It is fascinating to trace how our four-legged friends were domesticated. Dogs came first, before the agricultural revolution, and it is always astonishing to realise that such a dizzying range of modern canines all evolved from the wolf.
Cats came in useful at some uncertain point in the ancient Near East though, as Francis stresses, the work of feline domestication was very much a joint effort. We liked having them have around to eat the mice, but the cats were equally keen to locate a new food source once they had overcome the psychological barrier of fearing Homo Sapiens.
This wonderful book tells its tale in spellbinding detail. One of its most striking conclusions is that a huge amount of human intervention only had a limited impact on the way these creatures developed. You can breed and tinker all you want but many basic genetic building blocks, physiological attributes and behavioural traits remain entrenched. Your floppy-eared pooch has an astonishing ability to read human intentions and gestures, but it still retains something of the wolf.
DOMESTICATED: Evolution in a Man-Made World by Richard C. Francis, W. W. Norton and Co, £17.99 (hardback)
This book review was published in the July 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine