21 Must-Read Books About Animals

Great reads for those who love, care, for or wish to support our fellow earthlings. 

Whether you’re interested in animal behaviour, human behaviour towards animals, or the sticky world of animal rights, this list has you covered. There are contributions from activists, philosophers, lawyers, scientists, photographers and a film star. Whether a classic or contemporary best-seller, they all have one thing in common. They illuminate an aspect of the animal world in an entertaining or informative way.

21 Must-Read Books About Animals

1. Animalkind, by Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone, 2020

Did you know that geese fall in love and fish sing underwater? Or that elephants use their trunks to send signals? This 2020 bestseller by PETA President Ingrid Newkirk and author Gene Stone gives an entertaining and informative insight into the inner lives of animals. Equally, the book flags up a myriad of practical ways readers can tweak their lives to avoid unnecessary harm to creatures. For starters, how about swapping recycled fleece for wool? In summary, a fun and fascinating study on why we should be kinder to animals.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

2. Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer, 2015

Singer is an Australian moral philosopher. He has written over 20 books on ethics, poverty, and utilitarianism. However his seminal work – Animal Liberation – is also his first. Published in 1975 it introduced the concept of “animal rights” that catalysed the animal rights movement. He also argues against “speciesism”, the prejudice in favour one’s own species over another. Significantly, this powerful work not only exposes the horrific practices in the animal food industry but provides pragmatic and humane alternatives.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

3. Impersonating Animals; Rhetoric, Ecofeminism, and Animal Rights Law, by S Marek Muller, 2020

In 2011, the American Association for the Advancement of Science stated that dolphins and orcas should be legally regarded as persons. Animal law can be studied and practiced at animal advocacy organisations. But does the legal system offer the best path to protecting animal rights? Exploring race, gender, class, sexuality, and species, author S. Marek Muller tries to answer this question. She highlights veganism as the route to true liberation for both humans and animals.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

4. Elephants Among Us: Two Performing Elephants in 20th Century America, by M. Jaynes, 2017

Based on the true stories of circus elephants Stoney and Big Mary, this book shows how little has changed in the treatment of entertainment animals. Stoney performed at circuses and fairs throughout from the early ‘70s until his death in a storage barn in 1994. Big Mary killed a man in Tennessee and was hanged in 1916. Both narratives exemplify the cruel treatment of these elephants for human’s pleasure. Both riveting and tragic, this is a must-read.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

5. Committed: A Rabble-Rouser’s Memoir, by Dan Mathews, 2008

A light-hearted take on animal activism, Mathews’ book chronicles his transition from party boy to PETA boy. Currently Senior Vice President of PETA, Mathew was the driving force of the organisation’s most attention-getting campaigns, including the “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” ads. Whether dressed as a carrot to promote vegetarianism or dressed in nothing at a fur convention, the outrageous tales don’t detract from the seriousness of the book’s message. 

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

6. Eva, by Peter Dickinson, 2013

Eva is a science fiction novel set in a dystopian future where a chimpanzee is implanted with the consciousness of a paralysed girl. Living with other chimpanzees, Eva sets out to save the species from human destruction. Most of Dickinson’s work has focused on ecological themes. For Eva, he researched chimp behaviour and dedicated it to primatologist Jane Goodall. Labelling this book Young Adult is to do it a disservice. A compelling read. 

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

7. The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age, by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, 2017

In spite of studies that show animals experience similar intelligence and emotions to humans, this information is not changing the way we are treating them. Animal expert Bekoff and bio-ethicist Pierce use scientific data to show how the current approach is failing to alleviate animal suffering. The Animal Agenda urges the reader to reassess their relationship with animals whether in farms, research labs, the wild or the home. 

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

8. National Geographic The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals, by Joel Sartore, 2017

Photographer Sartore’s mission is to capture an image of every animal in captivity in the world. So far, he has managed to take 6000 portraits at hundreds of zoos and rescue centres. Working alongside National Geographic, his hope is that “The Photo Ark” will highlight the need to protect these animals, many of whom are endangered. That said, the tone of the book light-hearted with renowned wildlife expert Douglas Chadwick adding comedic commentary.  Whether a tiny grasshopper sparrow or mammoth one-horned rhino, this beautiful collection of photos is both inspired and inspiring.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

9. Wildlife as Property Owners: A New Conception of Animal Rights, by Karen Bradshaw, 2020

A sustainability scientist and lawyer, Bradshaw has worked extensively on land development, forest planning and wildlife law. This has informed her take on animal rights in Wildlife as Property Owners. If humans coexist with animals, how can property law assume human ownership of land? Bradshaw explores how this presumption spells disaster for wildlife, biodiversity, and ultimately humans.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

10. In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall, 1971

In 1960, aged 26, legendary primatologist Goodall traveled from England to Tanzania. Armed with a notebook and binoculars, she decided the only way to learn about chimpanzees was to live with them. Her discovery that chimps make and use tools is considered a turning point in evolutionary study. Packed with photos, this best-seller is a fascinating study of both the animal world and one woman’s determination to understand and protect it. 

