Our Recommendations for You
We often get asked for recommendations of animal and elephant books. Because education plays such a huge role in a better future for elephants, we were glad to compile a reading list to create an easy reference.
We have given short descriptions and broken them up into categories, so if there is something specific you are looking for, it’s easier to find. Some people want to educate themselves more on the broad range of subjects involving elephants, others just want to get lost in a story that brings them closer to elephants- so we took that into account.
There is also a category labeled ‘other’ this includes books about animals, emotion, and our relationships with them. Please know, while we have personally read many of these books, we have not read all of them. We also went off of recommendations from other ‘elephant people’.
But as with all things in life, we all don’t agree about some of the books. Some people like some that others couldn’t even finish. Just because the book is on the list, doesn’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it-please read a full review before dipping in to the stories. Also remember, if you enjoy a book written by a researcher or conservationist, most have other books as well that you can look for.
This list is by no means a complete list of every elephant book, just something to get you started. If you feel like there is an amazing book we missed, that needs to be listed, let us know. Please enjoy
Young Adult Books on Elephants
Elephants of Thailand: The Smiling Elephant (2017) : (recommended ages 2-8) A touching true story Chang, a baby elephant, and his adventures as he is rescued from captivity. The Smiling Elephant tells a true story of the plight of elephants in captivity. This beautifully illustrated children’s book about elephants in Thailand takes the child through an elephant’s life, starting from the jungle, life in the tourist industry and then being rescued and taken to an elephant refuge park.
5 elephants- Rob Laidlaw (2014) : (recommended grades 2-7) 5 Elephants will provide readers with some fascinating elephant facts and figures, as well as introduce some of the serious challenges that wild and captive elephants face. In 5 Elephants, you will read the stories of five famous elephants.
The Elephant Letters: The Story of Billy and Kani- G. A. Bradshaw (2014): The Elephant Letters tells the moving story of Billy and Kani, two African elephants. While one grows up in the wild with his family, the other grows up in a zoo after being taken from Africa.
An Elephant in the Garden- Michael Morpurgo (2013): (Fiction grades 5-9) Lizzie and Karl’s mother is a zoo keeper; the family has become attached to an orphaned elephant named Marlene, who will be destroyed as a precautionary measure so she and the other animals don’t run wild should the zoo be hit by bombs. The family persuades the zoo director to let Marlene stay in their garden instead.
Elephant Talk-Ann Downer: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication-Ann Downer (2011): (grades 3 and up) This book discusses the complex system of communication elephants use- including sounds humans can hear, nonverbal behaviors, and too low for human ears and what they mean.
Me…Jane-Patrick McDonnell (2011): (Age 1 and up) Not about elephants, but the story of young Jane (Goodall) and her toy chimp. As the young Jane observes the natural world around her with wonder, she dreams of “a life living with and helping all animals,” until one day she finds that her dream has come true. An inspirational book that teaches children to follow their dreams.
Eyewitness: Elephant- Ian Redmond (2000): (grade 3-7) Discover the world of elephants- their natural history, behavior and how humans have changed their lives. Many photographs.
Non-fiction Books About Elephants
Last Chain on Billie: How One Extraordinary Elephant Escaped the Big Top- Carol Bradley (2014): Against the backdrop of a glittering but brutal circus world, this book charts the history of circus elephants in America and follows the story of one very mistreated circus elephant and the journey that led her to sanctuary.
Topsy- Michael Daly (2014): In 1903, an elephant named Topsy was electrocuted on Coney Island. This book discusses the historical forces that conspired to bring Topsy, Thomas Edison and those 6,600 volts of alternating current together.
Bohemoth: The History of the Elephant in America- Ronald B. Tobias (2013): A chronicle tracing the elephant’s indelible footprint on American culture, and its 200 year history.
Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants- John Frederick Walker (2010): Praised for the nuance and sensitivity with which it approaches one of the most fraught conservation issues we face today, John Frederick Walker’s Ivory’s Ghosts tells the astonishing story of the power of ivory through the ages, and its impact on elephants.
