16 Nonfiction Animal Books

You are going to love this list of 16 nonfiction animal books. They will take you inside the real life of some of the world's most fascinating and popular species from cats to dogs to elephants. 

You'll find some fun reads with amazing stories about animals. You'll also learn more about what they are like in the wild, how they help scientists, and more.

Nonfiction books about animals

1. The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild

The Elephant Whisperer

Written by: Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence

Published: November 10th, 2009

Pages: 384

Elephants are known for their intelligence and social connectivity, but they are also some of the most endangered animals on earth. In this book, Lawrence Anthony tells how he came to be one of the very few people in the world to have a deep understanding and relationship with elephants. When he was asked to take over a colony of them, he wanted to refuse but realized that if he didn’t, they would be poached or killed.

As Anthony discovered, they are also capable of great compassion. In his time living with them, he formed an unbreakable bond with a herd of elephants he refers to as his family. This is a fantastic story about an often misunderstood and feared animal. It will inspire readers to rethink their assumptions about these majestic creatures.

2. In the Shadow of Man

In the Shadow of Man

Written by: Jane Goodall and Richard Wrangham

Published: 1971

Pages: 256

One of the most famous non-fiction books about animals is In the Shadow of Man, originally published in 1971. The book covers Goodall's observations of chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania over ten years. In the Shadow of Man is an essential work in primatology, and it has been cited extensively by other researchers.

At first, it seemed destined to fail as there was almost no contact between the chimps and her team. Goodall's observations helped redefine the relationship between humans and chimpanzees, and they demonstrated that chimpanzees are capable of tool use and complex social interactions. The book also includes Goodall's thoughts on human evolution and morality.

3. Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Bagdad Zoo

Babylon’s Ark

Written by: Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence

Published: March 6th, 2007

Pages: 256

The second book by these two authors is a joy and a wonderful experience. Babylon's Ark chronicles the incredible wartime rescue of the Baghdad Zoo. When U.S. troops invaded Baghdad in 2003, they found a city in chaos—and a zoo that had been all but destroyed. The animals were malnourished and dying, and many of the cages had been looted or bombed.

It is incredible what he and his teammates had to do to keep them, including bartering for food on the stress with merchants. But a team of local Iraqi zoo employees and civilians, American soldiers, and others came together to save the animals, setting up makeshift shelters and food programs to care for them. These heroes saved hundreds of animals from certain death in the face of daunting obstacles. Babylon's Ark is an inspiring story of courage and compassion in the face of war.

4. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Written by: Frans de Waal

Published: April 25th, 2016

Pages: 340

Are animals as intelligent as we once believed? Or are they far cleverer than we ever imagined? In his book, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Frans de Waal examines the latest research on animal cognition and offers a surprising assessment of our furry and feathered friends. Drawing on his groundbreaking work with chimpanzees, bats, sheep, and other species, de Waal provides compelling evidence that many animals are capable of thought and reflection, complex communication, tool use, and even self-awareness.

So, what does this mean for how we view animals—and ourselves? De Waal argues that it's time to rethink our understanding of intelligence and consider the possibility that animals may be more intelligent than we think. Don't miss this fascinating exploration into the human and animal psyche and how to think and adapt to the world.

5. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

The Soul of an Octopus

Written by: Sy Montgomery

Published:  May 12th, 2015

Pages:  261

Did you know that octopuses are capable of thought and emotion? They can navigate through complex mazes, learn how to open jars, and even recognize individual people. In his new book, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, author Sy Montgomery takes a closer look at the great minds of these creatures.

Drawing on her own experiences with octopuses and scientific research, Montgomery explores the possibility that octopuses may be conscious in a different way but perhaps just as profound as ours. Are you ready to dive into the fascinating world of octopus intelligence? If so, this could change our understanding not only of cephalopods but also of consciousness itself. Funny, caring, and deeply insightful towards these magnificent creatures, you will fall in love with the numerous octopi in this book.

