The best books that made me think differently about human-animal relationships

Jessica Pierce Author Of The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives
By Jessica Pierce

The Books I Picked & Why

Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

By David Abram

Book cover of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

Why this book?

Abram’s 1997 book, The Spell of the Sensuous, is (in my humble opinion) one of the most important works in American environmental ethics. Abram helps us understand how we have become so disconnected from nature. His second book, Becoming Animal, tries to help us overcome this disconnection through enlivening our sensory, our sensual experience of the world. I am still learning how to distinguish the sound of wind passing through a pine from the sound of wind passing through a spruce. 


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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

By Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Book cover of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Why this book?

Bailey’s book is about a friendship (one-sided perhaps) between a woman and a snail. She describes her growing affection for a woodland snail who is trapped inside with her during a long illness. Although Bailey isn’t offering commentary on pet-keeping, her book suggests a compelling alternative to loving animals—especially creatures we bring in from the wild—by making them into our pets. She shows us how to encounter another creature with curiosity, wonder, and respect.


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Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

By John Gray

Book cover of Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

Why this book?

Straw Dogs is not at all about dogs, but nevertheless speaks to human-animal relationships through a brutal condemnation of human self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement. Gray's command of philosophy, history, literature, and current events is remarkable. Philosophers are not known for “less is more” writing, but Gray is a master at packaging profound observations in compact, surprising vignettes and examples. Gray articulates for me what is so deeply wrong with liberal moral philosophy and offers a roadmap for decentering the human. 


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The Grass Library

By David G. Brooks

Book cover of The Grass Library

Why this book?

Brooks’ collection of essays is a vivid example of how to talk without rancor or judgmentalism about the painful failings of humans in their treatment of other animals. He writes “small,” focusing on everyday interactions with animals on his farm and in his neighborhood, and through his narratives touches on and helps nurture a well of empathy. 


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Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

By Suzanne Simard

Book cover of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

Why this book?

Yes, a book about plants has entirely shifted my thinking about human-animal relationships. Simard opens our minds to the intelligence and morality of trees and the forests they create. One cannot read Simard’s book and not feel differently towards plants, not gain some sense that individual lives matter.  


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