The best books about animal rights

1 authors have picked their favorite books about animal rights and why they recommend each book.

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The Dreaded Comparison

By Marjorie Spiegel,

Book cover of The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery

To properly understand dehumanization—which represents human beings as subhuman creatures—it is important to recognize our less-than-humane relations with other animals.  In this compact, vividly-written book, Marjorie Spiegel powerfully juxtaposes the oppressive and cruel treatment of enslaved people with the terrible treatment of nonhuman animals. The book is largely concerned with the dehumanization of enslaved Africans and their descendants, but it is also pertinent to other episodes of racial dehumanization.


Who am I?

I have an international reputation as an expert on dehumanization. I have researched this subject for the past fifteen years, and have written three books and many articles, and given many talks on it, including a presentation at the 2012 G20 economic summit. I believe that dehumanization is an extremely important phenomenon to understand, because it fuels the worst atrocities that human beings inflict upon one another. If phrases like "never again" have any real meaning, we need to seriously investigate the processes, including dehumanization, that make such horrific actions possible.


I wrote...

Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization

By David Livingstone Smith,

Book cover of Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization

What is my book about?

Making Monsters offers a poignant meditation on the philosophical and psychological roots of dehumanization. Drawing on harrowing accounts of lynchings, the book establishes what dehumanization is and what it isn’t. When we dehumanize our enemy, we hold two incongruous beliefs at the same time: we believe our enemy is at once subhuman and fully human. To call someone a monster, then, is not merely a resort to metaphor—dehumanization really does happen in our minds.

Turning to an abundance of historical examples, Making Monsters explores the relationship between dehumanization and racism, the psychology of hierarchy, what it means to regard others as human beings, and why dehumanizing others transforms them into something so terrifying that they must be destroyed.

Animal Rights

By Hilda Kean,

Book cover of Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain Since 1800

I found this to be a hard list to put together because there are so many excellent books on animal history--on any given day I could have presented a completely different list. However, this was the one book that absolutely had to be on my list. Hilda Kean’s Animal Rights was the book that started me on this journey. I first encountered this book when I was a grad student, and it has shaped my thinking on animal history in many important ways over the years. Animals and concerns for their welfare have always been important to me in my personal life, but I hadn’t thought about incorporating human-animal histories into my scholarship until I read this book. It was a real game-changer for me. This is a very good introduction to some of the shifts in thinking that took place regarding relationships between humans and nonhuman animals in Britain…


Who am I?

I am a historian of visual culture, and my work explores the ways images can shape and challenge dominant ideas about other species. The ways we choose to represent certain animals (or not) can have important consequences, both in terms of environmental issues but also in terms of the wellbeing of individual animals. Digging deeper into these histories can make us aware that the categories we like to put animals in can shift and change depending on the time period and place. As we confront increasingly urgent climate and environmental issues, understanding these dynamics will be even more important than ever.


I wrote...

Art for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870-1914

By Keri Cronin,

Book cover of Art for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870-1914

What is my book about?

This book looks at the ways in which those working to make the world a better place for animals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used art and imagery in their campaigns. Today we expect that activist campaigns are highly visual, but my book goes further back in time to try to understand some of the ways that reformers saw visual culture as an integral part of animal advocacy at this earlier point in history. 

There are some similarities--much like today, debates over the appropriate use of graphic imagery existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, there were some aspects of these early campaigns that aren’t as widely considered today: the role of art education as a way to foster kind and humane behavior in children, for example, or the ways in which some of the most famous paintings of the day were repurposed as campaign material.

Animal Liberation

By Peter Singer,

Book cover of Animal Liberation: The Definitive Classic of the Animal Movement

Few books have had as great an impact on how humans think of our fellow creatures as has Singer’s Animal Liberation. In exploring the ways in which humans treat other animals—including, with utter honesty, the ways in which we have treated the animals that we intend to consume—Singer’s aim was to stir “emotions of outrage and anger, coupled with a determination to do something about the practices described,” as he writes in the preface to the book. To my great shame, I confess that, for some years after I read the book in the early 1990s, I resisted the impulse to “do something about the practices described.” But the message stuck with me and kept nagging away; finally, some four or five years later, I began to speak out against factory farming—and to change my diet.  


