat’s narcissism, if that is the word we choose to use, is not like that at all. Cats watch us all the time. Obsessively. Coldly, some would say, or at least with some detachment. They see us; they notice us. Their eyes grow big watch- ing. They do it, some say, because they have to: we represent a superior predator, someone who might do them harm. But no, even when perfectly content, satisfied, completely out of danger, they do it. Cats take us in. We will probably never know what goes through their minds at those moments. What- ever it is, though, it is not self-absorption. The assertion, then, that cats think only about themselves is clearly wrong. Cats watch us so carefully that clearly they are thinking about us. But if we ask whether they think about us in preference to themselves, the answer is probably no.

Of course, in some sense, all animals, human or other- wise, are narcissistic to a certain degree, if narcissism can be equated with selfishness. Selfishness is built into every living creature, for none would survive without a healthy dose. Are cats more keen on survival than any other creature? It would be a strange claim. Yet cats certainly seem less altruistic than dogs, for example. I would not want to think my life depended on any of my cats. I seriously doubt that they would jeopardize their own safety to save my life. Why should they? (It seems that only dogs will risk their lives routinely, possi- bly because they can understand when a life is in jeopardy, whereas cats do not seem to realize this.) However, sometimes they do seem concerned. When I swim far out to sea at the beach outside my house, the four cats have a tendency to stand at the shoreline and wait for me, gazing out. Are they truly concerned, contemplating a lifesaving maneuver, or just curious? If I began to wave and shout, I doubt my cats would alter their stance.

The willingness to do something for others may be an inherited trait, common to dogs and humans but unknown to cats, having nothing to do with notions of selfishness. Why have we never heard of a service cat, like a service dog? Ma-jor economies have been driven by almost all the domesti-cated species—dogs (as herders and drovers), goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, water buffalo, horses. Only cats are economically insignificant—probably owing to resistance. Resistance seems an essential characteristic of cats. They resist us. Cats resist even size reduction, which we have practiced with such success on dogs. You do not find cats much bigger or smaller than other cats. They are all more or less the same size. They also resist our calls to come, to move, to obey, to present themselves, to do all the things that dogs do so easily. This drives some people crazy. Cats do not even care that it drives us crazy!

This is what some people mean when they call cats narcissistic: they will not alter their program to fit ours. It is very difficult to force a cat to do what we want. This seems to be one of the main reasons that many men in particular do not like cats: they cannot be controlled. They will not obey. Even the best-natured cat has an agenda of her own at almost all times. Even when she is doing nothing (although sleeping is hardly nothing), she does so on her own terms. Minna Girl will invariably come when I call her. Except when she will not. I call, she looks back, and then she continues on her way, not the least bit embarrassed or in any other way concerned that she has not done what I have asked. This could never happen with a dog, except under extraordinary circumstances. But for even the best-natured cat, it is an everyday experience. They hear us, they see us, they take in the request, and then they blink it away and to all appearances are completely indifferent. Yossie never does anything I ask; yet he expects me to do everything he asks. He is insistent about his food; “I want it now!” is his usual refrain. My cats are a lot like my five-year-old son, Ilan. “Fair’s fair” is a point of view utterly beyond their grasp.

I will wake up to see one of the cats and call out, “Miki!”—hoping that he will come bounding to me, rub his nose against my face, purr madly, and in other ways proclaim his pleasure in seeing me. I love morning greetings—two beings demonstrating the joy they feel in seeing one another again after a period of separation. But Miki walks past me without even pausing. All of the cats do this at some point or other. They act as if I were not there, as if I hardly mattered in their lives. Later in the same day, they will be running and playing with me on the beach, their eyes shining with pleasure, clearly delighted we are all together. I am learning to leave my expectations behind and take what comes as it comes. I seem to have no choice with cats.

Is what looks to us like studied indifference really that, or is it just that we do not entirely understand cat rules of behavior? Cats might assume, for example, that we can read their minds: “Can’t you see I am thinking of something else entirely?”—in which case for us to insist on our own agenda would be impolite from the cat’s point of view. They have something they are intent upon, a place they would rather be, a task they would rather perform, and our insistence that they conform to our plan is simply irrelevant to them. It does not occur to them to obey any request they do not themselves wish to perform or that is not self-generated.

