Tag Archives: A Cat Named Darwin

And Your Bird Can Sing: Alex and Me

Alex and Me (lg.)Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg is an inspiring read about:  “How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence – and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process.”   The story is about evenly split between Alex’s pioneering work in the study of avian intelligence – it was Alex who turned the phrase “bird brain” into a positive – and the relationship between the author and her pet.   However, as Pepperberg makes quite clear, Alex – who died in early July of 2007 – was often The Boss of both the scientist and her laboratory assistants!

I found the writing style to be a bit rough and awkward in the first part of the tale.   The writing also suffers from mixed tenses.   For example, Pepperberg uses the current tense in describing events that occurred in the past, “Obviously, my students and I have no problem understanding the sounds Alex makes.”

But the author found her voice at the halfway point of the narrative, describing her arrival in Tucson:

“…Tucson brought tears to my eyes – literally, as I fairly quickly developed allergies…   but metaphorically, too, because of its beauty, majestic in its mountains, deserts, and giant saguaro cacti, and in its details, the animals, the smaller plants and the birds.   Oh, the birds!

For the first time in my life I felt deeply connected to nature, the rich diversity of the Sonora Desert fauna and flora…   And in a part of the country where the Native American presence is palpable, I was very much aware of that people’s sense of oneness with nature.”

Perhaps this experience inspired Pepperberg to see Alex as a representative of Nature with a capital “n”.   There are several cute and charming stories in this book that illustrate Alex’s keen intelligence, none of which I wish to give away here; they are better saved for the enjoyment of future readers.

This reader enjoyed the human-bird interaction sections more than the animal intelligence portions which sometimes bordered on the overly technical with words like “anticipatory co-articulation” (referring to linguistic analysis).   And some will find that Pepperberg, who loved Alex, comes off a bit dry and reserved in tone when compared to authors of similar animal love stories like Stacey O’Brien (Wesley the Owl) or William Jordan (A Cat Named Darwin).   Despite this, Pepperberg’s deep love and awe for Alex shows itself in the end.

Alex’s final words to Pepperberg – as she left the animal lab one evening – were, “You be good.   I love you.   You’ll be in tomorrow?”

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note:  The hardbound version of this book was purchased by the reviewer.   A trade paperback version (pictured) will be released on September 1, 2009.

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A Cat Named Darwin

I was born a Homo Sapiens./ Then I became a biologist./ Then I became a cat.

You have no idea./ Read on, friends.

Many years ago I finished reading a book about a cat that I was quite sure would never be surpassed.   That book was The Best Cat Ever by the late Cleveland Amory.   Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across a paperback by someone named William Jordan…   The book was A Cat Named Darwin: Embracing the Bond Between Man and Pet.   This is the best cat story ever!

Jordan’s tale is perhaps best expressed by this book’s original sub-title:  How a Stray Cat Changed a Man into a Human Being.   As he so nicely explains, “…it was during my forty-fifth year on this glowing blue Earth that a cat entered my house and stole my heart.”   Yes, the then-unnamed cat was a “home invader” who instead of being chased away, entered writer Jordan’s home and office flat in Long Beach, California.   It seems that the more Jordan attempts to get rid of the cat he  named after Charles Darwin, the more the cat embeds itself into his home/heart.

Eventually Jordan realizes that the more time he spends around the wily Darwin the more he enjoys himself; Darwin helps the author to re-create himself as a better person.   “…because I had come to love this small creature, whatever happened to him happened to me.”   Sadly, Darwin is a very sick cat but this makes the time he spends with the author all the more precious.

Yes, every cat – if not pet – owner will identify with Darwin’s antics and activities.   Like our own retired cat, he was first and foremost a fighter in his prime:   “…he loved the slings and arrows of the feline military existence.   Combat gave meaning to his life.   Danger was what he lived for.”

Jordan, trained as a biologist, does an excellent job of explaining why cats – whose ancestors have occupied the planet for 60 million years or so – are so intelligent and why they are able to co-exist with their human owners in a way that is distinct from dogs.   The one caution about this book is that it would certainly be a difficult read for anyone who has recently lost a pet; contra, some would find it the best time to read this true story of love and loss.

Yes, this is a love story, now available in trade paperback form for $14.95 (Mariner Books).   In the author’s words, “I thanked Darwin for giving me life.”   At the end of this furry tail (tale), you will thank the author and Darwin and Hoover the cat for giving us this story.   Highly, highly recommended!

In the end,/ Because I became a cat,/ I became a human being.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.   “A gripping and powerful book…  shot through with a kind of elation.”   San Diego Union-TribuneDarwin (lg.)

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Darwin 4A review of A Cat Named Darwin: Embracing the Bond Between Man and Pet by William Jordan.

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