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February 10, 2009 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Recommend non-fiction books about animals -- books that will blow my mind.
posted by grumblebee to Pets & Animals (43 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
 


Just in case you don't think of them as "animals," I'm also really interest in insects and marine life. But I'm up for a great read about any kind of animal.
posted by grumblebee at 7:11 AM on February 10, 2009


I *really* love "Last Chance to See" by Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine. They travelled the world visiting endangered species, and it's all written in Adams' (hilarious) style.
posted by jpziller at 7:13 AM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read The Year of the Whale a long time ago, but remember liking it very much.
posted by sulaine at 7:16 AM on February 10, 2009


Nthing When Elephants Weep.
posted by typewriter at 7:24 AM on February 10, 2009


E.O. Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Ants, or the more accessible, less expensive version Journey to the Ants.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:24 AM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I recommend - with some reservations - Howard C. Hughes's (!!) book Sensory Exotica, which is all about the sensory apparati that various animals have evolved as survival strategies. The reservations are for the truly weird, semi-scholarly, semi-casual way in which it's written, but there's enough mind-blowing detail in there to interest you, I'd bet.

Also highly recommending Edward O. Wilson's and Bert Hölldobler's Journey to the Ants, which is the layman's version (not dumbed down; just accessible) of their magnum opus The Ants, which is packed with technical info that, so far, has kept it beyond my ken.

I also just finished David Quammen's The Song of the Dodo, which I loved.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:27 AM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


On preview: a-yup.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:27 AM on February 10, 2009


I really enjoyed James Herriot's tales about being a veterinarian in rural England during the first half of the 20th century.
posted by subajestad at 7:34 AM on February 10, 2009


Stories Rabbits Tell
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:41 AM on February 10, 2009


I loved A Primate's Memoir.
posted by BundleOfHers at 7:52 AM on February 10, 2009


Previous question about books about people and animals.

In the Company of Crows and Ravens is supposed to be good. (Haven't read it myself.)
posted by salvia at 7:55 AM on February 10, 2009


Bernd Heinrich's books are very good. I've read The Geese of Beaver Bog, and Racing with the Antelope.
posted by OmieWise at 8:01 AM on February 10, 2009


Not so much a scientific tract about animals per se, more of a memoir of a childhood obsessed with studying them, but My Family And Other Animals, by naturalist Gerald Durrell, is one of my all time favorite books. He dissects the behaviour of his hilariously eccentric and famous literary family with the same verve as his spiders and sea anemones and whatnot.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:07 AM on February 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


One Day at Teton Marsh by Sally Carrighar. Don't miss this - it's a natural history version of Rashomon ... one day's events replayed a number of times, from the viewpoint of each of the animals involved. Published in 1947, but still immensely readable today.
posted by woodblock100 at 8:09 AM on February 10, 2009




Hi there. I own The New Encyclopedia Of Mammals (ed. David Macdonald), and I highly recommend it. It is about 1000 pages long and covers a lot of mammalian life with in-depth articles and extremely vivid photography. (For example, it's got a mind-blowing sequence depicting the birth of a baby dolphin.)

Only problem - I think this is an old edition. Perhaps this book, edited by (I think) the same guy, is the closest easily available equivalent.

(Great question!)
posted by laumry at 8:26 AM on February 10, 2009


The Michael The's recommendation made me think about Peacemaking Among Primates. I would have called it very interesting but not mind-blowing when I read it a few years ago, but some of what I've learned has really stayed with me.
posted by not that girl at 8:28 AM on February 10, 2009


Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan ... And the World by Courtney Humphries.
posted by giraffe at 8:43 AM on February 10, 2009


And even more ants -- The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies is superb.
posted by rtimmel at 8:44 AM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond

It is ostensibly a book about humans, but how we behave as animals. There are plenty of discussions about animal behaviours and how we really aren't that different.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 9:07 AM on February 10, 2009


In The Shadow of a Rainbow -- Leslie. Beautiful, strange, amazing, true.
posted by Joe13 at 9:26 AM on February 10, 2009


Bernd Heinrich's Winter World.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:32 AM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think one of the very best books on animals published in the last fifty years is an art history: Animals and Men by Kenneth Clark.

Clark's series of extremely brief essays on relatively famous and familiar works of art depicting animals transformed the way I see them--and us.
posted by jamjam at 9:44 AM on February 10, 2009


The Book of Animal Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong. Also
there is another recent book with, I believe, "Fish" and "masturbation" in the title, but I can't locate it.
The Hidden Life Of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is a classic.
Because the Cat Purrs: How We Relate to Other Species and Why It Matters by Janet Lembke.
posted by dawson at 10:17 AM on February 10, 2009


Frans De Waal's "Our Inner Ape" is about the great apes and how we fit in among them, and how we ARE them. The descriptions of similarities between "us" and "them" are amazing - I especially recall the sections on chimpanzee politics and war.
posted by illenion at 10:18 AM on February 10, 2009


Becoming a Tiger is excellent
posted by The otter lady at 10:28 AM on February 10, 2009


I'm not sure what you're looking for, but I have two insect-focused books to recommend:

The Insect World of J. Henri Fabre (or anything by him) - he's a 19th-century French entomologist, and this is a kind of highlights-in-translation book that I found by sitting on the floor of the now-gone Oxford Books in Atlanta for about 2.5 hours. During my praying mantis phase. The praying mantis section is OK, but the dung beetle, ant, and wasp writings are classic. This guy is so very into what he's doing that you can get utterly lost in his prose, even in translation. He was the kind of scientist who would spend hours crouched on the ground with a magnifying glass, watching a massive ant war, and then write about it in gripping detail. There's a reason people still care about his work.

