The best books about animal emotions

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson Author Of The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals
By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Who am I?

I was once a psychoanalyst, but I found that it was almost impossible to understand another human being. Animals were easier: they could not be hypocritical, they could not lie, they could not deceive. Whoever heard of an animal with an unconscious anger problem? If they were angry they showed it, if they loved they showed it. After I got fired from the Freud Archives (that’s a whole other story) I decided I wanted to read ten good books about animal emotions. This was in 1981. But it turns out there were no books on this topic I could read, except Darwin, 1872! So I decided to write my own. 

I wrote...

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals

By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson,

Book cover of The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals

What is my book about?

Possibly the first book written about the emotional lives of animals on farms: pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, goats, ducks, and others. Convinced these animals feel much the same emotions we do, the author realized he could no longer eat eggs or any dairy product, let alone meat. He felt he had no choice but to become vegan.   

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Talking with Bears: Conversations with Charlie Russell

By G.A. Bradshaw,

Book cover of Talking with Bears: Conversations with Charlie Russell

Why this book?

Russell, who died far too young, talks, in particular, about a bear in a remote mountain area of Russia (the Kamtchatka Peninsula) who had young by her side when she came upon Charlie. Convinced he was going to die (who is more protective of their young than a mother bear?), he was surprised, shocked, then delighted when she left her two cubs in his care while she foraged for food nearby. Explanation: She had observed him taking care of orphaned cubs and releasing them in the wild and realized he would make a good babysitter.

This book changed the way people think about bears. It also created a whole new genre: authors who had not been to university, who had no academic credentials, could yet write compelling books about animals because they had first-hand experience with them. Revolutionary. You will come away with a whole new understanding of the bear/human relationship. Just don’t go to Russia to study them! If you read the book, you will see why. 

Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season Living Among the Wild Turkey

By Joe Hutto,

Book cover of Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season Living Among the Wild Turkey

Why this book?

Like every reader who picks up this book, I was astounded to read about how Joe lived on intimate terms with a brood of young turkeys and learned to behave as they did. Best moment in the book: When he sees a rattlesnake and makes the call he learned in "Turkey" to say: "dangerous animals, stay alert."  They looked at him as if he had lost his mind. Reason: They recognized it was a baby snake, of no danger to them!

I am not even sure the author understood the enormity of what he did. He actually lived with wild turkeys (very different from the domesticated bird you, unfortunately, find on your plate for dinner) and could see things about them that nobody else had even suspected. I like to think it changed his life (e.g., he would never eat turkeys, or any bird, ever again) but I am not sure. I tried to reach out to him to find out, but I was not successful. Maybe you will have better luck.  

Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves

By Frans de Waal,

Book cover of Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves

Why this book?

The renowned primatologist sums up his views, which I share, about how similar to us are the great apes. The book begins with a story that nobody who reads it will ever forget. I will not spoil it for you, but read the first few pages and see if you come away with dry eyes.

Frans de Waal is rightly considered the world expert on primates. And reading this book will show you why and what he has learned. Actually, it’s not that hard to summarize: they are very similar to us. But if that is so, what are the implications? Here I think the author could have gone further. Because one thing I believe is undeniable: if they really are like us, what gives us the right to put them in zoos, or really in any kind of confinement, no matter how much we learn from doing so? I don’t know if this is something the author regrets about his own past. Would love to know. Anyone?

Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog

By Ted Kerasote,

Book cover of Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog

Why this book?

This was one of the first of many thousands of books extolling the power of the dog (Note: Nothing to do with Jane Campion's film of the same title). It also happens to be the best, or at least one of the best, and nobody can come away from reading it without recognizing that we are living with the friendliest aliens in the universe, and they, for mysterious reasons, love us!

There are so many good books about dogs that it is hard to pick just one. Pack of Two is another terrific book. But note that it is fairly recently that we have come to believe that we humans have an enormous amount to learn about our own species by observing dogs. I pass dogs every day on my walks here in Bondi Beach, and each time I think: No human has half the joie de vivre of every dog I pass. What do they know that we do not? This book helps to explain it. 

Enter the Animal: Cross-species Perspectives on Grief and Spirituality

By Teya Brooks Pribac,

Book cover of Enter the Animal: Cross-species Perspectives on Grief and Spirituality

Why this book?

Normally the word "spirituality" in a book title would have me running for the door. Dr. Pribac is so smart, so insightful, and so different in her way of approaching everything, that I was struck with wonder. Warning: A full-throated endorsement of veganism (to my delight).

Normally I do not like academic books about animals. But this book is an exception. The author is different than ordinary academics. For one thing, she really adores her subject. For another, she writes with heart. She is also whip-smart, so just about every sentence is worth reading twice or even three times. I truly believe she will revolutionize the field with her next books. Anyone interested in animals should keep an eye on for this author.  

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Wyoming, chimpanzees, and pioneers?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Wyoming, chimpanzees, and pioneers.

Wyoming Explore 20 books about Wyoming
Chimpanzees Explore 13 books about chimpanzees
Pioneers Explore 75 books about pioneers

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and A Beautiful Truth if you like this list.