Susan Orlean recommends 6 books for animal lovers

The New Yorker staff writer recommends works by Herman Melville, Helen Macdonald, and more

Susan Orlean.
(Image credit: Courtesy image)

New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean is the best-selling author of The Orchid Thief and 2018's The Library Book. Her newest work of nonfiction, On Animals, gathers 16 stories and essays, and inspired her to recommend six other books for animal lovers.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (1947).

Marguerite Henry's children's book about two kids living on an island alongside the Chincoteague wild ponies is probably responsible for my passion for animals, and horses in particular. The story was written more than 70 years ago but it's absolutely timeless. Buy it here.

My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley (1956).

Another older book that has aged gracefully, this memoir is about resisting, and then completely surrendering to, the love of a dog. There are aspects of the book that are very sad, and some that are a bit strange, but it stands as one of the models for writing about the human-animal relationship. Buy it here.

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Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer Holland (2011).

I originally bought this book, subtitled 47 Remarkable Stories From the Animal Kingdom, to read to my son. But soon I was enthralled as well. All of its stories are about cross-species relationships, and it's just wonderful. Buy it here.

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2014).

In this gorgeous memoir, Helen Macdonald, a naturalist and falconer, describes making peace with the grief of losing her father while she trains a young goshawk. Buy it here.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (2015).

This is the only one of these books that completely changed my attitude toward a species. In this case, I went from being neutral about octopuses to being awed by them and their remarkable, sophisticated intelligence. I never imagined I would feel so moved by an eight-legged creature! Buy it here. Buy it here.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851).

I had to save the best for last, of course. Also, it seemed only fair to save the book that is the counter-example to the rest of the list; it doesn't celebrate animals and it doesn't marvel at our relationship to them. It rages madly against them, or at least against the ultimate antagonist, the dread white whale Moby Dick. All the while, it confirms the potency of our connection to animals. Whether we fear them, eat them, train them, or dream about them, they're central to our lives. Buy it here.

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