The best nonfiction books about fascinating animal behavior

Who am I?

I’m secretly eight years old inside. I love fascinating animal and science stuff, especially cool, weird, and gross facts. Readers of my children’s books see this passion in action. My best-selling and award-winning nonfiction animal books have sold more than 3 million copies worldwide since 2000. I focus particularly on reaching reluctant, struggling, and English-language-learning readers by packing my books with lots of action and high-interest topics to keep them turning pages. I’m recommending these top-five narrative nonfiction animal books for adults because these authors have influenced my research and thinking—and because they’re terrific stories!

I wrote...

Animal Allies: Creatures Working Together

By Ginjer L. Clarke,

Book cover of Animal Allies: Creatures Working Together

What is my book about?

Did you know that oxpeckers help out giraffes by eating pesky insects off of them? Or that turtles hitchhike on hippos to sunbathe and regulate their body temperatures? These animals show that you don’t need to be the same size, or even the same species, to be best buddies! With simple language and vivid photographs, Animal Allies is perfect for emerging readers curious about the natural world and the friendships within it.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

Why did I love this book?

If you watched and loved the movie My Octopus Teacher about the friendship between a filmmaker and a Pacific octopus, then this book will intrigue and inform you.

Sy Montgomery is a top-notch researcher and best-selling storyteller, and she makes her experience studying octopuses around the world personal and relatable. Both the movie and book brought me to tears at the beauty of these inter-species friendships.

Read this one to discover what we’re learning about the incredible intelligence and varied personalities of these astounding creatures.

By Sy Montgomery,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Soul of an Octopus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus does for the creature what Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk did for raptors' New Statesman
'Charming and moving...with extraordinary scientific research' Guardian
'An engaging work of natural science... There is clearly something about the octopus's weird beauty that fires the imaginations of explorers, scientists, writers' Daily Mail

In 2011 Sy Montgomery wrote a feature for Orion magazine entitled 'Deep Intellect' about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death. It went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since…

Book cover of Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone

Why did I love this book?

Jellyfish may be lacking bones, blood, and brains, but they are full of mystery.

To me, the most compelling narrative nonfiction tells something about the author as well as their subject, becoming part memoir while explaining the research process.

I read this book as research for my nonfiction children’s book on jellyfish, but I learned so much more—about the worldwide jellyfish research community, the past and future health of our oceans, both the perils and possibilities of ever-increasing jellyfish populations, and Juli Berwald’s journey to reclaim her love of the ocean.

Discover some cutting-edge science and marvel at these simple but beautiful blobs from below.

By Juli Berwald,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Spineless as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A book full of wonders" —Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk

"Witty, insightful. . . .The story of jellyfish. . . is a significant part of the environmental story. Berwald's engaging account of these delicate, often ignored creatures shows how much they matter to our oceans' future." —New York Times Book Review 

Jellyfish have been swimming in our oceans for well over half a billion years, longer than any other animal that lives on the planet. They make a venom so toxic it can kill a human in three minutes. Their sting—microscopic spears that pierce with five million…

The Inner Life of Animals

By Peter Wohlleben, Jane Billinghurst (translator),

Book cover of The Inner Life of Animals

Why did I love this book?

Are you ready to change the way you see the world forever? Reading Peter Wohlleben’s three-book Mysteries of Nature series will do just that.

This second volume focuses on animal emotions and making connections with human behavior. Until fairly recently, most serious scientists focused only on observable behavior and didn’t try to imagine or determine what animals’ actions tell us about their feelings.

However, all animal lovers can benefit, as I did, from questioning our assumptions, better understanding our similarities, and becoming more aware of how much there is to learn about the inner life of animals. Get ready for some surprises!

By Peter Wohlleben, Jane Billinghurst (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Inner Life of Animals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Can horses feel shame? Do deer grieve? Why do roosters deceive hens?

We tend to assume that we are the only living things able to experience feelings but have you ever wondered what's going on in an animal's head? From the leafy forest floor to the inside of a bee hive, The Inner Life of Animals opens up the animal kingdom like never before. We hear the stories of a grateful humpback whale, of a hedgehog who has nightmares, and of a magpie who commits adultery; we meet bees that plan for the future, pigs who learn their own names…

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals

By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Susan McCarthy,

Book cover of When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals

Why did I love this book?

Elephants are my favorite animals—for their size and beauty, innate intelligence, and matriarchal structure.

Do you love them too? If so, or even if you just want to know more about these utterly unique creatures and many more, you’ll want to read this insightful book. Jeffrey Moussaieff Mason was a forerunner in writing about socioemotional studies of animal behavior for lay readers.

This was the first nonfiction book I read years ago on this topic, and it remains the one that changed my worldview and approach to animal research, appreciation, and understanding.

By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Susan McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For more than 100 years, scientists have denied that animals experience emotions, yet this remarkable and groundbreaking book proves what animal-lovers have known to be true: wolves, tigers, giraffes, elephants and many other creatures exhibit all kinds of feelings - hope, fear, shame, love, compassion. From Ola, the irritable whale, to Toto, the chimpanzee who nursed his owner back to health, this book collects together for the first time a vast range of case histories which show the extraordinary complexity of the animal world, and the tumult of emotions that govern it.

Book cover of Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

Why did I love this book?

After hearing Mary Roach describe research for this book during an NPR interview, I couldn’t wait to hear more of her bizarre, funny, sometimes unbelievable stories about animals “breaking the law.”

These are human laws, of course, that animals are heedless of and not bound by; however, human-animal conflicts are on the rise, and we must be aware of how to lessen negative interactions as we continue to move into territory where animals previously roamed freely. Humans are more often the problem in these encounters, but we can provide solutions too.

A must-read for all who love wildlife and spend time in nature!

By Mary Roach,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Fuzz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What's to be done about a jaywalking moose? A bear caught breaking and entering? A murderous tree? Three hundred years ago, animals that broke the law would be assigned legal representation and put on trial. These days, as New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach discovers, the answers are best found not in jurisprudence but in science: the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology.

Roach tags along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and "danger tree" faller blasters. Intrepid as ever, she travels from leopard-terrorized hamlets in…

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