The 6 Best Books About Mammals to Captivate and Surprise You

Written by Angie Menjivar
Published: November 4, 2022
© Sergio Photone/Shutterstock.com

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Key Points

  • The best overall book about mammals is The Rise and Reign of the Mammals.
  • Explore deep, complex titles and heartwarming stories that elucidate the remarkable power of loyalty and friendship.
  • Before deciding on the best book about mammals for you, pick which kind of animal you’re most interested in. Do you have a love for cattle? Marine mammals? The only flying mammal?

Warm-blooded and always with hair or fur (even dolphins and whales), mammals make up a wide range of animals, both in the ocean and on land. If you have an interest in mammals, there’s good news. You always have something new to learn. In fact, you can take an A-Z approach to uncover the seemingly endless list of animals from aardvarks and bobcats to white tigers and zebras.

We put together a list of the best books about mammals below. To start, we highlight an incredible, compelling piece of work that uncovers millions of years of history to understand how mammals evolved. We include a fun book for cow lovers in America who are ready to take their fascination to the next level. To keep things interesting, we cover a book that examines the grizzly population in Yellowstone, and we include a touching story of a boy and his elephant. We round out the list with books on marine mammals and bats, the only flying mammal.

  1. The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us
  2. The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us
    • 524 pages
    • Hailed as the ultimate dinosaur biography by Scientific American
    • Written by Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist on the faculty at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland
    Check Amazon
  3. A Field Guide to Cows: How to Identify and Appreciate America’s 52 Breeds
  4. A Field Guide to Cows: How to Identify and Appreciate America’s 52 Breeds
    • Covers how to identify and recognize the characteristics of America’s 52 breeds of cattle
    • Glossary of terms to expand your vocabulary regarding cattle, as well as a listing of breeder associations
    • Customers rate this book 4.4 out of five stars
    Check Amazon
  5. Return of the Grizzly: Sharing the Range with Yellowstone's Top Predator
  6. Return of the Grizzly: Sharing the Range with Yellowstone's Top Predator
    • Covers the story of the successful effort to rebuild the grizzly bear population
    • Addresses the different interactions between humans and bears
    • Customers rate this book 4.6 out of five stars
    Check Amazon
  7. Modoc: True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived
  8. Modoc: True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived
    • Heartwarming tale of the friendship and loyalty between a boy and an elephant
    • Beautiful story about how animals respond to true affection
    • Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars
    Check Amazon
  9. Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
  10. Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
    • Written by award-winning writer and whale researcher
    • Encyclopedia with detailed profiles of different ocean animals
    • Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars
    Check Amazon
  11. Bats: An Illustrated Guide to All Species
  12. Bats: An Illustrated Guide to All Species
    • Utimate guide to everything bats
    • Lively narrative that helps keep your interest as you explore various types of bats
    • Customers rate this book 4.9 out of five stars
    Check Amazon

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us

The best overall book about mammals is The Rise and Reign of the Mammals. This title is available in hardcover, audiobook, and Kindle formats. It’s a national bestseller and covers the history of mammals, shining a light on the lost story of the ultimate family tree that led to humans. This book spans out to explore millions of years through the ice ages and fiery disasters. Humankind‘s lineage incorporates woolly mammoths, sabertooth tigers, and even armadillos the size of the vehicle you drive. In our history, there were cave bears that weighed three more times than a grizzly. Of course, there were other types of humans that we now know as Neanderthals as well.

This book is 524 pages long. It’s extensive. Alongside the author, you explore the mesmerizing story of the varying family of animals that inherited this planet. The author starts 325 million years ago, charting how mammals survived an asteroid impact. His aim is to explore just how mammals became the animal family that dominates the planet today. He incorporates fossil clues and cutting-edge technology to explore what he and other scientists have come to find about the lost world of mammals, ranging from different volcanic catastrophes to the ice ages. It is ultimately the story of mammals that set up the foundation for the world we inhabit today.

Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars. The author manages to captivate readers with this deeply compelling and complex work. He shows evidence of human evolution and thoroughly explains the fossils found. Another customer says that this book manages to intertwine a very broad topic in a single volume using great data and sources. He does say that this book is almost all text with only a couple of pictures of fossil skeletons or some artistic illustrations of animals now extinct. He feels the book lacks a bit of detail and those diagrams but overall, he loves how intriguing this story is. It was entrancing throughout for him.

