Lydia Millet's 6 favorite books about appreciating living creatures
The author recommends works about magnificent elephants, rethinking zoos, and the magic of trees
Lydia Millet's new novel, A Children's Bible, is a modern Noah's Ark fable in which adolescents take the lead when climate disaster strikes. Below, the award-winning author recommends nonfiction that deepens appreciation for other living creatures.
Where the Animals Go by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti (2016).
This book of beautiful maps, created using modern technologies, traces the various movements of wild animals, from loggerhead sea turtles to emperor penguins. I share it, along with these other revelatory works, because the COVID-19 pandemic began in the trafficking of wildlife for food and body parts. Blame for the leap of the disease to people can't be laid at the feet of bats, pangolins, or civets, of course; it was the direct result of our own bad behavior, and of blindness to how the exploitation and abuse of wildlife is linked to our own well-being.
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson (2013).
Medieval bestiaries were compendiums of animals, both mythic and real: Henderson's modern version combines illustration and text to provide a deeply illuminating survey of real but astonishing creatures, starting at the axolotl and ending with the zebra fish.
A Different Nature by David Hancocks (2001).
Hancocks, a brilliant zoo director and architect, examines the history of zoos and calls urgently for us to reinvent them as places constructed for the good of animals rather than the convenience of people.
Giants of the Monsoon Forest by Jacob Shell (2019).
Shell's book explores the lives of the extraordinary Asian elephants who spend their nights in the forests of Myanmar and India and by day work with their mahouts, harvesting timber. These animals make up about a fifth of all Asian elephants left in the wild.
When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy (1995).
The authors, a former psychoanalyst and a science writer, offer an accessible, compelling look at the interiority and individuality of nonhuman creatures, showing them to be capable of anger, grief, altruism, and gratitude.
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (2015).
This international best-seller was written by a German forester who became disillusioned with his profession and turned to activism. It is a good introduction to the proposition, not new to philosophers but increasingly receiving scientific attention, that trees and other plants possess both sentience and intelligence.
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