The best books about dogs and their people

Why am I passionate about this?

Do you ever wonder what your dog’s life was like before he became part of your family? Or what your dog is thinking when she stares at you? I’m a journalist, and when I get curious about something, I start asking questions, and I read. A lot. When I started researching the book that would become Dogland, I began collecting dog books of all kinds: novels, memoirs, nonfiction. Now I review dog books for EcoLit Books, an online journal featuring works with animal welfare and environmental themes. The books listed below—a mix of fiction and nonfiction—are some of my favorites. 


I wrote...

Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America's Dog Problem

By Jacki Skole,

Book cover of Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America's Dog Problem

What is my book about?

In a mix of memoir and investigative journalism, Dogland follows Jacki Skole’s journey to trace the origins of her family’s rescue dog. Skole takes readers from dilapidated county-run shelters in the South to strip malls in the Northeast where rescue groups seek homes for homeless pets. She visits rural and urban “vet deserts” and exposes the South’s complex relationship with companion dogs. Along the way, Skole interviews dozens who work in the world of animal rescue. What she discovers reveals as much about her young dog as the multi-faceted human-canine relationship.

“[Dogland] is not only an incredibly well-written and engrossing read, but it is an important and thought-provoking work that challenges each of us to evaluate how companion animals are treated and traded in this country." --Tracy Slowiak, Readers’ Favorite

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Travels with Charley in Search of America

Jacki Skole Why did I love this book?

It’s a classic. Travels with Charley may have been published in 1962, but many of Steinbeck’s observations of America, collected during his journey from Maine to California’s Monterey Peninsula, are as relevant today as they were six decades ago. And then there’s Charley, the French-born Standard Poodle who served as Steinbeck’s sidekick and sole traveling companion. “A dog,” wrote Steinbeck, “is a bond between strangers.”

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Travels with Charley in Search of America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An intimate journey across America, as told by one of its most beloved writers

To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light-these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.

With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the…


Book cover of How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain

Jacki Skole Why did I love this book?

I am forever wondering what goes on in the deep recesses of my dogs’ brains. (Except if it’s 5:00 p.m. and my Labrador-mix locks eyes on me. Then, I know it’s dinner time.) It’s this desire to peer into my dogs’ heads that attracted me to Gregory Berns’ pioneering research. In 2011, Berns came up with the radical notion that dogs could be trained to enter an MRI machine and remain still long enough to have their brains scanned and thus, studied. Many doubted him, but Berns and his Terrier-mix Callie proved them wrong. This is their incredible story.

By Gregory Berns,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Dogs Love Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Wall Street Journal bestseller.

The powerful bond between humans and dogs is one that's uniquely cherished. Loyal, obedient, and affectionate, they are truly "man's best friend." But do dogs love us the way we love them? Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns had spent decades using MRI imaging technology to study how the human brain works, but a different question still nagged at him: What is my dog thinking?

After his family adopted Callie, a shy, skinny terrier mix, Berns decided that there was only one way to answer that question-use an MRI machine to scan the dog's brain. His…


Book cover of The Friend

Jacki Skole Why did I love this book?

How is one to mourn the sudden death of a loved one? For the novel’s narrator, whose best friend has taken his own life, there’s writing. There’s therapy. And there’s the unexpected responsibility of caring for the friend’s one-hundred-and-eighty-pound harlequin Great Dane. Infused with wit and humor, the novel is a meditation on the friendship between people and between people and their dogs, who, the narrator says, “may well, in their mute unfathomable way, know us better than we know them.” I’m not alone in my praise. The Friend won the 2018 National Book Award for fiction.

By Sigrid Nunez,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Friend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A moving story of love, friendship, grief, healing, and the magical bond between a woman and her dog.

WINNER OF THE 2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD * A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2020 INTERNATIONAL DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD

'A true delight: I genuinely fear I won't read a better novel this year' FINANCIAL TIMES

'Loved this. A funny, moving examination of love, grief, and the uniqueness of dogs' GRAHAM NORTON

'Delicious' SUNDAY TIMES 100 BEST SUMMER READS

When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has…


Book cover of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Jacki Skole Why did I love this book?

When a book with a canine narrator makes you laugh and cry, you remember it. The narrator is an aging Lab-mix named Enzo who tells the story of his beloved owner, an aspiring race-car driver who befalls tough times in life and love. There are plot twists that will keep readers turning the page and moments of levity mixed with the deepest despair. It’s both heart-wrenching and heartwarming.

By Garth Stein,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Art of Racing in the Rain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a major motion picture, this heart-warming and inspirational tale follows Enzo, a loyal family dog, tells the story of his human family, how they nearly fell apart, and what he did to bring them back together.

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: he thinks and feels in nearly human ways. He has educated himself by watching extensive television, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo realizes that racing is a metaphor: that by applying the techniques a driver would apply on…


Book cover of Landfill Dogs: True Portraits of Shelter Pets

Jacki Skole Why did I love this book?

You will likely never see finer photographs of shelter dogs than those inside Shannon Johnstone’s exquisite book. The photographs capture the dogs’ character, grit, and heart as they run, jump, fetch, or simply stare into the distance. Their faces are joyful, wistful, earnest. In most cases, these photographs saved lives. Posted on a North Carolina shelter’s website, the dogs captured the imaginations of those who would adopt them. Photographs of dogs with their new families cap off the book.

By Shannon Johnstone,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


Landfill Dogs is at once a fine art photography project and an animal advocacy movement. Johnstone tells the stories of 108 dogs that are most at risk for euthanasia. She photographs them against the landscape of a former landfill turned public park. Below the surface, there are more than 25,000 dogs buried among our trash. It is here that these dogs are taken one at a time and allowed walk, run, jump and wish and dream.

By photographing the dogs in this environment, Johnstone creates the analogy these unwanted pets are treated in same manner as our garbage. However, the…


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Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children

By Felice Picano,

Book cover of Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children

Felice Picano Author Of Six Strange Stories and an Essay on H.P. Lovecraft

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author

Felice's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Bold, funny, and shockingly honest, Ambidextrous is like no other memoir of 1950s urban childhood.

Picano appears to his parents and siblings to be a happy, cheerful eleven-year-old possessed of the remarkable talent of being able to draw beautifully and write fluently with either hand. But then he runs into the mindless bigotry of a middle school teacher who insists that left-handedness is "wrong," and his idyllic world falls apart.

He uncovers the insatiable appetites of a trio of neighboring sisters, falls for another boy with a glue-sniffing habit, and discovers the hidden world of adult desire and hypocrisy. Picano…

Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children

By Felice Picano,

What is this book about?

Bold, funny, and shockingly honest, Ambidextrous is like no other memoir of 1950s urban childhood. Picano appears to his parents and siblings to be a happy, cheerful eleven-year-old, possessed of the remarkable talent of being able to draw beautifully and write fluently with either hand. But then he runs into the mindless bigotry of a middle school teacher who insists that left-handedness is "wrong," and his idyllic world falls apart. He uncovers the insatiable appetites of a trio of neighboring sisters, falls for another boy with a glue-sniffing habit, and discovers the hidden world of adult desire and hypocrisy. Picano…


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