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Crooked Cats

Beastly Encounters in the Anthropocene

Crooked Cats

Beastly Encounters in the Anthropocene

Big cats—tigers, leopards, and lions—that make prey of humans are commonly known as “man-eaters.” Anthropologist Nayanika Mathur reconceptualizes them as cats that have gone off the straight path to become “crooked.” Building upon fifteen years of research in India, this groundbreaking work moves beyond both colonial and conservationist accounts to place crooked cats at the center of the question of how we are to comprehend a planet in crisis.

There are many theories on why and how a big cat comes to prey on humans, with the ecological collapse emerging as a central explanatory factor. Yet, uncertainty over the precise cause of crookedness persists. Crooked Cats explores in vivid detail the many lived complexities that arise from this absence of certain knowledge to offer startling new insights into both the governance of nonhuman animals and their intimate entanglements with humans. Through creative ethnographic storytelling, Crooked Cats illuminates the Anthropocene in three critical ways: as method, as a way of reframing human-nonhuman relations on the planet, and as a political tool indicating the urgency of academic engagement. Weaving together “beastly tales” spun from encounters with big cats, Mathur deepens our understanding of the causes, consequences, and conceptualization of the climate crisis.

224 pages | 16 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2021

Animal Lives

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: Southeast Asia and Australia


“In this captivating book, Mathur offers a sensitive examination of ordinary ethical struggle with cruelties and injustices spawned by human domination of the earth. She writes gripping stories of big cats, mostly from within the villages and towns of Himalayan north India, to bridge the different ways in which the global climate crisis has been imagined, understood, and explained. This is precisely the bridge that must be crossed to reach solutions that are locally meaningful and globally just.”

K. Sivaramakrishnan, Yale University

“At a time when scholarship is highlighting the phenomenon of extinction, Mathur offers an important intervention that redirects attention from this accelerating absence by focusing instead on imaginatively constituted interactions between humans and animals under threat. Introducing many innovative, intriguing, and witty concepts, Crooked Cats is a distinctive contribution to the ongoing and ever-evolving conversation about human-animal conflict and coexistence.”

Kath Weston, University of Virginia

"While Mathur focuses on personal experience of an unusual occurrence, her persuasive arguments, with supporting resources and notes, successfully connect the observed phenomena to issues of interest to many... Highly recommended."


"Nayanika Mathur’s Crooked Cats: Beastly Encounters in the Anthropocene is a hard-hitting argument by a political scientist about the cultural (both human and leopard) and institutional ways in which big cats, particularly leopards, cohabit with humans in India. The book is a fascinating look at the political ecology of human-eating big cats and the responses of humans from the relatively powerless to the more powerful as mediated through governmental bureaucracy."


Table of Contents

Prologue: Of Two Reigns of Terror

Introduction: The Beastly Tale of the Leopard of Gopeshwar

1. Crooked Becomings
2. Murderous Looks
3. The Cute Killer
4. A Petition to Kill
5. The Leopard of Rudraprayag versus Shere Khan
6. Big Cats in the City
7. Entrapment
8. Three Beastly Tales to Conclude



Society for Cultural Anthropology: Gregory Bateson Book Prize
Honorable Mention

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