by Scot Christenson
Sometimes after reading some of the heavier material I normally end up reading, I need a nice bit of fluffy escapism to lift me up. One of my low-key favorites is reading or listening to stories about animals during wartime or in the military service. This is assuming I’m not listening to or reading stories about Russian “tank dogs”, or some such, as that’s insanely depressing. Cats in the Navy by Scot Christenson, and published by The US Naval Institute Press, is one such light-hearted book that takes a rather in depth look at The military use of feline “soldiers” to keep ships vermin and disease free. Spanning over a century of historic records, this book is a fun look at a rather overlooked topic.
“Cats were seen as omens in ancient times but eventually became trusted animal companions to those who sailed the seas. From catching rats at docks and on ships at sea, cats often became mascots to the navies around the globe. Filled with informative text and more than eighty photos, Cats in the Navy provides a fun history of our feline friends who rode the waves with us.”
The format of this book is largely that of a photography book with around one hundred images of cats in the service of various naval ships. These pictures alternate between pages of written text, usually outlining the images you are looking at and what importance they hold. The book itself is a hardcover 8×10 volume and will look great on any military history lover’s bookshelf, although for this review I was only able to see a digital version. Most of the photographs are black and white (the reason will come later), so I liked the use of color in the book – vibrant yellows and blues, to make the photos pop and give the book a warm, almost nostalgic feeling.
As with many fun things, the use of cats in The Navy was largely upended in the 1950s due to the government seeing the practice as both frivolous and costly to American taxpayers. Considering the infamous stories of Government Appropriations of ten thousand dollar coffee pots, fifty dollar screws, and other vaguely questionable things the general public actually know about – having a cat or dog onboard a ship seems like small potatoes, but I digress. Due to this, most images, with a few exceptions, are from WWI and WWII.
Fans of seeing cute cat photos will love this book, as seeing cats in little sailor costumes and sleeping in little cat hammocks is pretty fun. I say this as a grown thirty-nine year old man that listens to metal music, cat pictures can brighten any day. Some of the sailor superstitions in the book were very interesting to read about, namely the belief that if a ship’s cat was seen trying to abandon the ship before it departed at port signaled and upcoming disaster, or a random catfight aboard a ship was actually The Devil himself battling an angel for the souls of the sailors aboard.
Overall, this book was an entertaining quick read and would be a perfect gift for a cat lover or military enthusiast alike. If my step-father, who was a Navy Veteran and cat enthusiast, was still around I’m sure he would have loved this book. I’m glad the book stayed on the lighter end of things, because reading about some of the ship cats that likely didn’t make it would have been too much of a bummer, so kudos to the author. When thinking about this topic, One previous book by USNI and their comic imprint Dead Reckoning comes to mind, Four-Fisted Tales, so if you also like this sort of thing, check that out as well.
If you are interested in this book, please click HERE
NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.