Who am I?

Like just about everyone, I was taught in childhood that we should think of others and help others. But then we start to hear different messages: “it’s naïve to think you can make the world a better place,” “you’re better off trying to help yourself—don’t waste your time with misguided attempts to help others,” "it’s sanctimonious to be a do-gooder,” and on and on it goes. The fact is, we can help to make the world a better place (without being sanctimonious). And we all should. We can volunteer, donate to good causes, eat less meat (or no meat at all), fly and drive less (or not at all!). And, as these authors have shown, the books we write can also make a real contribution.  


I wrote...

Animals

By Don LePan,

Book cover of Animals

What is my book about?

Animals is set in an indeterminate future in which virtually all the species that humans have for millennia used as food have become extinct; the world it creates is at once eerily foreign and disturbingly familiar.

“As gripping as it is important, LePan's brilliant novel tackles the largest moral issue of our time.” -Jonathan Balcombe, author of Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals

For the Prevention of Cruelty

By Diane L. Beers,

Book cover of For the Prevention of Cruelty: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States

For those who want to learn more about the meaning and history of animal rights, this is one of the most informative books I’ve read on the rise of the American animal welfare and animal rights movements. Even if you don’t agree with everything in these pages, you’ll come away with a new appreciation of the struggles to protect dogs, cats, and other animals in our modern society.


Who am I?

I am, first and foremost, a lover of cats and dogs. I have been fascinated by these animals ever since I was a child. Where did they come from? Why are we so strongly bonded to them? What is the future of our relationship? These are questions I have asked myself for decades, and which I finally answer in Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs. I bring to this book not only my lifelong love of these animals, but a deep-thinker’s exploration of history, law, and science. 


I wrote...

Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs

By David Grimm,

Book cover of Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs

What is my book about?

Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs is the critically acclaimed book by award-winning science writer, David Grimm, a deputy news editor at Science. How did dogs and cats evolve from wild animals to beloved companions? What road have they taken from gods to devils and back again over the course of human history?

What’s really going on inside of their heads? What legal and societal revolutions have transformed them into the most valued and protected animals on the planet? And what is the future of our relationship with these creatures? You’ll learn the answers to all of this and more in a book The New York Times calls, “An engaging account of how dogs and cats came to be our best friends.”

The Grass Library

By David G. Brooks,

Book cover of The Grass Library

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. 


Who am I?

What does it mean to live a good life in a world shared with a multitude of other beings? I’ve spent my career exploring this question, in both my personal and my professional life. In my work as a bioethicist, I’ve researched and written about how to integrate environmental values into health care and medical research; how to think through (and survive) caring for a companion animal who is nearing the end of life; and why keeping pets is ethically problematic. My most current project—in collaboration with my canine companion Bella—is about ethics in human-dog relationships.  


I wrote...

The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

By Jessica Pierce,

Book cover of The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

What is my book about?

With The Last Walk, Jessica Pierce makes a case that our pets, and the love we bear them, deserve better. Drawing on the moving story of the last year of the life of her own treasured dog, Ody, she presents an in-depth exploration of the practical, medical, and moral issues that trouble pet owners confronted with the decline and death of their companion animals. Pierce combines heart-wrenching personal stories, interviews, and scientific research to consider a wide range of questions about animal aging, end-of-life care, and death. She tackles such questions as whether animals are aware of death, whether they're feeling pain, and if and when euthanasia is appropriate. How should we best honor the lives of our pets, both while they live and after they have left us?  

The Cupcake Caper

By Kelle Z. Riley,

Book cover of The Cupcake Caper

This first book in Kelle Riley’s new series has it all—a plot full of twists and turns, a super-smart sleuth, and just a smidge of romance. I love that the sleuth doesn't act impulsively and instead observes and deduces. In addition, there are yummy recipes, a cranky rescue cat, and several quirky secondary characters. I especially like the couple who own a dog bakery and their trained dog that discourages the goose population.