6. Gorillas in the Mist

Gorillas in the Mist

Written by: Dian Fossey

Published: August 25th, 1983

Pages: 326

This is a classic must-read for anyone interested in non-fiction animal books. On a misty morning in 1967, primatologist Dian Fossey trekked into the mountain forests of Rwanda to study the gorillas living there. What started as a scientific endeavor soon became a personal passion for Fossey, and she devoted her life to understanding these gentle creatures. Gorillas in the Mist is her acclaimed account of that time spent among the gorillas, and it offers an intimate portrait of their lives and behavior.

Fossey's dedication to her research was ultimately rewarded when she gained the trust of these animals, which allowed her to get close enough to observe them in their natural habitat. This book is an essential record of Fossey's work with our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.

7. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World


Written by:  Vicki Myron and Bret Witter

Published: September 24th, 2008

Pages: 277

Dewey Readmore Books (say it out loud, and you'll get the joke of his name), a small-town library cat in Spencer, Iowa, made headlines around the world. As she entered work, librarian Vicki Myron found him frozen and near death in the book drop one winter morning. Dewey's remarkable recovery and social media fame made him a household name as people followed his blog posts, Facebook updates, and Twitter tweets.

This charming book tells the story of Dewey's life spanning 19-years from his humble beginnings as a kitten abandoned in the library to his rise to international superstar. It also includes dozens of photos of Dewey with his adoring fans. If you're looking for an uplifting and feel-good read, you will want to "check out" Dewey!

8. Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog

Marley & Me

Written by: John Grogan

Published: October 18th, 2005

Pages: 291

Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that they are not just animals but family members. And like any other member of the family, dogs can be a lot of work. In Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog, John Grogan tells the story of his experiences raising one exceptional dog named Marley. And by special, we mean both wonderful and incredible and the most destructive animal a dog owner could ever imagine.

From puppyhood to old age, Grogan details all the highs and lows of life with Marley - including plenty of hilarious antics along the way. If you're looking for a heartwarming and funny read that will make you love your dog even more, then this book is for you.

9. Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins

Voices in the Ocean

Written by: Susan Casey

Published: August 4th, 2015

Pages: 304

Dolphins have long been a fascination of humans. Their playful nature and high level of intelligence make them some of the most intriguing creatures in the world. But what many people don't know is that there is much more to dolphins than just their surface-level personality traits. In "oices in the Ocean, author Sylvia Earle takes readers on a journey into the wild and haunting world of dolphins, exploring their complex social structures, hunting techniques, and communication methods.

She also goes into how the dolphins are abused for the enjoyment of humans at amusement parks, treated like beasts, and slaughter of them at Taiji in Japan. All of this and more became the inspiration for the documentary, The Cove. This eye-opening book offers a unique glimpse into an often-overlooked corner of the animal kingdom, and it is sure to change the way you think about these fantastic creatures.

10. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior

Animals in Translation

Written by: Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

Published: December 28th, 2004

Pages: 368

Some animals just don't seem to make sense. They do things we can't understand, and it frustrates us. We may even label these things as "stupid." But what if these behaviors are just a different form of communication? What if we could learn to decode their language and better understand them? In her book, Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, Temple Grandin offers an exciting perspective on animal behavior.

This book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in animals or autism! She suggests that many animal behaviors can be interpreted as expressions of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). By understanding how ASD affects animals, we can learn to communicate better with them and potentially improve our relationships with them.

11. Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

Homer's Odyssey

Written by: Gwen Cooper

Published:  August 25th, 2009

Pages: 287

When you already have two cats, why would someone want a third? And especially if it is a 3-week-old blind one! Well, that is precisely what Gwen Cooper decided when her vet told her that little Homer needed a home. Instead of just being a burden, Homer became this incredible cat who amazed everyone who grew to know him.

