After earning a PhD in ocean science and spending years building algorithms to interpret satellite images of the briny deep, Juli Berwald followed her husband to landlocked Texas. The tide of her first love proved to be an irresistible pull, and her return to the world of marine studies is a splashy one: Spineless dives deep into the world of jellyfish, the most ancient and least-understood creatures on earth. Berwald’s passion is infectious, and you just might find the behemoths she glimpsed from Japanese fishing boats and the delicate creatures she raised in her own dining room floating through your dreams.
Twenty-two years ago, the elk population in Yellowstone was threatening other species’ abilities to survive and thrive, and biologists relocated eight gray wolves from Canada’s Jasper National Park to reset the region’s ecological balance. What became known as the Yellowstone Wolf Project triggered an avalanche of change, one that Nate Blakeslee explores through O-Six, a female descendant of the Canadian wolves who became a mother, pack leader, and household name for nature-lovers. His intimate look at her community is a powerful reminder of what we owe our non-human neighbors.
City of Dogs
When Traer Scott agreed to follow Ken Foster around New York City and photograph local canines and their companions, he didn’t expect to appreciate the humans he’d meet: “I am much more comfortable around dogs than people. Always.” To his great surprise, the stories they shared—recounted by Foster in the text that accompanies his photographs—forged a new connection between him and his own species. Like Scott, dog lovers will fall hard for the two-and-four-legged families that call the Big Apple home: “Loving and needing dogs in our lives is something that brings us together, no matter how different we are in other ways.”
Animals of a Bygone Era
This beautiful compendium of creatures that no longer walk the earth is not for the T. rex fan in your life: as the Stockholm-based illustrator explains in her table of contents beside a puzzled Stegosaurus, “Dinosaurs have been intentionally left out of this book to give some attention to other fascinating—but less famous—creatures that once lived on this planet.” Her gorgeous images and cheeky commentary introduce quirky, long-extinct characters like walking whales, horned gophers, dawn horses, and terror birds (!). Natural history has never come roaring to life quite like this.
Brad Thomas Parsons
The next time you find yourself raising a glass and in need of a speech, might we suggest a toast to the tireless felines that make so many tipples possible? Once charged with providing “organic pest control” at distilleries and breweries, working pusses are now brand ambassadors and social media darlings to boot. Brad Thomas Parsons, a James Beard Award-winning writer, offers 30 illustrated “profiles in courage of the world’s most spirited mousers”—as well as 15 cocktail recipes, should readers find themselves inspired to wet their whistles.
The Genius of Birds
“Bird brain” entered the English language as an insult a century ago, science writer Jennifer Ackerman notes, “because people thought of birds as mere flying automatons, with brains so small they had no capacity for thought at all.” As scientific breakthroughs in the past few decades have demonstrated, it’s high time to consider it a compliment: we now know that birds are capable of mental feats comparable to ours. After traveling the world to gather the latest intelligence on avian cognition, Ackerman presents her findings in thrilling language that mimics the brilliance she describes.
My Patients and Other Animals
Suzy Fincham-Gray’s memoir of life as a veterinarian begins with a scene familiar to fans of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small: with coveralls stuffed into wellies, she tags along with a colleague to gain experience on farm visits in the English countryside. Indeed, the warm intimacy of Fincham-Gray’s language recalls Herriot’s—but she’s a 21st-century physician, and her story carries readers into the modern world where high-tech medicine reveals what nonhuman patients can’t express and reminds their caretakers that there’s much they can never know.
Darling, I Love You
A translator of mystical poetry, Daniel Ladinsky has interpreted works by Rumi, Hafiz, and Saint Francis. In Darling, I Love You, he offers original “welcome-to-the-moment” poems that celebrate the bliss and profundity of relationships with companion animals: “love is respecting / the beings who can’t speak / and treating them,” he writes, “as if / they / could.” Illustrated by comic artist Patrick McDonnell with his beloved MUTTS characters, these gentle words are like a patch of sunlight for the soul.
Author and illustrator Maira Kalman is, as she puts it, besotted by dogs. “They are constant reminders,” she writes,“that life reveals the best of itself when we live fully in the moment and extend our unconditional love.” Canine characters from her previous books and illustration projects nose their way into Beloved Dog’s pages, as does her own Irish Wheaton Terrier (who lends his image to the cover), her in-laws’ “big black slobbering Hungarian Beast,” and the many dogs she’s encountered in life and literature. It should come as no surprise that meeting them feels like spending time with dear friends.
Of Cats and Men
“When a man loves cats,” Mark Twain once wrote, “I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.” Twain, like Sam Kalda, was a “cat man,” part of a long and noble line of extraordinary gentlemen with an extraordinary fondness for cats. Kalda profiles and illustrates Twain and 29 other cat men—from King Hywel the Good of 10th-century Wales to the contemporary conceptual artist Ai Weiwei—in this stylish who’s who of history’s infamous cat-fanciers.
With all due respect to fairy tale princesses, animals might have the most devoted literary followers of all: from Aesop’s fabled fauna to Helen Macdonald’s fierce companion in H is for Hawk, it seems nonhuman creatures excel at revealing us to ourselves. The menagerie of titles we’ve assembled here offers scientific explorations for budding naturalists, sentimental reflections for readers who have yet to recover from Where the Red Fern Grows, and a celebration of the beautiful friendship between felines and booze. Welcome to the wild world of the very best books about beasts.
Editor: Eliza Smith; Featured Image: Matt McCarty