The best nonfiction books about penguins for adults

Dyan deNapoli Author Of The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue
By Dyan deNapoli

Who am I?

I’m a penguin expert, TED speaker, and life-long animal lover. I was a Senior Penguin Aquarist at Boston’s New England Aquarium, where I worked for 9 years. In 2000, I helped manage the rescue of 40,000 penguins from the Treasure oil spill in South Africa. I founded my educational company The Penguin Lady in 2005, and give presentations at schools, universities, libraries, conferences (including the International Penguin Conference), and on National Geographic’s ships in Antarctica. I’ve given 4 TEDx talks, wrote and narrated a TED-Ed video about penguin conservation, and am a frequent guest expert on radio, podcasts, and TV in the US and abroad whenever penguins hit the news.


I wrote...

The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue

By Dyan deNapoli,

Book cover of The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue

What is my book about?

The Great Penguin Rescue is the gripping and unforgettable true story of the world’s largest and most successful animal rescue. When an oil spill threatened to kill tens of thousands of African penguins near Cape Town, 110 penguin experts (including the author) flew to South Africa to help manage the care of the oiled birds. With the help of 12,500 dedicated - yet completely inexperienced - volunteers, 95% of the 40,000 affected penguins were saved. Hailed as “a real-life eco-thriller with a happy ending” and “a powerful story that needs to be told”, this award-winning book is a moving testament to what can be achieved when we come together and work as one. 

The books I picked & why

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Smithsonian Q & A: Penguins: The Ultimate Question & Answer Book

By Lloyd Spencer Davis,

Book cover of Smithsonian Q & A: Penguins: The Ultimate Question & Answer Book

Why this book?

This is an incredibly informative and fun book! The author is a field researcher who has written many books about penguins - all imbued with his cheeky sense of humor. The Q&A format makes this book easily digestible for both adults and kids. Each themed chapter has many questions that are answered with a few paragraphs and photos. The answers are both detailed and succinct. The Q&A format even works well for those with dementia. When my father had Alzheimer’s, and could no longer comprehend what he was reading, he actually read this book for a few solid hours, often turning to me to say, “Did you know that penguins could…[x, y, z]?” I already loved this book - but this gave it a permanent special place in my heart.


The Penguins: Spheniscidae (Bird Families of the World, No. 2)

By Tony D. Williams, J.N. Davies (illustrator), John Busby (illustrator)

Book cover of The Penguins: Spheniscidae (Bird Families of the World, No. 2)

Why this book?

For serious penguin geeks, this book has long been the penguin bible. If you’re looking for scientifically accurate information about the biology and behavior of each penguin species, this is a fantastic reference book. Written by a leading ornithologist who has done field research on penguins, The Penguins gives a very comprehensive overview of each species, with detailed information about everything from breeding biology, to foraging ecology, to physical measurements, and much more. There are many illustrations and graphs as well. (The Penguins is manna for natural-science geeks and hard-core bird nerds.)


Penguins: Natural History and Conservation

By Pablo Garcia Borboroglu (editor), P. Dee Boersma (editor),

Book cover of Penguins: Natural History and Conservation

Why this book?

This phenomenal book is the new penguin bible for penguin aficionados! Edited by renowned penguin experts, P. Dee Boersma and Pablo Garcia Borboroglu, this comprehensive and highly informative book provides updated scientific information about penguin biology and behavior. Each species has its own dedicated chapter written by a field researcher who studies that species - so you couldn’t ask for a more expert resource for each penguin. Penguins covers everything from breeding, to foraging, to measurements, and much more. It also details the current threats, and conservation efforts to protect each species. Just about anything you’d ever want to know about each penguin species can be found in this book. Penguins is required reading for true penguin geeks, and for anyone who works with penguins!


The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird

By Tom Michell,

Book cover of The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird

Why this book?

For lighter penguin reading, The Penguin Lessons is a charming true story, told by a man who rescued an oiled Magellanic penguin from a beach in Uruguay. After cleaning the penguin and attempting to release it, the bird stubbornly refused to return to the sea - and the author found himself with an unusual new roommate, leading to many entertaining adventures. I’m sure I’m biased due to my experience rehabilitating oiled penguins, but I found this to be a very engaging and heartwarming story. (Side note: one should never attempt to rehabilitate or keep a penguin - or other wild animals. Always call a wildlife professional. At the time of this event 47 years ago, there wasn’t a rescue center for the author to bring this bird to.) 


Spill: Saving Africa's Oiled Penguins

By International Fund for Animal Welfare,

Book cover of Spill: Saving Africa's Oiled Penguins

Why this book?

This is the only other book for adults (besides mine) about the world’s largest animal rescue, when 40,000 penguins were rescued from the Treasure oil spill in Cape Town, South Africa. Spill is written by six individuals from various organizations who headed up this groundbreaking rescue effort. At just 96 pages, and featuring numerous dramatic photos, this 8x12” softcover is more of a coffee table book. The riveting stories are all told by rescuers who were on the front lines of this historic event. The compelling photographs by award-winning photographer, Jon Hrusa, bring the reader face to face with the oiled penguins and their polluted environment. Published in South Africa, Spill is out of print, but rare copies occasionally pop up online. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for.


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