Kittenwar, the book

Date: 6 August 2007
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


In my position as the world's premier kitten reviewer, I am sometimes called upon to read cat books.

Actually, it's just the fact that we've got three cats here, plus the fact that a person like me who plays with gadgets for a living is basically impossible to buy for. Between them, those two factors bring the cat books to our door for birthdays and Christmas.

I'm sure other people who happen to own a few pets of the same kind - or just the same biological family - have faced a similar situation. You've got some frogs, so people who need a safe Emergency Gift assume you'll be OK with frog fridge magnets, frog paperweights, frog calendars or, yes, cute frog books.

The Cute Animal Book is, almost without exception, a cheap cash-in - or at least an attempt at one. Dredge up a bunch of stock photos of puppies, put one on each right-hand page and a dumb English haiku (with no season word) on every left, and off it goes to the gift shops.

(I'm frankly surprised that there hasn't been a LOLCAT book yet. I'm sure it won't be long.)

On which note: Here's the Kittenwar book!

Kittenwar book

The Kittenwar site is deservedly popular. It's a rating site, and it lets visitors vote on which of a series of random pairs of kittens they consider to be the cutest.

I've just learned that this is the Ranked Pairs type of Condorcet election method.

I don't usually pay much attention to brilliant election strategies, on account of how the people who benefit from the current ways of running elections, and are therefore elected, are strangely reticent to improve the system, so there's no point wistfully reading about the improvements that'll never be made. But this implementation of Ranked Pairs has one considerable advantage over the usual "Hot Or Not" kind of ranking site: It's very hard to stack the vote.

I can point you to the Kittenwar entries for our three cats, my sister's cat, the cat a friend of mine used to own and the Devon Rex who used to live next door, but you can't vote on those pages. If you all decided to artificially inflate the cuteness ranking of those cats, you'd just have to start refreshing until you happened to see one of them. With tens of thousands of kittens in the database, that'd take a while.

After setting up this elegant online voting system, the Kittenwar proprietors ended up with a well-sorted database of cute cat pictures. A lot of those pictures were too low-resolution for print, but a while ago the Kittenwar upload page started asking people to upload print-resolution images for the upcoming book (I'm happy to say that the word blook appears nowhere on the Kittenwar site), with of course a terms-and-conditions list that included permission to include said pics in whatever other publications the Kittenwar people could think of.

For lo, the book is not the only upcoming Kittenwar publication. There's also a 2008 calendar (already available for $10.36 on Amazon, as I write this), and there are postcards and even a card game (whose type I think I can guess...) in the pipeline, too.

The default assumption for all of these products is that they'll be rubbish.

OK, the calendar's probably a perfectly good cat calendar (with a guarantee of two kittens per month!), but you'd feel pretty safe assuming that the other stuff is just another shower of stocking-stuffing gift-shop garbage.

I'm happy to say, though, that the book actually isn't.

Don't get me wrong, it's not what you'd call literature. But it's considerably more diverting than the usual vapid picture-book-for-adults that often clutters the shelves of pet owners.

Kittenwar book

Most of the compact (roughly 185-by-160mm, closed) book is composed, unsurprisingly, of facing-page pairs of kitties, with their ranked-pair Cuteness Battle Results on the next page. If there's nothing very remarkable about the pairing then the next two pages will be another Battle, with the results of the last one at the top of one page. If there's something interesting about a pairing then the results take up a whole page, and there's text on the other one.

Kittenwar book

Like so.

The commentary largely concerns itself with the analysis, taxonomy and geographical distribution of cuteness, going into more detail with a couple of appendices at the end of the 160 page book.

Kittenwar book

It'll all feel rather familiar to anyone who reads Cute Overload.

Some of the commentary's a bit forced, but there's not enough of it that this is really a problem. The book's strength is kitten pictures and preference scores, so it has lots of pictures and scores.


I might fairly be accused of overthinking this whole thing just a little bit. It's a cute kitty book. What's to review?

But if someone types "cute cat book" into Google they will perhaps find this page, and thus end up buying the Kittenwar book, which is pretty good, instead of one of the legions of crappy alternatives.

The Kittenwar book is a sturdy little hardback, attractively printed and presented, not cheatingly thin, and not very expensive either ($US10.17 on Amazon, as I write this). And it's a lot less brain-numbing than the average cheap-cash-in animal-photo book.

I'm sure there are some people out there for whom this really is the perfect gift. People may even buy it for themselves. I think far more people are going to buy it because they can't think of anything else even slightly affordable to give to a particular relative/workmate/Drill Sergeant, though.

If the complete Bone is too heavy and Bunny Suicides are very definitely off the table, the Kittenwar book comes recommended from me. It will allow you to discharge your gift-giving duty safely and with aplomb.

Review book kindly provided by Kittenwar.

The Kittenwar book is available from

(So are the calendar, and the postcards, and the card game. Moichandising!)

Give Dan some money!
(and no-one gets hurt)