Books: Miaou!

THE GREAT CAT MASSACRE AND OTHER EPISODES IN FRENCH CULTURAL HISTORY

by Robert Darnton; Basic Books

298 pages; $17.95

The intriguing title is not a joke, nor is it an attempt to reach the Garfield market. It represents a searching effort to determine why a band of Parisian printers bludgeoned to death a lot of cats, notably including the master printer's wife's pet, then subjected several of the animals to a mock trial and hanged them. More important, why did these printers of the 1730s think the butchery was so comic that they guffawed as...

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