An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity- multiple contributors (2009): A look at the different issues that elephants face in captivity. Different topics taken on by different contributors in the animal/elephant field.
Elephants and Ethics: Toward a Morality of Coexistence- Christen Wemmer, Catherine Christen (2008): In Elephants and Ethics, Christen Wemmer and Catherine A. Christen assemble an international cohort of experts to review the history of human-elephant relations, discuss current issues of vital concern to elephant welfare, and assess the prospects for the ethical coexistence of both species.
Gods in Chains- Rhea Ghosh (2005): The book hopes to highlight the conditions of captive elephants, as they are currently used and kept in India. Initially started as informal documentation, Gods in Chains later expanded to become a handbook of sorts, for anyone wanting to know more of the reality behind the veil of glamour and majesty of the captive pachyderm, especially in temple rituals and festival processions. The often troubled and complex relationship with their only companion, the mahout , is also a story of pathos and heartbreak for a deeply social and community-minded animal.
Love, War, and Circuses: The Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans-Eric Scigliano (2004): In a kaleidoscopic account rich in historic lore, surprising science, and exotic adventure, Eric Scigliano traces an age-old, extraordinary relationship between species and shows how it still haunts and inspires us today.
Elephantoms: Tracking the Elephant- Lyall Watson (2003): A scientific safari and personal memoir celebrating the enigmatic dignity of the world’s largest land animal.
Elephant Destiny: Biography of an Endangered Species in Africa- Martin Meredith (2003): Martin Meredith lays out the history of this majestic animal from the Egyptian pharaohs’ first ivory expeditions 2500 years ago to today, and explores the elephant’s role in literature and popular culture. He shares recent extraordinary discoveries about the elephant’s ability to communicate, its sophisticated family and community structure, and the ways–rare in the animal world–in which elephants show compassion and loyalty to each other.
Jumbo Ghosts: The Dangerous Life of Elephants in the Zoo- Michael Schmidt (2002): Jumbo Ghosts is about both the ancient and mysterious bond we have with elephants, and why/how we’ve broken that bond in our modern zoos. Sections examine the human/elephant bond, what makes life so dangerous for elephants living in modern zoos and new ideas to mend our broken bonds with them.
The Astonishing Elephant- Shana Alexander (2000): Shana Alexander tells a story filled with drama, humor, sorrow, greed, sex, science–and surprising human interest. She has visited India and Africa, interviewing the brave researchers who are devoting their lives to the oversize mysteries of elephants. She has looked back in history, detailing the elephant’s importance in every major religion, in work, in warfare, and in its position–now threatened–at the heart of every circus, from Rome to Ringling.
Keepers of the Ark: An Elephant’s View of Captivity- R.J. Ryan (1999): This is the true account of how the elephants were cared for, handled, and trained during the time the author worked as an elephant keeper at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
Managing Elephants: An Introduction to Their Training and Management- Alan Roocroft (1994): This book gives a glimpse into free contact management and how it was used throughout zoos at the time. Alan Roocroft continues to be an elephant consultant used around the world.
The Fate of the Elephant- Douglas Chadwick (1992): Noted wildlife biologist and author Chadwick provides a comprehensive exploration of the natural history and modern fate of the world’s elephants, centered around the theme that “we are discovering a creature greater in many ways–and more like us–than we had ever imagined it to be. Even as we are destroying it”.
I Loved Rogues: The Life of an Elephant Tramp- George Washington Lewis (1978): Published in 1955, it’s a story about elephants by a man who spent most of a lifetime working with them, training them and loving them. 160 photos from Lewis’ personal collection have been incorporated.
Books About Elephants for Conservationists
Love Life and Elephants: An African Love Story- Daphne Sheldrick (2013): A memoir telling of Dame Sheldrick’s remarkable career as a conservationist while introducing the reader to a host of elephant orphans.
