The best books about animals by people who actually understand them

Who am I?

In addition to being the author of lots of books, I am a wrangler of lots of pets. I live with a dog, two cats, a Belgian warmblood horse who I rode in dressage for many years, and his pasture pal who is a miniature horse. I’m known for writing books with animals in which the animal is a character, not a caricature. So many authors don’t seem to know animals deeply, and so just insert them in a scene like a placeholder. But every animal is an individual, and I try to reflect that in my work.


I wrote...

Seven Perfect Things

By Catherine Ryan Hyde,

Book cover of Seven Perfect Things

What is my book about?

Thirteen-year-old Abby Hubble lives in an unhappy home in the Sierra Nevada foothills where her father makes life miserable for her and her mother, Mary. One day Abby witnesses a man dump a litter of puppies into the nearby river. Diving in to rescue all seven, she knows she can't bring them home. She takes them to an abandoned cabin, where all she can offer is a promise that she’ll be back.

To grieving widower Elliot Colvin, life has lost meaning. Looking for solace, he retreats to the hunting cabin he last visited years ago. What he discovers is seven puppies and one determined girl with an indomitable heart. As Abby and Elliot’s friendship deepens, Abby imagines how much better her life would be if her mother was married to Elliot instead. 

The books I picked & why

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Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

By Frans de Waal,

Book cover of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Why this book?

For a long time I’ve had the feeling that we undersell animals by looking at their capabilities all wrong. We tend to judge their intelligence by human standards, which is a little bit like suggesting a person speaking a foreign language is making no sense. Albert Einstein purportedly wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Animals see the world differently, which is a thing of great beauty in most cases, and something I feel I’m a better person for studying. Someone finally approached animals without the overwhelming human bias, and I have to say it's about time.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

By Frans de Waal,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed as a classic, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? explores the oddities and complexities of animal cognition-in crows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, chimpanzees, and bonobos-to reveal how smart animals really are, and how we've underestimated their abilities for too long. Did you know that octopuses use coconut shells as tools, that elephants classify humans by gender and language, and that there is a young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University whose flash memory puts that of humans to shame? Fascinating, entertaining, and deeply informed, de Waal's landmark work will convince you to rethink everything you…


Theft

By BK Loren,

Book cover of Theft

Why this book?

This is a stunning debut novel about a woman who is a master wildlife tracker out to help save the Mexican wolf from extinction. There’s a lot more to the plot than that, but her relationship to animals and to the natural world is deeply satisfying. She allows them to “people” each scene, not only the wolf but her ranch animals, and her respect for other species shines through. This is a far cry from my pet peeve, which is a book with a dog, but the dog is a cardboard cutout who just holds up the end of the leash and makes us think his owner is nice. This is the opposite of that stereotype.

Theft

By BK Loren,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A master wildlife tracker's life is thrown into upheaval when she is tapped to hunt not the animals of America's Southwestern terrain, but her own troubled brother. 

Willa Robbins is a master tracker working to reintroduce the Mexican wolf, North America's most endangered mammal, to the American Southwest. But when Colorado police recruit her to find her own brother, Zeb, a confessed murderer, she knows skill alone will not sustain her. Willa is thrown back into the past, surfacing memories of a childhood full of intense love, desperate mistakes, and gentle remorse. Trekking through exquisite New Mexico and Colorado landscapes,…


Endangered

By Eliot Schrefer,

Book cover of Endangered

Why this book?

This is my only other fiction pick. I read this many years ago, when it was new, but it stayed with me. We see a lot of relationships between people and dogs or people and horses, but this is a novel about a girl and a group of bonobos. That’s an interesting twist on the human/animal relationship, because other primates are so similar to us in their intelligence and approach to the world. They are mostly helpless against human forces, but then again so are young girls. The bonds formed in this book are worth the price of admission, and the suspense is high throughout.

Endangered

By Eliot Schrefer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Endangered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From National Book Award Finalist Eliot Schrefer comes the compelling tale of a girl who must save a group of bonobos -- and herself -- from a violent coup.

Congo is a dangerous place, even for people who are trying to do good.When Sophie has to visit her mother at her sanctuary for bonobos, she's not thrilled to be there. Then Otto, an infant bonobo, comes into her life, and for the first time she feels responsible for another creature.But peace does not last long for Sophie and Otto. When an armed revolution breaks out in the country, the sanctuary…


The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis

By Elizabeth Letts,

Book cover of The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis

Why this book?

This is quite possibly the best nonfiction book I’ve read. I loved it so much that I traveled to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna to see the Lipizzaner horses in person, and listened to the audiobook for a second time while traveling. This one has it all: History, suspense, people who care about horses, horses. As a plus, if you’re into audiobooks, the narrator of The Perfect Horse, Paul Boehmer, is the perfect voice. I would listen to this guy read a laundry list all day long. Put him to the task of reading a truly important story like this one and you will be educated and entertained. I can’t say enough good things about this book.

The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis

By Elizabeth Letts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Perfect Horse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable story of the heroic rescue of priceless horses in the closing days of World War II

WINNER OF THE PEN AWARD FOR RESEARCH NONFICTION

In the chaotic last days of the war, a small troop of battle-weary American soldiers captures a German spy and makes an astonishing find—his briefcase is empty but for photos of beautiful white horses that have been stolen and kept on a secret farm behind enemy lines. Hitler has stockpiled the world’s finest purebreds in order to breed the perfect military machine—an…


The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation

By Elizabeth Letts,

Book cover of The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation

Why this book?

I’m breaking the rules by recommending two books by the same author, but I just had to. These are the two ultimate nonfiction books for horse lovers, though you really don’t need to be a horse person to love this book. Guy buys an old plow horse off the kill wagon and the horse goes on the win the national championship in jumping two years in a row. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? Plus his whole family really loves the horse. There are pictures of his many children all lined up on the horse’s back. This is one of those feel-good books that you will remember. Even if you don’t remember specific details, you will remember the way it made you feel. 

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation

By Elizabeth Letts,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Eighty-Dollar Champion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The dramatic and inspiring story of a man and his horse, an unlikely duo whose rise to stardom in the sport of show jumping captivated the nation  

Harry de Leyer first saw the horse he would name Snowman on a truck bound for the slaughterhouse. The recent Dutch immigrant recognized the spark in the eye of the beaten-up nag and bought him for eighty dollars. On Harry’s modest farm on Long Island, he ultimately taught Snowman how to fly. Here is the dramatic and inspiring rise to stardom of an unlikely duo. One show…


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