The best books on love, loss and our kinship with the animals

The Books I Picked & Why

King Solomon's Ring

By Konrad Lorenz

Book cover of King Solomon's Ring

Why this book?

This German zoologist discovered “imprinting” in birds and was often photographed waddling in his backyard, followed by a gaggle of goslings who mistook him for their mother. Lorenz was convinced that avian species experience emotions like love and grief, describing the mating rituals of jackdaws in terms touchingly evocative of human sweethearts. “Remarkable and exceedingly comical is the difference in eloquence between the eye-play of the wooing male and that of the courted female: the male jackdaw casts glowing glances straight into his loved one’s eyes, while she apparently turns her eyes in all directions other than that of her ardent suitor. In reality, of course, she is watching him all the time!”


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Walking with the Great Apes: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Biruté Galdikas

By Sy Montgomery

Book cover of Walking with the Great Apes: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Biruté Galdikas

Why this book?

This book tells how three unlikely women–Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas–broke scientific ground with their study of the wild chimpanzee, the mountain gorilla, and the orangutan. In every case, a deep emotional involvement with the animals opened the door to insights that male-dominated “objective” methods of research had minimized or overlooked. “Each woman’s first few months in the field were marked by despair, as the study subjects either could not be located or fled at first sight. The women could not make it work–not by extra stealth, not by better equipment, not by new techniques.  One can manipulate an experiment to hasten it, but one cannot force or hurry a revelation.”


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Reason for Hope

By Jane Goodall, Phillip Berman

Book cover of Reason for Hope

Why this book?

Goodall is part scholar and part saint, a scientist seer. When her husband Derek Bryceson died after a protracted battle with cancer, Jane was spiritually bereft. Following a bleak year of grief, she encountered a mystical moment of healing.  “It seemed to me, as I struggled afterward to recall the experience, that self was utterly absent: I and the chimpanzees, the earth and trees and air, seemed to merge, to become one with the spirit power of life itself.” In that window of altered understanding, time slowed. Perception sharpened. Space seemed more spacious. The forest and its wild creatures, she found, had given her the peace that passes understanding.


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Never Cry Wolf

By Farley Mowat

Book cover of Never Cry Wolf

Why this book?

Assigned by the Canadian government to study the wolves presumed to be decimating northern Manitoba’s caribou herds, the young biologist spends a year learning (with the help of two Eskimo hunters) that the greatest predator on the planet is two-legged. Criticized for his admission that he “never let the facts get in the way of the truth,” Mowatt embellishes his tale with wry humor, as when he shares his recipe for mouse soufflé: “Skin and gut the mice, but do not remove the heads …” The details, factual or not, all serve the message: “The wolf never kills for fun, which is probably one of the main differences distinguishing him from man.”


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Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family

By Cynthia J. Moss

Book cover of Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family

Why this book?

When an elephant family wanders outside the bounds of the Amboseli Reserve in Kenya, an adolescent daughter is shot by poachers. Cynthia Moss has spent decades studying these creatures in the wild and was among the first to document their rituals of mourning and burial so similar to human rites of parting. “They stood around Tina’s carcass, touching it gently with their trunks and feet. Because it was rocky and the ground was wet, there was no loose dirt, but... when they managed to get a little earth up they sprinkled it over the body.” Even more poignant because Moss describes the ceremony in the most scientific terms.  


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