Cover image for A cat named Darwin : how a stray cat changed a man into a human being
A cat named Darwin : how a stray cat changed a man into a human being
Jordan, William, 1944-
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2002]

Physical Description:
187 pages ; 22 cm
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SF442.86 .J67 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Bill Jordan's life changed forever the day a stray cat nesting under his bougainvillea bit him on the hand. A reformed biologist, Jordan had no particular love for animals and felt vaguely contemptuous of those who did -- until the cat, beckoning with a wink and a yawn, led him on a journey to exotic lands, strange cultures, and fascinating discoveries. As their bond deepened and the cat's health began to fail, Jordan was forced into a commitment more devoted and sincere than any he hadknown before.

Puzzling through his own feelings, he came to some remarkable conclusions: that those we love live in the synapses and molecules of memory, and that as long as we exist, they exist as part of our brain. It doesn't matter to our neurons whether the loved one is animal or human; the mechanism is the same. Even so, the two relationships are quite different: A cat is a creature with whom one shares solitude; with a human being, on the other hand, solitude generally means a failed relationship. And while communion with animals is usually considered inferior to communication with human beings, the truth is that the need for companionship is a human trait. In the absence of other companionship, the human mind will grow around any living thing like a vine. Bill Jordan learned that the first time your mind grows around a cat, you don't realize you have fallen in love until it's too late.

Author Notes

William Jordan is the author of Divorce Among the Gulls: An Uncommon Look at Human Nature (1991). The Washington Post called it a dazzling range of philosophical speculations about the meaning of life, " and Noel Perrin in the Chicargo Sun-Times described Jordan as "a major new talent," adding, "move over, Stephen Jay Gould. Make way, Barry Lopez. Here comes William Jordan to join you." Jordan has a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of California. He lives in Culver City, California."

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Cat fanciers will enjoy this memoir by a 45-year-old man who lived alone until his heart was stolen by an orange cat. Jordan, a biologist (Divorce Among the Gulls: An Uncommon Look at Human Nature), was taking out the garbage one night when he discovered that a formerly well-cared-for cat he had thought belonged to a neighbor was, in reality, a stray, who scavenged food from garbage cans and was now gaunt and flea-bitten. His initial resistance was quickly overcome and the tomcat he named Darwin soon became the center of his adoptive owner's life. He describes how Darwin insinuated himself more deeply into his consciousness until Jordan finally allowed Darwin to sleep in his bed ("Thus Darwin and I became man and cat"). When Jordan is on assignment in England without Darwin, a vision of the cat as well as his scientist namesake suddenly appears to relieve his loneliness. Unfortunately, Darwin is diagnosed with the feline leukemia virus (requiring expensive treatments Jordan agrees to so that Darwin would be able to live comfortably for as long as possible), and after a long period of illness, dies. Though Jordan adopted another cat while Darwin was still alive, the author's relationship with that orange cat taught him to love. The author's self-deprecating style is what keeps this account from descending into mawkishness. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

A ruminative ramble about his adoption of an alley cat, Jordan's confessional traces the growth of his affection for the pet he names Darwin. An apologia for loving a cat, this is bound to appeal to friends of felines, who will find that Jordan's minute details about the appearance and behavior of Darwin will prompt them to recall their own memories of relationships with cats. Do cats have moods? Do they reciprocate the affections bestowed by their owners? Is evolution involved? Biologist Jordan develops these questions as he discloses his ever more intimate feelings for Darwin. On the mangy side, complete with fleas, Darwin was also afflicted with diseases, which structures Jordan's narrative of repeated trips to a sympathetic veterinarian. Never before a cat person, Jordan tries to rationalize his expenditures of emotion and money on saving this ill cat, and unable to do so, surrenders to raw lachrymose feeling in several scenes. Unafraid to bare his emotions, Jordan crafts an affecting story for cat owners. --Gilbert Taylor