Who am I?

As a former school psychologist and author of over 45 books, I love reading about characters that are likable, plots that are believable, and settings that I want to visit. My years as a psychologist make it easy to spot poorly written characters that don’t ring true. It is also my years as a psychologist that makes me enjoy a light, humorous read with a guaranteed happy ending.


I wrote...

Murder of a Smart Cookie

By Denise Swanson,

Book cover of Murder of a Smart Cookie

What is my book about?

Yard sales bring out the worst in people. Nobody knows this better than Scumble River school psychologist Skye Denison, organizer of the First Annual Route 66 Yard Sale. Neighborly folk gets downright nasty fighting over plastic knickknacks. But the worst is yet to come... Skye's former summer-job boss, Cookie Caldwell, has just been found murdered - and the sheriff suspects Skye.

Allowed to Grow Old

By Isa Leshko,

Book cover of Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries

This beautiful photography book is deeply moving. Subtitled Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries, it was inspired by Leshko’s encounter with Petey, a 34-year-old Appaloosa horse. His aged body was the first of the photos for this collection; all are quietly magnificent. They drew me into contemplation of both the plight of farm animals and Leshko’s personal quest to accept aging; she hopes to face her own eventual decline “with the same grace and stoicism the animals have shown.” I’ve spent time volunteering at an animal sanctuary, and have a special connection to Ruby, a Standardbred mare who turned 30 in April 2022. She had a hard life, and her age shows in the hollows over her eyes and her grizzled cheeks, but it’s immeasurably comforting to know she will live out her remaining days in dignity. 


Who am I?

I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember and have been blessed to have them woven into the fabric of my life. They’ve taught me a great deal about myself, and the time I’ve spent with them has often included the company of humans. I’ve seen teens whispering heartaches into a horse’s ear, special needs people lighting up like the sun at the touch of a horse, others simply standing quietly near them, soaking in their presence, and much more. I’ve witnessed the benefits of equine-assisted therapy, both physical and emotional, and hope horses and humans long continue to thrive in the kinship of our relationship.  


I wrote...

Coming Back

By K.L. Denman,

Book cover of Coming Back

What is my book about?

Julie survived a horrific car accident, but she has no memory of the event or the boyfriend who was with her in the car. He disappeared, and she is diagnosed with PTSD. Her doctor recommends a therapy animal, and Julie chooses to get a horse. Julie's experience with horses is limited, but it's empowering to finally be involved in life again, and her symptoms abate. 

However, she has a lot to learn, and when the riding coach gives confusing lessons, Julie is thrown off balance, both emotionally and in the saddle. The improvement she'd begun to experience with PTSD symptoms is lost, and her nightmares return. When Julie’s horse is also traumatized, can Julie and her horse recover and heal their broken spirits?

Animalkind

By Ingrid Newkirk, Gene Stone,

Book cover of Animalkind: Remarkable Discoveries about Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion

Slavery used to be the economic engine of the Americas. Only a few could clearly see that keeping other humans in bondage was a horrible crime. Ingrid Newkirk has a similar clarity of vision when it comes to animal rights. I believe that in the future, most of us look back with horror at industrial husbandry and the use of hormones to cultivate ever larger beasts for the slaughterhouse. You may not entirely agree with Newkirk, but you have to take her seriously. She’s also a genius at publicizing her cause of animal rights, helping to popularize veganism and the banning of fur and leather products as well as many kinds of animal research.


Who am I?

I’ve been a rights advocate since I was a middle schooler planning how to help save the whales. In college, I volunteered in anti-apartheid campaigns, then became a journalist covering the rise of the Shining Path guerrillas in Peru. I wanted my research and words to make change. I spent 12 years covering Peru and Colombia for Human Rights Watch. Now, I try to inspire other young people to learn about and advocate for human rights as a professor and the co-director of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. I also write fiction for kids that explores human rights themes and just completed The Bond Trilogy, an epic fantasy.


I wrote...