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

11. Beyond Cage: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment, by Justin Marceau, 2019

Marceau’s work goes against the animal rights consensus that animal abusers deserve more severe criminal punishment. Instead he argues that this approach is counterproductive. Citing studies that show the justice system’s ineffectiveness in reducing offending rates, he argues that longer sentences don’t mean less abuse. Challenging and controversial, the book unpacks traditional ideas about animal protection. A thought-provoking read.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

12. Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, 2009

This New York Times best-seller offers a deeply personal take on why humans should not eat meat. Foer uses the book as a way to decide whether or not he should let his newborn son eat meat. What follows is an exploration of industrialised farming, animal suffering and climate impact. Based on its success, “Eating Animals” was adapted into a documentary narrated by Natalie Portman in 2018.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

13. Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits, by Corey Lee Wrenn, 2020

Wrenn takes an extensive look at how social movements are shaped by capitalist ideologies and state interests. She argues that factionalism and competition between advocacy groups hinders social progress. Exhaustively researched, this book explores 30 years of the animal rights movement. Plus it features exclusive interviews with key movement leaders. 

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

14. A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement, by Ernest Freeberg, 2020

Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 1866. Distressed by the cruelty he’d witnessed, Bergh dedicated his life to ending animal abuse. Moreover, he started a hugely controversial campaign to grant animals rights. Accomplished historian Freeberg weaves an imaginative and informative tale of a compassionate man ahead of his time.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

15. Tears of Battle: An Animal Rights Memoir, by Brigitte Bardot, Anne-Cécile Huprelle, Grace McQuillan, 2019

In “Tears of Battle”, global icon Bardot examines how she transitioned from ‘60s sex kitten to animal crusader. The book details successes such as setting up her foundation and meeting with world leaders. However, she also recalls the decades-long battles to get animal protection legislation implemented. Poignant and passionate, this offers a surprising insight into Bardot’s world. 

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

16. Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell, 1877

When it was published in 1877, “Black Beauty” was an instant best-seller. With fifty million copies sold, it is still one of the most read books of all time. Unsurprisingly so. One of the first fictional animal autobiographies, readers follow Black Beauty from carefree farm days to the hardship of pulling cabs in London. Sewell’s only novel is an ode to animal welfare. However, it also teaches that people should be treated with kindness, sympathy, and respect too.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

17. Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies, by Margo DeMello, 2012

Exploring the way humans and animals interact in the family, law, religion and politics, DeMello attempts to distil how this relationship informs our view of ourselves. In her opinion, a view that perpetuates hierarchical human relationships rooted in racism, sexism, and class privilege. She also looks at contemporary issues such as animal preservation, zoos, animals in sport and vivisection. With plenty of additional suggested reading, films and websites, this is a comprehensive analysis of human-animal relations. 

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

18. Voices for Animal Liberation: Inspirational Accounts by Animal Rights by Brittany Michelson, 2020

A 360-degree view of the animal advocacy movement from those on the frontline. With a foreword from PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, voices include Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur, Olympic medalist Dotsie Bausch and Alex Bez, director of Amazing Vegan Outreach. The sheer diversity of contributors means readers get the benefit of their many different perspectives, experiences and challenges in the pursuit of animal rights. 

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

19. Life Behind Bars Vol. 1, by Julian Starks, 2020

Starks has created a stunning fine art photography book of exotic and endangered animals. All of the animals featured are being kept in captivity for their own protection, and that of their species. Starks visited sanctuaries all over America to capture over 150 images. A portion of book sales will go to these institutions.

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

20. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness, by Sy Montgomery, 2015

Author Montgomery is described by the Boston Globe as “Part Indiana Jones, part Emily Dickinson.” A film-maker and wildlife expert, she has written 13 award-winning books on experiences such as being hunted by a tiger in India and undressed by an orangutan in Borneo. For this book, she immersed herself in the lives of octopuses. What results is both fascinating and charming. Each octopus has a distinct personality whether gentle, assertive, fun-loving or inquisitive. As Montgomery’s relationship with them unfolds, so do her discoveries about their intelligence and sentience. 

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21 Must-Read Books About Animals

21. A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future, by Sir David Attenborough, 2020

A new autobiography and mission statement from the legendary 94-year-old naturalist and broadcaster that is empowering, inspiring and fascinating. He is skilled at paring down complex environmental processes and concepts such as Kate Rawoth’s “doughnut model” of boundaries. Equally effective the statistics about the planet at different stages of his life. When he was born, the world population was 2bn people. Over 90 years later, humans now number 8bn. Attenborough is the greatest narrator of the natural world. As the Sunday Times review urged, “Read this book to learn, but also to honour the man. We shall never see his like again.”

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