The best books to take you on a bizarre animal adventure

Who am I?

I’ve always had a love for weird and wonderful animals. As a kid, I used to collect lizards, snails, beetles, and caterpillars. When I was 15, I hid a family of white mice under the house so my parents wouldn’t find them. We bred guinea pigs and rats for a time. It was almost inevitable that I would end up writing about animals. As a science communicator, I tell stories about how strange yet relatable so many of the creatures living among us can be. I also love an adventure, and I hope these books capture your imagination as they did mine! 

I wrote...

Creatura: Strange Behaviours and Special Adaptations

By Becky Crew,

Book cover of Creatura: Strange Behaviours and Special Adaptations

What is my book about?

There’s no doubt that Australia has more than its fair share of weird and wonderful animals - just think about the platypus - but the true diversity of our wildlife is more extraordinary than you might imagine. There’s the caterpillar that wears its old head shells as a macabre hat, the cuscus that wraps itself in a blanket of leafy camouflage and the fish that targets prey with a high-powered jet of water. In this collection of stories from Australian Geographic blog Creatura, science writer Bec Crew celebrates the strange behaviours, special adaptations, and peculiar features of our amazing Australian creatures.

The books I picked & why

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Last Chance to See

By Douglas Adams, Mark Carwardine,

Book cover of Last Chance to See

Why this book?

This might just be my desert island book. I’m not ready to put a pin in that statement just yet, but I can’t think of another book that captured my heart quite like this one.

Written by Douglas Adams, of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame, and British zoologist Mark Carwardine, this 1990 masterpiece takes the reader on a round-the-world journey to encounter some of the most endangered and charismatic species on Earth. Destinations include Zaire, China, New Zealand, and Mauritius. Subjects include blind river dolphins, the Komodo dragon and the kakapo – a giant, flightless parrot that is the living embodiment of a muppet.

The beauty of this book about animals is just how utterly human it is. To see the deep connection Carwardine has with the species they seek and Adams’ wide-eyed curiosity as he tries to keep up through remote forest hikes and rocky boat rides is exhilarating.

I can also thoroughly recommend the 2009 television series of the same name, which stars British comedian, Stephen Fry, as he follows in Adams’ footsteps. Carwardine once again plays host, and his interaction with a rather frisky kakapo has become legendary.

A Wild Sheep Chase

By Haruki Murakami,

Book cover of A Wild Sheep Chase

Why this book?

Quite literally a bizarre animal adventure (the original Japanese title translates to “An Adventure Surrounding Sheep”), this charming novel was my first foray into the dream-like storytelling of Murakami. Sometimes sleepy and comforting, sometimes thrilling and sometimes downright brain-bending, this tale of a couple’s mission to track down a sheep of mythic proportions had me doing laps around my house, unable to put it down, but in desperate need to get up off the couch (who else spent the holidays in lockdown?).

Speaking of lockdown, and the lack of agency many of us feel right now as we enter the third year of a pandemic, this book offers tacit permission to go with the flow, to accept whatever life throws at you. 

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals

By Sami Bayly,

Book cover of The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals

Why this book?

Why should fluffy, cute and beautiful animals get all the attention? What about the fleshy, bulbous, beady-eyed monstrosities whose bodies favour function over form?

If you’re a weird animal enthusiast like me, this illustrated compendium features the usual suspects, such as the naked mole-rat and southern elephant seal. But it’s also got some obscure surprises, including the (honestly quite attractive) maleo, and the monkey slug caterpillar, also known as the hag moth (both of which are suitable monikers for this shaggy mess of a thing).

It just goes to show that no matter how extensive your knowledge about animals is, there will always be a new species to discover and perhaps even fall in love with. If that happens to be the blobfish, well, each to their own, I guess.

Quest for the Golden Hare

By Bamber Gascoigne,

Book cover of Quest for the Golden Hare

Why this book?

From a wild sheep chase to a grand old treasure hunt that gripped a nation, the Quest for the Golden Hare tells the real-life story of one of the most famous book-related escapades in recent memory. 

In 1979, British artist Kit Williams published Masquerade – a cryptic storybook containing clues to the whereabouts of an 18-carat gold hare trinket that Williams buried somewhere in the English countryside. Author Bamber Gascoigne was the only other person present at the burial, and was tasked with documenting the frankly bonkers lengths the crazed fans would go to uncover it.

I’m loath to mention the pandemic again, but in these times, when most of us are going stir crazy and are itching for an adventure, this book might just be the next best thing. (Bonus points if you can source a copy of Masquerade while you’re at it, which I believe has been out of print for quite some time.)

Éléphasme, Rhinolophon, Caméluche et autres merveilles de la nature

By Philippe Mignon,

Book cover of Éléphasme, Rhinolophon, Caméluche et autres merveilles de la nature

Why this book?

An obscure and fantastic book, Eléphasme, Rhinolophon, Caméluche et autres merveilles de la nature is a collection of illustrations of imagined beasts. From toads with feathery axolotl gills and seabirds with a probosci's monkey snout to a hairy chicken with hooves, these animals don’t make any sense, but they sure are beautiful to look at.

I stumbled on it back in 2012, during my first trip to Paris, visiting a singular shop called Deyrolle, which is filled with taxidermy, bones, bugs, and other curiosities. This book might be one of the most special things I own, and it’s almost impossible to find outside of France. For those who are determined to track it down, I can assure you, it’ll be worth it.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in threatened species, Japan, and treasure?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about threatened species, Japan, and treasure.

Threatened Species Explore 15 books about threatened species
Japan Explore 318 books about Japan
Treasure Explore 18 books about treasure

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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