Copyright 2002 by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
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Interviews & Essays

Cats Do Care: A Talk with Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson wrote elegantly of animal emotions in his previous bestsellers Dogs Never Lie About Love and When Elephants Weep. Turning to perhaps the most enigmatic animal of all, his The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats forays into the mysterious heart of the feline.

Barnes & Noble.com: Was it more difficult for you to write about cats than about dogs or other animals?

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson: In a sense it was, because cats are slightly more remote from human emotions than are dogs, or rather, let me put it this way: dogs make it particularly easy for us to understand their emotions. Cats expect us to figure it out, and if we don't, well, from their point of view...

B&N.com: A lot of the book draws on your personal experience with your five cats.

JMM: Yes, Yossie, a "domestic," big, tough, used to living wild, perhaps; talks all the time, saying things I simply cannot understand. Minna, the only female, sweet, soft, mysteriously disliked now by all the other cats. At first she was everybody's favorite. What happened? Was so small, and is now fat. Do cats have body prejudice? Miki, everyone's favorite for over a year, then he suddenly moved out! Lives next door now, on a permanent basis. Deigns to make very brief visits, but will no longer tolerate being held by anyone in this house, though by everyone in the other house! Go figure! (Isn't that the universal cat complaint?)

B&N.com: In your first two chapters -- "Narcissism" and "Love" -- you plunge right into the issues that most divide cat lovers from cat dislikers.

JMM: Yes, dogs are so other-oriented, always out to please, us, other dogs, even cats, at least on their own (one dog is usually a model of politeness; two dogs are the beginning of a gang of thugs!). Cats appear to be completely without any need of us. But if that were really the case, why do they come to our beds at night, seek out our laps, follow us around the house or even outside? What are they seeking? It is affection, of course, but why? They do not need us the way a dog does, and so the question recurs eternally: What does a cat really want?

B&N.com: Your third emotion -- "Contentment" -- is certainly undisputed, since anyone who has seen a contented cat can recognize the feeling. Do you believe that that contentment rubs off on us?

JMM: Oh, no doubt about it. People who live with cats simply have a healthier life, a higher quality of life than they would without the cats. Cats make us feel good because they are masters at feeling good. That is what their life is devoted to. We are supremely lucky that they do not mind sharing this emotion with us!

B&N.com: In fact, you say that cats are almost pure emotion.

JMM: Yes, few animals convey the very essence of an emotion such as contentment or joy the way a cat does. When kittens play, they are pure play. And when a cat is angry, it is pure anger, and woe to anyone who gets in the way. They live in their feelings, they are their feelings, I believe. So they are not really aloof in the way we tend to think of them, they are just Zen masters, attuned to the instant.

B&N.com: One of the reasons cats retain so much mystery is because they really are still wild animals.

JMM: Yes, they really are. The only domesticated animal that has never really been domesticated. Cats agree to live with us, for reasons we have not yet entirely understood, but they are really no different from their wild counterparts, and can easily revert to feral life if they have to, or even if they choose to. It makes their willingness to share our homes something of a miracle. A happy miracle!

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    Spiritheart

    Kk im back!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2011

    Interesting

    As a cat lover, I thought his observations of his cats similar to my experiences. Although my cats are indoor cats, they each have their distinct personality, which I have learned to relate to and respect. I did find the book a bit tedious to read, as the author continually repeated the same themes over and over. I also found the juxtaposition of opposing theories a bit confusing. I wonder what difference it would make in his observations if he studied indoor cats over a period of time. All in all, the book had some valuable insights.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2004

    Wonderful!

    An excellent book! What I didn't already know about cats, I learned in this book. It delves deep into the history of cats, how they evolved as solitary creatures, thus explaining a large part of their behavior. My sole complaint would have to be the author's tendency to compare cats to dogs. As a cat person, who understands their personalities and behaviors, I had hoped he would stray from this. Cats should be addressed as a separate species, not always compared to dogs. Apart from that, this book was full of great facts that kept me hooked. It was an excellent read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2002

    CATS and DOGS

    Omgosh, I LOVED this book. I bought it after reading it in the library. This world is made of of creatures. These creatures are animals.....cats and dogs. TO find out more about these precious pets, read this book. Read this book!!!!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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