The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild- Lawrence Anthony (2012): Memoir of Anthony’s experiences with a herd of “rogue” wild elephants that he was asked to accept into a game reserve. His battle to create a bond with the elephants, and all they had to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom.
Books for Researchers About Elephants
Elephant Don: The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse-Caitlin O’Connell (2015): A rare inside look at the social world of African male elephants. Elephant Don tracks Greg and his group of bulls as O’Connell tries to understand the vicissitudes of male friendship, power struggles, and play.
Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity- G.A. Bradshaw (2010): Drawing on accounts from India to Africa and California to Tennessee, and on research in neuroscience, psychology, and animal behavior, G. A. Bradshaw explores the minds, emotions, and lives of elephants.
The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa- Caitlin O’Connell (2008): Catlin O’Connell’s fascinating story of her unexpected discovery of a previously unknown mode of elephant communication
Elephant Memories: Thirteen years in the Life of an Elephant Family- Cynthia Moss (2000): Her chronicles of the lives of the elephant members of the T families- a glimpse into their everyday life and what makes them who they are.
Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants- Katy Payne (1999): Memoir of scientific discovery beginning at the Washington Park Zoo where Kay Payne’s revolutionary work in the field of elephant communication began.
Coming of Age with Elephants- Joyce Poole (1996): Memoir of a 19-year-old who decided to make elephants her life. While living in Amboseli she tried to unravel the behavioral patterns and communication of this extraordinary species.
Fiction Books About Elephants
Leaving Time- Jodi Picoult (2014): A story about a young girl whose mother mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident at an elephant sanctuary. The story follows the tragedy and the child’s quest to find her mother, but also goes into depth about elephants, their emotions, and their stories, both in the wild and in captivity.
Through the Eyes of Ernest: A Memoir to Honor Elephants- Debbie McFee (2013): A somber but ultimately hopeful tale told from an elephant’s point of view, Through the Eyes of Ernest asks us to consider why we keep such intelligent, social animals in captivity.
Elephant Dance- Tammie Matson (2009): From the magic of Bushmanland, to the banks of Chobe River in Botswana, to the civil strife of Assam, India, Elephant Dance takes us to the heart of a conservationist’s fight to find a way for elephants to live peacefully in a world with too many people, too few resources and the increasing threat of climate change.
Hannah’s Dream- Diane Hammond (2008): A story about a zoo caregiver and his lone elephant that he tries to give a better life, by sending her to an elephant sanctuary.
The Cowboy and His Elephant- Malcolm MacPherson (2002): Based on a true story, it tells of the baby elephant ‘Amy’ who was taken from the wild after her family was culled and adopted by the Marlboro Man. It follows her journey into the circus and the desired release back into the wild. The reality is that Amy was sent to Riddles in Arkansas (a much more tragic ending)
To the Elephant Graveyard- Tarquin Hall (2001): A compelling account of the search for a killer elephant in the Northeast corner of India, and a vivid portrait of the tribe who live intimately with the elephants. It examines the elephant suffering taking place due to loss of their natural habitat.
The White Bone- Barbara Gowdy (2000): In The White Bone, a novel imagined entirely from the perspective of African elephants, Barbara Gowdy creates a world whole and separate that yet illuminates our own. Plunged into an alien landscape, we orient ourselves in elephant time, elephant space, elephant consciousness and begin to feel, as Gowdy puts it, “what it would be like to be that big and gentle, to be that imperiled, and to have that prodigious memory.”
Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived- Ralph Helfer (1998):
Modoc is a true animal story detailing the life of a young boy and an elephant that formed a bond that would last their entire lives.
At Large: The Fugitive Odyssey of Murray Hill and His Elephants- Gary Ross (1992): Reveals the story of a retired circus trainer who sold his two elephants, stole them back when he realized they were being mistreated, and–with the help of the circus underground–dodged the FBI for five years.
Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives – Hope Ferdowsian MD (2018): Combining compelling stories of survivors with the latest science on resilience, PHOENIX ZONES reveals the link between violence against people and animals and the biological foundation for recovery, peace, and hope.
