The best books to imagine what it is like to be a wild animal

Why am I passionate about this?

I have written about the environment as a journalist since 2005, for magazines and newspapers including National Geographic, The New York Times, and Outside. For my last book, I wanted to write about animals as individuals—not just as units in a species, the way they are often thought of by conservationists. Diving into research about animal selfhood was an amazing journey. It helped shape my book, but it also changed the way I see the world around me—and who and what I think of as “people”! 


I wrote...

Book cover of Wild Souls: Freedom and Flourishing in the Non-Human World

What is my book about?

Wild Souls explores what humans might owe other animals in a world that we have so thoroughly changed. In an age of climate change and other environmental challenges, all “wild” animals are living in a humanized world. We can no longer simply “let nature take its course.” So how can we help wild animals while respecting their own autonomy? It is a mix of science, philosophy, and adventure, in company with wolves, rats, condors, polar bears, and many other species. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds

Emma Marris Why did I love this book?

This book tells the true story of an African couple who adopted a lion cub, raised her to adulthood, and then eventually returned her to the wild.

In my reporting on wild pets and reintroductions of captive animals, I learned that Elsa’s story was a bit of a miracle. Such successful reintroductions are very rare. The Adamsons were complex people and their story has an ambiguous legacy, especially given that it may have inspired people who were not really able to care for big cats to try to keep them as pets.

However, there’s no denying that their experience makes for a fascinating read. And by living so closely with her, they were able to see and describe Elsa as an individual, not just “a lioness” interchangeable with any other.

By Joy Adamson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Born Free as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14.

What is this book about?

There have been many accounts of the return to the wild of tame animals, but since its original publication in 1960, when The New York Times hailed it as a “fascinating and remarkable book,” Born Free has stood alone in its power to move us.

Joy Adamson's story of a lion cub in transition between the captivity in which she is raised and the fearsome wild to which she is returned captures the abilities of both humans and animals to cross the seemingly unbridgeable gap between their radically different worlds. Especially now, at a time when the sanctity of the…


Book cover of Part Wild: Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs

Emma Marris Why did I love this book?

In some ways, this book is the “reality check” that I needed after reading Born Free.

Ceiridwen Terrill tells the story of why she decided to raise a wolf-dog hybrid—and why the experience was ultimately a tragedy for both Terrill and Inyo, her pet.

Writing about the experience was extremely brave, especially because it ended so sadly—but Terrill’s candor and vulnerability as she explains why she made the choices she did completely gripped me, and her writing is so vivid, I felt like I was right there with Inyo, struggling to fit in as an animal who was neither a cuddly domestic dog nor a self-sufficient wild animal. 

By Ceiridwen Terrill,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Part Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part Wild is the unforgettable story of Ceiridwen Terrill's journey with a creature whose heart is divided between her bond to one woman and her need to roam free. When Terrill adopts a wolfdog- part husky, part gray wolf-named Inyo to be her protector and fellow traveler, she is drawn to Inyo's spark of wildness; compelled by the great responsibility, even danger, that accompanies the allure of the wild; and transformed by the extraordinary love she shares with Inyo, who teaches Terrill how to carve out a place for herself in the world.

Over almost four years, Terrill and Inyo's…


Book cover of Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance

Emma Marris Why did I love this book?

I was absolutely riveted by this short but powerful book chronicling the fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking history of animal escapes from zoos, circuses, and other forms of captivity. Hribal makes the case that these stories of animal “resistance” are evidence that wild animals value their autonomy and I, for one, was very much convinced. 

By Jason Hribal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fear of the Animal Planet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Siberian tiger at the San Francisco Zoo leaps a 12-foot high wall and mauls three visitors who had been tormenting her, killing one. A circus elephant tramples and gores a sadistic trainer, who had repeatedly fed her lit cigarettes. A pair of orangutans at the San Diego Zoo steal a crowbar and screwdriver and break-out of their enclosure. An orca at Sea World snatches his trainer into the pool and holds her underwater until she drowns. What's going on here? Are these mere accidents? Simply cases of animals acting on instinct? That's what the zoos and animal theme parks…


Book cover of What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins

Emma Marris Why did I love this book?

To research my book I read lots of books about new findings in animal cognition.

Animals are smarter than science used to give them credit for, more emotional than science ever dared believe, and they even have personalities. But for me, the most mind-blowing of the many books I read on this topic was this book about the inner lives of fish.

Like so many others, I had assumed they were pretty dim-witted, and even believed they didn’t feel pain. Not so! This book explains the new science of what fish lives are like and it is truly amazing how much they are like us—and we like them.

By Jonathan Balcombe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked What a Fish Knows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

AS FEATURED IN SEASPIRACY

An Observer Book of the Year 2017

A Sunday Times must read

A New York Times Bestseller

Endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama - 'Balcombe vividly shows that fish have feelings and deserve consideration and protection like other sentient beings'

What's the truth behind the old adage that goldfish have a three-second memory? Do fishes think? Can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water? Myth-busting biologist and animal behaviour expert Jonathan Balcombe takes us under the sea, through streams and estuaries to the other side of…


Book cover of Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr

Emma Marris Why did I love this book?

I don’t read very much fiction (although I want to read more!) but I thought it would be interesting to check out some novels where animals are main characters.

I read several, and this is the one I still think about all the time. The main character is a crow and although the book is a fantastical mytho-poetic adventure through time and space, it is also a wonderful exercise in cross-species empathy.

While you are reading, you really feel like you understand what it means to be a crow. It really stuck with me; I found it really rich and wondrous. 

By John Crowley, Melody Newcomb (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Ka is a beautiful, often dreamlike late masterpiece.” —Los Angeles Times

“One of our country’s absolutely finest novelists.” —Peter Straub, New York Times bestselling author of Interior Darkness and Ghost Story

From award-winning author John Crowley comes an exquisite fantasy novel about a man who tells the story of a crow named Dar Oakley and his impossible lives and deaths in the land of Ka.

A Crow alone is no Crow.

Dar Oakley—the first Crow in all of history with a name of his own—was born two thousand years ago. When a man learns his language, Dar finally gets the…


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Book cover of The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

Robert F. Barsky Author Of Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us about People Fleeing from Persecution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Professor of Humanities Borders Radicalist

Robert's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter—voted “most important public intellectual in the world today” in a 2005 magazine poll—Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation.

In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues—including Vietnam, Israel, East Timor, and his work in linguistics—that illustrate not only “the Chomsky effect” but also “the Chomsky approach.”

Chomsky, writes Barsky, is an inspiration and a catalyst. Not just an analyst…

The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

What is this book about?

"People are dangerous. If they're able to involve themselves in issues that matter, they may change the distribution of power, to the detriment of those who are rich and privileged."--Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter--voted "most important public intellectual in the world today" in a 2005 magazine poll--Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation. In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues--Chomsky's signature issues,…


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