Righting Wrongs: 20 Human Rights Heroes Around the World

By Robin Kirk,

Book cover of Righting Wrongs: 20 Human Rights Heroes Around the World

What is my book about?

Most people aren’t aware that determined individuals thought up and fought for the human rights we now take for granted. Righting Wrongs introduces you to 20 fascinating people who envisioned women’s rights, the rights of children and the disabled, indigenous and LGBTQ rights, and protections against torture and land mines, among other things. These stories of hope and hard work show how people working together can dramatically change the world for the better.

Quit Monks or Die!

By Maxine Kumin,

Book cover of Quit Monks or Die!

Quit Monks or Die! is something else indeed. It’s a mystery novel and a good one. It is set, yes! in academia, where a scientist and a graduate assistant are both found murdered. The scientist was working on an experiment involving monkeys. Does that have to do with why he was killed? Its cracker-jack plot, which involves animal rights, is complex but lucidly and expertly laid out. It's not just who done it, but what was done? This is not Kumin’s only novel but I believe it’s her only mystery.


Who am I?

Corey Mesler has been published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Five Points, Good Poems American Places, and New Stories from the South. He has published over 25 books of fiction and poetry. His newest novel, The Diminishment of Charlie Cain, is from Livingston Press. He also wrote the screenplay for We Go On, which won The Memphis Film Prize in 2017. With his wife he runs Burke’s Book Store (est. 1875) in Memphis. I have a fondness for novels written by writers who are primarily poets. These five books are my favorites in that contracted genre.


I wrote...

Memphis Movie

By Corey Mesler,

Book cover of Memphis Movie

What is my book about?

Memphis Movie concerns a middle-aged filmmaker named Eric Warberg, an ex-Memphian who went to Hollywood and made it big. For many years he was a success out there until, after directing a few box office bombs, he found himself essentially out of work. Then the opportunity presents itself for a return to his hometown of Memphis to direct an independent film, a return to his roots in more than one way. With mixed feelings he returns home where he is greeted like a returning star.

Overall, the novel reads like a Robert Altman film, with many story strands making up the tapestry. One of the questions the novel asks is, Will Eric lose or find his soul, in his hometown, where soul has many meanings?

Beasts of Burden

By Sunaura Taylor,

Book cover of Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation

As an artist, disabled activist, and advocate with arthrogryposis, Sunaura Taylor has experienced firsthand our cultural and economic biases that surround the disability community. She explains how just as we have placed human animals into categories of being “fit” or “unfit,” “valuable” or “unworthy,” we have applied the same logic to nonhuman animals by objectifying them and trying to find endless reasons to explain why we are so different. In the book, Taylor introduces her service dog, Bailey and describes his aging where he becomes “inefficient” and “dependent” on Taylor due to his disability. 


Who am I?

I’m a sociologist and professor. I’ve written several books about human and animal intersections. From bees to horseshoe crabs to spider goats, I’ve channeled my childhood fascination with animals, both vertebrates and invertebrates, into research projects. Over the past two decades, I use qualitative research methods that put me in direct contact with multiple different species, gently handling the animals as a way to get to know them and understand them. I’m particularly interested in how humans make animals meaningful as companions, research subjects, raw materials, and living factories. I believe we must move past our own speciesism, or our biases that reify human superiority, to fully embrace living in a multispecies world. 


I wrote...

Our Transgenic Future: Animals, Genetic Modification, and the Will to Change Nature

By Lisa Jean Moore,

Book cover of Our Transgenic Future: Animals, Genetic Modification, and the Will to Change Nature

What is my book about?

The process of manipulating the genetic material of one animal to include the DNA of another creates a new transgenic organism. Several animals, notably goats, mice, sheep, and cattle are genetically modified. In Our Transgenic Future, I consider what such scientific advances portend. I center the story on goats that have been engineered by the US military and civilian scientists using the DNA of spiders and I interweave my own story of using assisted reproductive technologies to have children. Our Transgenic Future focuses on how these goats came into existence and the researchers who maintain them. I also explore larger science of transgenics and synthetics. 

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