The Oscar nominated documentary My Octopus Teacher really hit the spot. The film explores the relationship between Craig Foster, a South African filmmaker, and an octopus he encounters in a South African kelp forest. Foster returns to the same place day after day. It’s a beautiful film, letting viewers see the world under the water. It’s also timely film as we all have had to slow our lives down and limit our travel dramatically. We get to see the astonishing creatures and flora without leaving our homes. But more importantly the film teaches us that we can learn so much by observing the immediate world around us. It shows us that we can make the connections with our fellow creatures.
To honor this film and its message, I assembled a list of six recently published nonfiction books about animals. These books meditate on a single creature or many creatures and our relationship to them and the world at large.
A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World’s Smartest Birds of Prey by Jonathan Meiburg
This astonishing book explores the caracara, a singular bird of prey that briefly fascinated Charles Darwin for its awful mischief. The bird is curious and clever about the world, even fascinated by these weird creatures known as humans. The birds act more like crows and ravens than other birds of prey. Recently published at the end of March, this book goes into evolutionary time to explore the impact of continental drift, migration patterns, dinosaurs, and more to better understand this most curious of birds. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.
The Redemption of Wolf 302 : From Renegade to Yellowstone Alpha Male by Rick McIntyre
The third book in McIntyre’s trilogy about wolves, this work explores Wolf 302, who didn’t seem like he’d ever become an alpha wolf. He was a coward when it came to battle or living up to the responsibilities of fatherhood. In time, McIntyre watches this wolf transform from a craven creature into leader of the pack. Available on October 21, 2021.
The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural by Patrik Svensson
This award-winning book dives into the unknown world of eels. It’s a mix of Svensson’s own experiences fishing with his father and an exploration of the science, literature, and history of this European eel, Anguilla anguilla. It’s a reminder that we may have learned a lot about the natural world, there’s so much more we don’t know — whether it’s the undiscovered animals in the deep ocean or something as “common” as the European eel.
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
World of Wonders is an award-winning collection of essays about animals and plants by poet Nezhukumatathil. Each chapter explores a different life form from the axolotl to the corpse flower. Each chapter is a mix of science and experiences from Nezhukumatathil’s own life. Like the other books on this list, it’s again a reminder that nature can teach us so much about ourselves.
Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaght
Another notable book of 2020, Owls of the Eastern Ice gives insight into the world of a field scientist who becomes fascinated by Blakiston’s fish owl. Not a great deal was known about this large owl, described as looking “like a small bear with decorative feathers.” The book shows the extreme measures and conditions that Slaght goes through to learn and protect this creature.
Neurologist and ethicist Dr. Akhtar explores our intertwined relationship with other animals. She makes a strong case that we need to empathize with our fellow animals for their sake but also our own, using case examples of people and animals who forge or destroy those critical bonds. She also draws upon her own experiences creating relationships with animals when she was abused and bullied as a child. In a time when we are coming to terms with our relationship with the world, it’s a necessary read about our role with our fellow passengers on the planet.