Book Review: A Cat’s Tale: A Journey Through Feline History by Baba the Cat

Book Review: A Cat's Tale: A Journey Through Feline History by Baba the Cat


Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Cats

Publisher: Henry Holt Books

Review in one word: Bonkers

Imagine, if you will, a book that is so cheeky, so guileful and slinky that it could only have been written by a worldly feline and dictated to a lowly human author. In fact because Baba is so condescending to his human underling in the book, he probably doesn’t warrant much of a mention in this review (his name is Paul Koudounaris).

Book Review: A Cat's Tale: A Journey Through Feline History by Baba the Cat

“Permit me to set the record straight, we cats are eminently understandable to one another, therefore any challenge in understanding us is entirely on your end. Furthermore, if I may be frank, it is more than a bit presumptuous of mankind to believe it should be their prerogative to know our business. Dare I say, if you wish to know about cats, you have come to the right place.”

Baba the Cat, as dicatated to Paul Koudounaris

This is it my friends…this is the sublime dream-come-true book for all cat-lovers!

In a first person narrative, the colourful, sassy and debonaire cat Baba takes us on a journey highlighting important pusses who shaped the characters of humans, and felines who shaped the big events of history. Pirate cats, royal cats, spy cats, brave soldier cats you name it. If you think an idea like this is a bit strange and eccentric, well yes you are right…and it is absolutely FABULOUS!

Book Review: A Cat's Tale: A Journey Through Feline History by Baba the Cat

“Times have changed [since ancient Egypt]. Nowadays you watch over us, while back then it was we who watched over you! In fact we so dominated the human psyche that each and every feline, represented no less than a metaphor of creation. This was in accordance of a legend from the time before time, when all was darkness and narry a living thing existed until the sun god Ra came forth, appearing in the form of Miu Oa or a Great Tomcat. As the first paws trammeled upon the void, he wished for a world to be born into which man could be formed.”

A cat represents our shared humanity during the worst of times

Readers of this blog will remember I reviewed the biographical book about the doomed Karluk and her crew in the enthralling book ‘The Ice Master’ by Jennifer Niven. That book briefly mentions but doesn’t highlight the plight of the plucky feline on board named Nigeraurak.

The spectacular history book of cats A Cat’s Tale goes into much more detail about Nigeraurak’s life.

Book Review: A Cat's Tale: A Journey Through Feline History by Baba the Cat

Nigeraurak was a tuxedo cat who served on board the Canadian arctic exploration vessel HMCS Karluk. In 1913 the Karluk became ice-bound during an exploration of the North Pole.


Stranded at the top of the world in a life or death situation, the crew would face the challenges – exposure, fierce cold, illness, dwindling supplies and predation by polar bears.

Faced with the the prospect of a long and perilous journey towards the nearest settlement, they did not abandon their cat. Instead they created a fur-lined pouch to carry Nigeraurak and gave a bit of each of their rations to feed her. They thought of the cat as a member of their crew and for this reason were loath to abandon her.

As time dragged by and things became ever more and more difficult, the men always made sure that the kitten never went hungry; she was fussed over and well fed, even when it meant the men giving up part of their own rations. It might seem strange to have made so much fuss over a cat, but she helped to sustain them in the long, dark days, gave them something to think about other than themselves and was their good-luck charm, giving them grounds for hope. They felt that as long as Nigeraurak was alive, they would survive.

Purr and Fur

For the men of the Karluk, Nigeraurak was a symbol of their ability to maintain their humanity in the harshest of conditions. Abandoning their cat would have meant abandoning their faith in themselves, and they were convinced, as long as she survived, they would also.

It took nine brutal months before rescue came. The tally of survivors included fourteen humans and one feline! Afterwards Nigeraurak settled with a crew member in Philadelphia and each time she had a little of kittens, one was sent off to be a part of future expeditions.

By contrast, Ernest Shackleton took a cowardly and cruel approach to his ship’s cat

Perce Blackborow (age 18) with Mrs. Chippy, shipโ€™s cat, on board the Endurance; photo by Frank Hurley, 1914
Many of the crew loved Mrs. Chippy including young Perce Blackborow (age 18) pictured here with Mrs. Chippy, shipโ€™s cat, on board the Endurance; photo by Frank Hurley, 1914

“Great” explorer Ernest Shackleton with his crew on the ship Endurance (a mere decade before this) ran aground in the Arctic. Instead of saving the crew’s much loved cat Mrs Chippy, he ordered the crew’s carpenter Harry ‘Chip’ McNeish to kill Mrs. Chippy by shooting her and turfing her body overboard into the freezing arctic water, along with all other inanimate objects that were deemed expendable.

Harry ‘Chip’ McNeish (who named Mrs. Chippy the cat after him) never forgave Shackleton for ordering this and afterwards refused to speak to him ever again. Other than to tell those who inquired that his former commander had killed his cat.

McNeish loved that cat so much he fled to New Zealand and grieved Chippy’s loss for decades to come. Seventy five years later, the New Zealand Antarctic Society paid for a bronze statue of Chippy to be placed on McNeish’s grave.

“A final thought on the matter: You humans should realise that there is always a compassionate solution to problems that confront both man and beast, if you are willing to look beyond your selfishness to find it”

Baba the cat
Captain Seeks a Sea-Going Cat to Sign on for a Trip Around the World, New York Times (1922)
The Hermitage Court Outrunner Cat by Eldar Zakirov

I can honestly say that A Cat’s Tale belongs every serious feline fan’s CAT-alogue!

Each page is gloriously illustrated with Baba the Cat sporting the attire of famous and noteworthy cats from history.

If you strongly believe that cats should come slinking out of the shadows and have their stories told in the history books, then this is the book for you! It’s a show-stopper. It’s rated five Whiskas treats for me but if I could rate it six biscuits I would. I am baffled that this book is not a best-seller!

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Mฤori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Mฤori culture and loads more.

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