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?- Frans De Waal(2016): What separates your mind from an animal’s? Frans de Waal explores both the scope and the depth of animal intelligence. He offers a firsthand account of how science has stood traditional behaviorism on its head by revealing how smart animals really are, and how we’ve underestimated their abilities for too long.
The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from How Dogs Learn-Melissa Holbrook Pierson (2015): Pierson met with a host of fascinating animal behaviorists, going behind the scenes to witness the relationships between trainers and animals, and to the in-depth seminars at a Clicker Expo. The often startling story of what became of a path-breaking scientist’s work is interwoven with a more personal tale of how to understand the foreign species with whom we are privileged to live. Pierson draws surprising connections in her exploration of how kindness works to motivate all animals, including the human one.
Ethics of Captivity- Lori Gruen (2014): Though conditions of captivity vary widely for humans and for other animals, there are common ethical themes that imprisonment raises, including the value of liberty, the nature of autonomy, the meaning of dignity, and the impact of routine confinement on physical and psychological well-being. This volume brings together scholars, scientists, and sanctuary workers to address in fifteen new essays the ethical issues captivity raises.
The Ten Trusts; What We Must Do to Care for the Animals We Love.- Jane Goodall, Mark Bekoff (2013): Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff have set forth ten trusts that we must honor as custodians of the planet. They argue passionately and persuasively that if we put these trusts to work in our lives, the earth and all its inhabitants will be able to live together harmoniously. The Ten Trusts expands the concept of our obligation to live in close relationship with animals — for, of course, we humans are part of the animal kingdom — challenging us to respect the interconnection between all living beings as we learn to care about and appreciate all species.
Death at Seaworld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity- David Kirby (2013): Death at SeaWorld centers on the battle with the multimillion-dollar marine park industry over the controversial and even lethal ramifications of keeping killer whales in captivity. Following the story of marine biologist and animal advocate at the Humane Society of the US, Naomi Rose, Kirby tells the gripping story of the two-decade fight against PR-savvy SeaWorld, which came to a head with the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery-Andrew Westoff (2012): An unflinching, visceral look at the emotional and physical damage—actual, real damage done to specific, individual apes—in some of America’s most notorious biomedical research labs. It is also the story of humans who were driven to provide them with refuge, retirement . . . and, ultimately, their inherent right to dignity.
The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy- and Why They Matter- Marc Bekoff (2008): Based on award-winning scientist Marc Bekoff’s years studying social communication in a wide range of species, this important book shows that animals have rich emotional lives. Bekoff skillfully blends extraordinary stories of animal joy, empathy, grief, embarrassment, anger, and love with the latest scientific research confirming the existence of emotions that common sense and experience have long implied.
Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy- Mathew Scully (2003): Dominion is a plea for human benevolence and mercy, a scathing attack on those who would dismiss animal activists as mere sentimentalists, and a demand for reform from the government down to the individual.
Rattling the Cage- Steven M. Wise (2001): Explains how the failure to recognize the basic legal rights of chimpanzees and bonobos in light of modern scientific findings creates a glaring contradiction in our law while demonstrating the cognitive, emotional, and social capacities of these apes.
Animal Liberation- Peter Singer (2001): A work that has been described as ‘groudbreaking’ in exposing people to the existence of ‘speciesism’-our systematic disregard of nonhuman animals. Discusses the reality of factory farms and product testing procedures and their alternatives.
Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees-Roger Fouts (1998): For 30 years Roger Fouts has pioneered communication with chimpanzees through sign language–beginning with a mischievous baby chimp named Washoe. This remarkable book describes Fout’s odyssey from novice researcher to celebrity scientist to impassioned crusader for the rights of animals.
When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals- Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (1996): From dancing squirrels to bashful gorillas to spiteful killer whales, Masson and coauthor Susan McCarthy bring forth fascinating anecdotes and illuminating insights that offer powerful proof of the existence of animal emotion.