The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies - this was published this year, and my experience reading Fabre drew me to it. It looks amazing. I glanced through it at the local library and may get it when I have more time. It's substantial, though, while the Fabre book above is more manageable in size. The author of this book mainly works with ants, though he covers some other insects (bees in particular).

And a non-insect book, in case you don't mind a little emotion:

Sandy: The Sandhill Crane Who Joined Our Family - A short book, very nice, by a guy who ended up rescuing a crane egg and raising the chick. Somehow more cranes ended up in the story, and it really was a wonderful book. I'm afraid I don't remember it that clearly -- it's been many years since I read it -- but I remember being really moved by it.
posted by amtho at 10:34 AM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process - A really amazing story. This bird had a vocabulary of over 100 words, could count, recognize shapes & colors, string together rudimentary sentences, and even tell little white lies to get what he wanted.
posted by scottatdrake at 11:09 AM on February 10, 2009


Wild Animals I have Known is what you want. It's something of a classic in the genre, and explores the lives of crows, foxes, wolves, rabbits, partridge and others.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:25 AM on February 10, 2009


Monster of God by David Quammen. Science writer with a wonderful writing style takes on the idea of the man-eating predator across history and what predators mean in the human imagination.
posted by matildaben at 11:36 AM on February 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Geese of Beaver Bog was a fun read. Picked it up on the clearance rack at a local big-box store a while back, thoroughly enjoyed it. Equal parts personal story and ecology / animal behavior. Author is a University of Vermont bio professor, so he knows what he's talking about. Has also written a bunch of other behavior books (bees, ravens, owls) that might fit your request.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:37 AM on February 10, 2009


There's a new book on ant and bee colonies as superorganisms; it got reviewed in NYRB recently. Sounds great.
posted by ifjuly at 12:04 PM on February 10, 2009


Here's that review, and one more.
posted by ifjuly at 12:07 PM on February 10, 2009


I recommend - with some reservations - Howard C. Hughes's (!!) book Sensory Exotica, which is all about the sensory apparati that various animals have evolved as survival strategies. The reservations are for the truly weird, semi-scholarly, semi-casual way in which it's written, but there's enough mind-blowing detail in there to interest you, I'd bet.

Dr Wu


Let me say, Dr Wu is right on here. This should be a great book but it is just a lot of good information in an annoying wrapper. Grrr.
posted by shothotbot at 2:22 PM on February 10, 2009


Temple Grandin's books (herd animals and autistics).

(By anything, below, I mean "any popular, that is, for lay readers, work".)

Your Inner Fish (though it's more comparative anatomy than animal behavior).

Anything by Frans de Waal (chimp politics).

Anything by EO Wilson (ants, sociobiology).

The Ancestor's Tale by Dawkins.

Life Richard Fortey.

Any popular work by Niko Tinbergen is absolutely charming.

Zimmer's Parasite Rex

I've read all of these, so I'm personally vouching for them.
posted by orthogonality at 3:42 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Merle's Door

period

you will cry
posted by Drasher at 4:31 PM on February 10, 2009


The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. Completely changed the way I thought about dogs.
posted by biscotti at 8:22 PM on February 10, 2009


As mentioned above, anything by David Quammen. He is absolutely great.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:42 PM on February 10, 2009


One I enjoyed:

Kicked Bitten and Scratched by Amy Sutherland. She also wrote one about Shamu.

Also, I am an Equine Facilitator (horse handler) for a mental heath therapy group so I am a little biased, but:

Soul of a Horse by Joe Camp (guy who wrote Benji)

Chosen by a Horse by Susan Richards

A Year at the Races by Jane Smiley

And for a bit more out -there:
Kinship With All Life by J Allen Boone
posted by monopas at 2:18 AM on February 11, 2009


There is a book called Beautiful Swimmers which talks about the Chesapeake blue crab and the people who make (or made, likely) their living from it. It won a Pulitzer for non-fiction.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:15 PM on February 16, 2009


Can't believe I forgot about this book before, but: Ring of Bright Water.
posted by jamjam at 5:18 PM on February 16, 2009


Konrad Lorenz's "King Solomon's Ring" was written back in 1949 by one of the first people to consider animal behaviour in a scientific way. Lorenz was also a compelling writer.

In terms of fiction I like Laurence Van der Post's "A Story Like the Wind" about a 13 year old boy and his dog in Africa.
posted by rongorongo at 3:55 AM on February 17, 2009


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