Have you ever wondered what shellfish feel? Have you ever marveled at the complex social structure of wolf packs? Have you ever thought about the intellectual potential of chimpanzees? The following books explore the intellectual, emotional, and–dare I say?–spiritual lives of nonhuman life forms, from the greatest mammals to the tiniest insects.
1. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal
This exciting new book explores the current science of animal cognition and challenges many of the assumptions humans have about “lower” life forms. The genius of animals has long been underestimated, but this book seeks to set the record straight, marveling at the ways in which animals have adapted to their natural environments and the humans that too frequently invade their homes.
2. The Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs
In this book, naturalist Craig Childs recounts his amazing encounters with other species in the wild–from sharks and grizzlies to elk and Bighorn sheep. This book also contains perhaps the best description of a porcupine ever written–he describes it as “a mobile hairstyle”–a truly great contribution to naturalist literature.
3. Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker
If you’re the sort of person who likes off-beat trivia, this book is for you. Sad Animal Facts is a colorful and hilarious compendium of that will change the way you see animal life.
4. Tense Bees and Shell-Shocked Crabs by Michael Tye
We know that animals are highly intelligent and well-adapted to survive in their various habitats, but are they truly conscious? Do non-mammal forms of life experience emotion the way humans do? This book explores the mystery of animal consciousness before segueing into a discussion on the theoretical possibility of artificial consciousness.
5. Winter World by Bernd Heinrich
Winter World focuses on a specific application of animals’ evolutionary genius–the ability to survive winter by adapting to the environment, the opposite of humans’ tendency to adapt the environment to suit our survival needs. The biological adaptations that allow animals to hibernate, store food, and even–as is the case with some insects–produce their own antifreeze–is truly remarkable.
6. Beyond Words by Carl Safina
This book uses science and the author’s field observations to challenge the idea that humans and animals are fundamentally different. It delves into the remarkably complex inner lives of elephants, wolves, and whales, and offers unique insight into the minds of these majestic creatures.
7. Wild Justice by Marc Bekoff & Jessica Pierce
Many books explore the intellectual and emotional lives of animals, but this is the only one that I know of that explores the morality of animals. Nature is often seen as cruel and impersonal, and yet there are numerous examples of animals sacrificing their own wellbeing for the sake of others–even those who are not their offspring. Wild Justice explores the science behind this moral behavior and challenges readers to think about the implications of animal conscience. Are we really treating our fellow creatures the way they deserve?
8. Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin & Cathrine Johnson
This book offers a new perspective on animal behavior and emotion. Temple Grandin is autistic, which gives her unique insight into the animal mind. She argues that there are astonishing similarities between how animal and autistic brains work–that both are hyper-specific and incredibly sensitive to detail. This fascinating book will change the way you think about animals and autism.
9. Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland
The animal world can seem cruel at times. Predator hunts prey, mothers abandon their offspring, and the weak are left to die alone. And yet, for all the impersonal laws of the natural world, there are also numerous examples of creatures coming together in the most unlikely ways. In this book, you’ll read heartwarming and logic-defying stories of a snake befriending a hamster, a cat peacefully coexisting with a bird, and a wild Indian leopard who infiltrates a village at night to snuggle up with a local calf. Are they freaks of nature or talismans of peace?
10. National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia by Lucy Spelman
The ultimate guide to the animal kingdom, this book provides details on 2,500 species, complete with photos and maps. It’s accessible enough for children and informative enough for adults.
What are your favorite animal books?