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

The Books I Picked & Why

When Species Meet

By Donna J. Haraway

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.


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Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures

By National Museum of the American Indian

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.


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Pets in America: A History

By Katherine C. Grier

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.


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The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets

By Jean O'Malley Halley

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.


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

By Meg Daley Olmert

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.


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