The best books about human relationships with other animals

Jean O'Malley Halley Author Of Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses
By Jean O'Malley Halley

Who am I?

Jean Halley is a professor of sociology at the Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York (CUNY). She earned her doctorate in sociology at the Graduate Center of CUNY, and her master’s degree in theology at Harvard University. Halley's book with the University of Georgia Press about girls who love horses, Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses, came out in 2019. She and her horse grew up in the Rocky Mountains. Today she lives in New York City.


I wrote...

Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses

By Jean O'Malley Halley,

Book cover of Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses

What is my book about?

Girls love horses, but why? What does this love say about what it means to be a girl? And what does it say about the meaning of horse lives?

I explore these meanings, and this love, of girls with horses in the United States. I am interested in the girls’ experience of the horse-girl relationship. I am also interested in what the lives of horses are like, and what their lives reveal about the significance of horses in human lives. The love of horses and the girl-horse relationship in some ways reproduce traditional gender norms. In other important ways, I claim that girls’ experience of riding horses and their love of horses offers a challenge to sexist ways of thinking about being female, and to mainstream ideas of girlhood. This book combines traditional scholarly research with personal narratives about horses and girls, including stories from my own life growing up, completely horse crazy, in the rural Rocky Mountains with my horse.

The books I picked & why

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When Species Meet

By Donna J. Haraway,

Book cover of When Species Meet

Why this book?

Haraway’s When Species Meet offers a fascinating sociological exploration of human-animal relationships. Haraway’s notion of “companion species” challenges conventional ways of thinking about humans and other animals as two sides of a binary split, with humans/men and rationality on one side, nature (and women), other animals, instincts, and things of the body on the other side. Haraway refuses this dualism and argues that we are all inextricably connected. We are nature, and it is us. And as all things in life (and death) grow and change, forever becoming something else, we grow and change in relationship with all that is around us; we become in the midst of relationships, including relationships with nonhuman animals.

When Species Meet

By Donna J. Haraway,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"When Species Meet is a breathtaking meditation on the intersection between humankind and dog, philosophy and science, and macro and micro cultures." -Cameron Woo, Publisher of Bark magazine

In 2006, about 69 million U.S. households had pets, giving homes to around 73.9 million dogs, 90.5 million cats, and 16.6 million birds, and spending over $38 billion dollars on companion animals. As never before in history, our pets are truly members of the family. But the notion of "companion species"-knotted from human beings, animals and other organisms, landscapes, and technologies-includes much more than "companion animals."

In When Species Meet, Donna J.…


Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures

By National Museum of the American Indian,

Book cover of Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures

Why this book?

A Song for the Horse Nation investigates the role and importance of horses in many Native American cultures historical and today. Most people believe that contemporary horses are not indigenous to the Americas but came with the Spanish literally carrying in the colonizers. In A Song for the Horse Nation, Herman J. Viola writes, “America’s Native peoples have little for which to thank Christopher Columbus except the horse.”

In the beginning, Native Americans were scared of the horses that came carrying white men on their backs. Viola explains, “They had never seen an animal that could carry a person. They called the horses, ‘sky dogs,’ believing that they were monsters or messengers from the heavens." The desire to have horses quickly replaced Native people’s fear. The colonizers, on horseback, stole land and life from the Native Americans whom they encountered. Native Americans stole horses from the colonizers to make their own herds and develop their own horse cultures. And it is this story that
A Song for the Horse Nation explores.

Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures

By National Museum of the American Indian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Song for the Horse Nation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The tradition of horses in Native American culture, depicted through images, essays, and quotes. For many Native Americans, each animal and bird that surrounded them was part of a nation of its own, and none was more vital to both survival and culture than the horse.


Pets in America: A History

By Katherine C. Grier,

Book cover of Pets in America: A History

Why this book?

Grier's history, Pets in America, studies the United States pet-owning culture in which many people treat their living and dead pets' bodies much like the bodies of their closest human relatives. For some humans, their “pets” are their closest relatives, as was true of me when I was a girl. Humans spend enormous amounts of money on their animal companions when they are alive and even after they die. Humans often cremate them or buy graves in pet cemeteries and bury them. They hold funerals and memorials for them. Grier tells the story of how this important relationship came to be.

Pets in America: A History

By Katherine C. Grier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Entertaining and informative, Pets in America is a portrait of Americans' relationships with the cats, dogs, birds, fishes, rodents, and other animals we call our own. More than 60 percent of U.S. households have pets, and America grows more pet-friendly every day. But as Katherine C. Grier demonstrates, the ways we talk about and treat our pets - as companions, as children, and as objects of beauty, status, or pleasure - have their origins long ago.

Grier begins with a natural history of animals as pets, then discusses the changing role of pets in family life, new standards of animal…


The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets

By Jean O'Malley Halley,

Book cover of The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets

Why this book?

Weaving together a social history of the American beef industry with her own account of growing up in the shadow of her grandfather's cattle business, Halley juxtaposes the two worlds and creates a link between the meat industry and her own experience of the formation of gender through family violence.

The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets

By Jean O'Malley Halley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Weaving together a social history of the American beef industry with her own account of growing up in the shadow of her grandfather's cattle business, Halley juxtaposes the two worlds and creates a link between the meat industry and her own experience of the formation of gender and sexuality through family violence.


Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond

By Meg Daley Olmert,

Book cover of Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond

Why this book?

In this fascinating book, Meg Daley Olmert explores the biological element of human relationships with other animals, and in particular the role of the hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin helps humans and other animals feel calmer, allowing us to be more curious and friendly. Oxytocin lowers one’s heart rate and reduces stress hormones. Humans who live with or regularly spend time with nonhuman animals live longer and stay healthier. Further, contact with animals can elicit oxytocin in both of those involved, human and nonhuman.

Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond

By Meg Daley Olmert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Made for Each Other as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nothing turns a baby's head more quickly from nursing or playing than the sight of a dog or any animal. Made for Each Other lays out both sides of this deep mutual connection and the way it has evolved since prehistoric times. Drawing on the fascinating work of scientists in many fields, from neuroscience to zoology and anthropology, as well as her own investigations, Meg Daley Olmert shows the roots of this age-old bond and its great importance to our well being.


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