The best books about animal emotions

Why am I passionate about this?

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.   

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Talking with Bears: Conversations with Charlie Russell

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson Why did I love 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. 

By G.A. Bradshaw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Talking with Bears as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A highly literary and reflective portrait of Charlie Russell’s beautiful and unparalleled relationship with some of our planet’s most majestic giants.

Charlie Russell is a legend, not only in his home territory of Alberta but in all of Canada and around the world. An author of several books, including Walking with Giants: The Grizzlies of Siberia, The Spirit Bear: Encounters with the White Bear of the Western Rainforest, and Grizzly Heart: Living Without Fear Among the Brown Bears of Kamchatka, he has been the subject of numerous interviews, documentaries, and articles showcasing him and the bears he loved.

Talking with…


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

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson Why did I love 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.  

By Joe Hutto,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Illumination in the Flatwoods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Joe Hutto began his experiment in imprinting two dozen wild turkey-in the tradition of the great animal behaviorist, Konrad Lorenz-he had no idea that it would change his life. Told with skill and humor, and vibrating with the natural wonders of the Florida flatwoods, Illumination in the Flatwoods will amaze and enrich all who share this season with the wild turkey.


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

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson Why did I love 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?

By Frans de Waal,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mama's Last Hug as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mama's Last Hug is a fascinating exploration of the rich emotional lives of animals, beginning with Mama, a chimpanzee matriarch who formed a deep bond with biologist Jan van Hooff. Her story and others like it-from dogs "adopting" the injuries of their companions, to rats helping fellow rats in distress, to elephants revisiting the bones of their loved ones-show that humans are not the only species with the capacity for love, hate, fear, shame, guilt, joy, disgust, and empathy. Frans de Waal opens our hearts and minds to the many ways in which humans and other animals are connected.


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

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson Why did I love 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. 

By Ted Kerasote,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Merle's Door as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A moving, insightful love story about the vast possiblities of the relationship between humans and dogs.

While on a camping trip, Ted Kerasote meets a Labrador mix living on his own in the wild. They become attached to each other, and Kerasote decides to bring the dog, who he names Merle, home. There, after realizing that Merle's native intelligence would be diminished by living exclusively in the human world, he installs a dog door in his house, allowing Merle to live both outside and in.

Merle shows Kerasote how dogs might live if they were allowed to make more of…


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

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson Why did I love 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.  

By Teya Brooks Pribac,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Enter the Animal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Enter the Animal, Teya Brooks Pribac examines academic and popular discourse on animals' experiences of grief and spirituality, which are rooted in our intrinsic capacity and propensity for connections and relations, and highlights important ethical implications of humans' treatment of other species.Praise for Enter the Animal'This path-breaking book engages a surprising range of sources to shed extraordinary clarity on aspects of animal subjectivity that make other species every bit our equal. I could not stop reading.'- Cynthia Willett, author of Interspecies Ethics'Enter the Animal is a fascinating journey into the hearts and minds of nonhuman animals and our shared…


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Subjugation: Zanchier

By SG Boudreaux,

Book cover of Subjugation: Zanchier

SG Boudreaux

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Harper Brinley is running for her life.

After escaping from a government holding facility where she, along with other scientists, was being forced to build a deadly weapon. She headed for the most remote place she could think of, the wild Xantifal Mountains.

The one place where no one would think to search for her. There, she found a massive hollowed tree in which to survive the harsh mountain winter. If she can survive the four-legged, fire-breathing firebirds and the equally large wildcats of the mountain ridge, then maybe she can find her way back to her children. She was…

Subjugation: Zanchier

By SG Boudreaux,

What is this book about?

Harper Brinley is running for her life. After escaping from a government holding facility, where she along with other scientists were being forced to build a deadly weapon, she headed for the most remote place she could think of, the wild Xantifal Mountains. The one place where no one would think to search for her. There she found a massive hollowed tree in which to survive the harsh mountain winter. If she can survive the four-legged, fire-breathing firebirds, and the equally large wildcats of the mountain ridge, then maybe she can find her way back to her children. She was…


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