Aesop's Fables (Penguin, $13). Aesop, who's said to have been a slave who lived during the 6th century B.C., laid the cornerstone for fiction about animals. His fables use the nature of various beasts — the fox being my favorite — to illustrate truths about human life. The beauty of his work is that he is so concise.
On Horsemanship by Xenophon (CreateSpace, $9). This Greek commander truly understood horses and wrote a manual about training them that can still be used as a guide. Dazzled though we are by technology, horses are not: You'd best do things their way.
The Birds and The Frogs by Aristophanes (Dover, $1.50; Focus, $10). These two plays, first produced in 414 and 405 B.C., demolish the pieties and expose the weaknesses of Athens's political leaders. Aristophanes wrote some of his most incisive plays during the struggle between Athens and Sparta. There is no way this brave soul would be able to write today unmolested, even in our so-called democracies.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (Signet, $5). Sewell's 1877 novel about a spirited horse revolutionized how English-speaking peoples relate to animals. Regarded as children's literature, Black Beauty is a resonant story for all ages. There's still much work to be done in learning how to share the earth with other sentient creatures, but thanks to Sewell, we're at least trying to understand other species.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Dover, $3.50). This 1908 novel can be read as a send-up of Britain's class system. As in Aesop's fables, the character traits of Mole, Rat, Badger, and those dastardly weasels run fairly true to type. American poet Marianne Moore once said that poetry is "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." Well, The Wind in the Willows has a toad, and my, what a toad!
Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon (Faber & Faber, $15). A quiet, enchanting volume that allows you to grow with the writer, a lonely English boy who, through fox hunting, discovers horses, courage, and what it is to be a man.