Feature

Sy Montgomery's 6 favorite books for animal lovers

The author recommends works by Jennifer Ackerman, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, and more

Sy Montgomery is the author of The Soul of an Octopus and dozens of other books about the natural world. Her latest, The Hawk's Way, uses a personal encounter with a hawk to explore what birds can teach us about nature, life, and love. 

The Outermost House by Henry Beston (1928)

Beston's poetic declaration helped define what I attempt in my own writing about the natural world: "We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals … for the animal shall not be measured by man. They are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth." Buy it here. 

King Solomon's Ring by Konrad Lorenz (1949)

A classic account of animal behavior by the man who founded the field of study now known as ethology. Patient, passionate observations of creatures as diverse as water shrews and graylag geese are scientifically revealing and filled with wonder, respect, and affection for each animal as an individual. Buy it here. 

What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe (2016)

"Fish don't feel pain." "The memory of a goldfish is three seconds." Garbage! Citing innovative research and affecting examples, the author not only busts these harmful myths, but also wows us with examples of what fish think, feel, and know. Buy it here.

Lilly on Dolphins by John Lilly (1975)

Because Lilly was many things — including a proponent of LSD and believer in space aliens — many of his intuitions and findings about dolphins were dismissed. But because he began with the premise that dolphins are intelligent, many of his conclusions were also prescient, including the now widely accepted fact that every dolphin has a name, represented by a signature whistle. Buy it here.

The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman (2020)

A colorful parade of maverick researchers, many of them women, showcase new science transforming our understanding of birds. With brains denser with neurons than our own, birds smell the shape of landscapes, hear sounds inaudible to our ears, and communicate detailed information to one another. Buy it here.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (2010)

Beset by a debilitating disease, the author was too weakened to do much other than watch a snail inside a terrarium. But there was a silver lining: She now had time to perceive the dazzling complexity and grace of this common creature. Buy it here. 

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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