Library Journal Review

Entomologist Jordan (Divorce Among the Gulls) here offers a tribute to a stray cat. As a scientist, Jordan previously found animals interesting only as research subjects, felt no attachment to them, and was somewhat contemptuous of those who did. Then Darwin, a stray tomcat, came into his life and altered his way of looking at animals. When Darwin was diagnosed with feline leukemia, Jordan devoted most of his time to tending him, as another stray cat, Hoover, joined the household. After Hoover swatted at a sleeping Darwin, Jordan punished the cat in disturbing ways (including using a marble and slingshot) that this reviewer thought too severe. He does humbly acknowledge those wrongs, but by then one's patience with Jordan's quest to become human has worn thin. Because the author focuses so much on himself, instead of on Darwin, this book lacks the warmth and readability of works like Peter Gethers's Norton series, Deric Longden's The Cat Who Came in from the Cold, and Cleveland Amory's The Cat Who Came for Christmas. Although now reformed and a cat lover, Jordan should stick to writing about bugs.-Eva Lautemann, Georgia Perimeter Coll., Clarkston (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



IntroductionIts the solitary ones who are most vulnerable-those of us who live by ourselves and have time, probably too much time, to think. It happens gradually, imperceptibly, like temperature rising or water seeping, and one day you find yourself noticing new lines, say, in his facial markings. You notice the way he greets you, nuzzling your outstretched finger, then sliding his mouth along your fingertip to the corner of his jaw. You notice the whites of his eyes as he watches you continuously, not out of wariness, but out of a gentle, calm trust we humans would call love. You notice the nuance in the way he moves, the subtle pauses and postures that express his own personality and distinguish him from other cats-and you hear the particular timbre of his voice and know intuitively with a crawling of the nape when hes threatened by another cat out in the wilds beyond the door. You realize at some point that his movements and gestures are a language, his tail wrapping gently around your leg, or his head pressing deliberately into your hand, or his mouth opening in a wide fang-bearing yawn of greeting as you walk into the room. The way he stretches forward and claws the rug, the little crook in the end of his tail, the unique tufting of his belly fur . . . These quiet, introspective revelations are the gift of the cat to the solitary person, for the cat is a creature with whom you share solitude. A human being, on the other hand, is a creature with whom solitude is generally a failed relationship. With one the essence of success is communion. With the other it is communication. One depends on spoken language and rational intellect, the other on the language of gesture and intuition, and whereas communion with an animal is considered inferior to communication with a human being, the truth is, the need for companionship of any sort is a human species trait, and in the absence of a human companion, the mind grows like a vine around any living thing. The first time your mind grows around a cat, you do not realize you have fallen in love. Communion with a cat takes time to mature, and it is irreversible. Those who find it are forever altered and cannot go back to the way they once were because the mind, the soul, the eye of self, arises from the physical substance of the brain, and that substance has been altered. The brain records experience continually in a running record, which is crucial to the working of conscious awareness. When you notice a new pattern on your cats face-the stripes have always been there, but for some reason one of them now stands forth-this revelation occurs because the mind compares the current perception with visual memories. The longer you live with a cat, or any living thing for that matter, the more detail you see because the brain has had more time to record. This in turn sharpens the perception of detail in the present, the mind comparing present with memory and memory with present, back and forth Excerpted from A Cat Named Darwin: How a Stray Cat Changed a Man into a Human Being by William Jordan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1 Picking a Human Upp. 11
2 A Dog's Meowp. 21
3 Breaking Upp. 32
4 Inventory in Englandp. 46
5 Nuptialsp. 61
6 Honeymoon Prognosisp. 64
7 Hope, Intimacy, Jealousyp. 71
8 Friendship and Equalityp. 81
9 Hospice Carep. 95
10 Night Walkp. 112
11 Home Invasionp. 123
12 Sweet Epiphaniesp. 150
13 Tender Merciesp. 166
14 Missa Felinap. 174
Epiloguep. 189