One of the unique parts of this story is how Homer saved her life when he could scare off someone who broke into Gwen's house! There is so much love and happiness in this book that you will just want to cuddle up with a cat and read it forever, especially when you find out how Homer helped Gwen find the love of her life.

12. Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity

Death at SeaWorld

Written by: David Kirby

Published: July 17th, 2012

Pages: 469

Unfortunately, all the books on this list aren't about cute and cuddly animals. This one is about the horrors of how killer whales are treated and abused by humans for their pure enjoyment. David Kirby exposes the dark side of keeping orcas in captivity. For years, SeaWorld has claimed that their animals are well-treated and happy, but Kirby's extensive research paints a very different picture. Orcas in SeaWorld parks are often kept in small tanks for a bit of exercise, forced to learn circus tricks, and deprived of the companionship of their kind.

Many have died prematurely, and those who survive often exhibit signs of mental illness. If you're looking for an eye-opening look at the reality of whale captivity, be sure to check out this horrifying but significant book on how humans can be so much more brutal than animals.

13. Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story

Love, Life, and Elephants

Written by: Daphne Jenkins Sheldrick

Published by: January 1st, 2011

Pages: 352

Elephants have long been known for their intelligence, majestic stature, and gentle nature. In the heart-warming book, we are given a unique glimpse into the complex lives of these creatures. Sheldrick offers an inspiring account of her decades-long work with elephants in Africa, as well as her journey of love and loss between her and her animals and with her husband, David.

We love that her book not only encompasses elephants, but also other cute animals such as Rickey-Tickey-Tavey, a tiny mongoose, Bushy, an antelope, and others. Her stories offer insight into the emotional lives of these animals and highlight the importance of conservation efforts. Anyone who loves elephants or is interested in wildlife conservation will enjoy this book.

14. Last Chance to See

Last Chance to See

Written by: Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine

Published: February 13th, 1991

Pages: 220

Readers of science-fiction will be surprised to find Douglas Adams on this list. He wrote the hilarious A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for those who don't know him. In this book, he decided to travel the world with the respected zoologist Mark Carwardine to find the most interesting, exotic, and often endangered animals from all over the world.

One of the reasons that we enjoy this book so much is that although it is dire, the humor of Douglas Adams shines through to give everyone hope for a better world. There are also lots of gorgeous photos. Sadly, since this was many years ago, some of the amazing animals in this book may have or are close to being extinct.

15. Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom

Unlikely Friendships

Written by: Jennifer S. Holland

Published: June 30th, 2011

Pages: 210

Do animals form friendships with other species? Researchers have found that, indeed, animals do form relationships with other species beyond what is considered normal behavior. In Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, author Jennifer Holland shares research and stories of unlikely animal friendships.

These stories will amaze and fascinate you, from a hippo who befriends a tortoise to a duck who becomes friends with a cat. Animals display remarkably complex social behaviors, and it's fascinating to see just how far their friendships will go. The photos are fantastic as they show how closely these seemingly impossible friendships are nurturing and loving. One, in particular, is the photo of the dog and the cheetah, which blew our minds.

16. Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

Wesley the Owl

Written by: Stacey O'Brien

Published: August 19th, 2008

Pages: 230

Stacey O'Brien's Wesley the Owl is a heartwarming story of love and dedication between Stacey, an inexperienced young biologist, and Wesley, her rescued owl who had a malformed wing. This extraordinary book chronicles their unlikely friendship and the intimate bond between them. From Wesley's first days at the lab, when he was sick and frail, to his growth into a solid and confident owl, Stacey never wavers in her devotion to him.

Instead of just being an average bird lover, O'Brien worked at Caltech, where they researched owls, so she has a very in-depth understanding of their "normal" behavior. The reader is drawn into the emotional world of these two unforgettable characters as they share joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures. Anyone who has ever loved an animal will appreciate this beautiful story of enduring affection.

More Non-Fiction Animals Books