Best Overall
The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us
  • 524 pages
  • Hailed as the ultimate dinosaur biography by Scientific American
  • Written by Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist on the faculty at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland
Check Amazon

A Field Guide to Cows: How to Identify and Appreciate America’s 52 Breeds

In this book, author John Pukite delivers a wonderful guide to the different cow breeds that live in America. You don’t have to be a complete cow enthusiast to appreciate this book. Pukite manages to deliver facts in a very digestible way. Even a novice learns how to identify and recognize the characteristics of America’s 52 breeds of cattle. Within the book, you learn all of the different cattle breeds’ most easily identifiable traits like their body shapes and colorations. You also explore an illustration to help you visualize all of these traits.

There’s a checklist of the different breeds in the book so if you’re out there on rolling land, looking for all the different types, this book helps you keep track of all your sightings. Pukite also offers some usable information like the essential gear and garb you need for cow watching. You get a glossary of terms to expand your vocabulary regarding cattle and you also get a listing of breeder associations. To keep your memory sharp, the author incorporates different cattle trivia throughout the book. Overall, this book is educational, amusing, and makes an indispensable companion for anyone who loves cows.

Customers rate this book 4.4 out of five stars. They appreciate that it’s useful as a resource. One customer purchased it because she’s a beginner at raising cows. Another customer says that this is a very fun and informative book. She’s always had a fascination with cows, and it wasn’t uncommon to see new decor in her house with either a cow print or a cow face. Although she was hoping for real pictures, she appreciates the illustrations. She enjoys the fun facts on all of the pages which she’s now thrilled about because she can share her newfound knowledge with anyone who will listen!

Best for Cow-Lovers
A Field Guide to Cows: How to Identify and Appreciate America’s 52 Breeds
  • Covers how to identify and recognize the characteristics of America’s 52 breeds of cattle
  • Glossary of terms to expand your vocabulary regarding cattle, as well as a listing of breeder associations
  • Customers rate this book 4.4 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Return of the Grizzly: Sharing the Range with Yellowstone’s Top Predator

This book is available in hardcover and Kindle formats and is all about Yellowstone’s top predator, the grizzly. The grizzly population in Yellowstone has steadily been growing from approximately 136 bears when they were first granted federal protection. Since they were defined as a threatened species, there are now somewhere around 1,000 grizzlies in Yellowstone today. Now, they’re not limited to roaming in really remote areas. They have access to the entire region. This includes school playgrounds, subdivisions that people call home, state parks, and even some farms and ranches.

The book covers the story of how efforts to recover grizzlies have been wildly successful. The author touches on how there were different disputes between bear advocates and bear managers. She also highlights the policy changes that came about for the successful recovery to occur. The author also invites you to consider the emergence of different conflicts since grizzlies have taken back their spot in the ecosystem there. She addresses the different interactions between humans and bears, how many self-defense killings of grizzlies happen every year, how to avoid attacks, and the effects of grizzlies on agriculture.

Customers rate this book 4.6 out of five stars. They appreciate that this is a human story. It’s about the different choices humans make based on where they want to live and how they negotiate to try and create fairness in their environments. The author shares this story with a lot of reverence for different scientific findings and demonstrates how well she understands the nuances and biases on each side of the issue. Another customer calls this a must-have resource on the grizzly bear population if you are interested in exploring the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Best on Grizzlies
Return of the Grizzly: Sharing the Range with Yellowstone's Top Predator
  • Covers the story of the successful effort to rebuild the grizzly bear population
  • Addresses the different interactions between humans and bears
  • Customers rate this book 4.6 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Modoc: True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived

This is an incredibly heartwarming tale that might seem like a fictional story but is based on a true story. Ultimately, the author captures a true account of the friendship and loyalty between a boy and an elephant. These two grew up together in a tiny German circus town and created the type of friendship that spends entire lifetimes. There were many circumstances that would test this connection over many years, including an almost fatal shipwreck in the Indian Ocean. It’s a love story of sorts. It’s definitely the type of book that you won’t be able to put down once you get started reading. As animal lovers, it’s beautiful to see how animals respond to true affection.

Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars. One customer says she cried multiple times throughout and found it absolutely incredible. Another customer called it a “lost treasure” because he had it previously but had lost it many years ago. He’s happy to have it back on his bookshelf. It’s one of his favorite books from when he was younger. The great part of this book is that it appeals to all age levels. It’s simple enough for some older children to understand and the emotional nature creates a beautiful reading experience for adults as well.

Best Heartwarming
Modoc: True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived
  • Heartwarming tale of the friendship and loyalty between a boy and an elephant
  • Beautiful story about how animals respond to true affection
  • Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises

If you’d like to take a dive into the world of marine mammals, this is a great book. The author is an award-winning writer and whale researcher who takes you along to discover different species that live in the world’s oceans. He has first-hand experience, which allows him to create such a comprehensive work. Throughout the book, he delivers his unique insights into these rather compelling marine mammals. He shares different discoveries about their behaviors and biology, including the physical differences you can perceive and how they have adapted over time.

This is an encyclopedia, so you can expect detailed profiles of different ocean animals as well as some intriguing sidebars that help bring marine mammals to life. You can expect gorgeous color photographs as well as some detailed illustrations. This book also covers whaling, including new information on both its history and its impacts. He incorporates a comparison between porpoises and dolphins, carefully identifying each of their differences.

Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars. They appreciate that it contains loads of information and incorporates lots of beautiful photos. One customer purchased this for research purposes and found that it’s spot on. It’s a fun read and she gets to learn everything she needs to know. For some customers, it’s even better than they anticipated. One woman says she purchased it to educate herself further about all of these wonderful animals. She also uses it as a way to inspire her photography skills. She finds her grandkids gravitate to it when they visit her as well.

Best on Marine Mammals
Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
  • Written by award-winning writer and whale researcher
  • Encyclopedia with detailed profiles of different ocean animals
  • Customers rate this book 4.7 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Bats: An Illustrated Guide to All Species

This is the ultimate guide to everything bats. It’s illustrated to give you an idea of all of the different species of these flying mammals. The author takes you on a ride to explore the different roles bats have in our ecosystems. The book incorporates illustrations along with some full-color photographs. The narrative is lively, helping to keep your interest throughout. You learn about the giant golden-crowned flying fox, which is a megabat that has a crazy wide wingspan of over five feet. You then explore the bumblebee bat, which is the smallest mammal found throughout the globe.

Because of their nature, bats can be quite difficult to observe and catalog. However, this book manages to deliver some wonderful, in-depth profiles of 400 bats. You get to explore these detailed summaries along with those close-up images that are otherwise ever so elusive. Customers rate this book 4.9 out of five stars. They appreciate that it’s incredibly informative. One customer shares that it’s become her coffee table book. About twice a week, she picks it up and takes some time to learn about different bats. She really enjoys the different images, particularly because she’s an artist. She plans to use this as a reference for bat photos.

Best on the Only Flying Mammal
Bats: An Illustrated Guide to All Species
  • Utimate guide to everything bats
  • Lively narrative that helps keep your interest as you explore various types of bats
  • Customers rate this book 4.9 out of five stars
Check Amazon

Criteria: What to Look for in Books About Mammals

To start, pick a mammal. Any mammal! Maybe you’ve always had a ‘thing’ for monkeys from Curious George books to stuffed animals that lined your bed as a kid. Sometimes, looking into your own childhood helps you rediscover some of those earlier interests. As an adult, you can take that fascination and stimulate your mind by learning more about your favorite mammals. Once you know which mammal, you’d like to learn more about, start your search!

There are countless books on any singular topic, so consider what you’d like to learn. Are you interested in gathering facts and keeping a reference book as your go-to? Then pick up an encyclopedia-style book or a full-on guide, especially if it includes extras like checklists for watching. If you have a love for a particular mammal but want to enjoy the type of story that gets you in your feelings, pick up a book with a narrative that incorporates your favorite mammal. Some books include real-life photos while others only include illustrations. If you’re looking for a picture that incorporates photos, always double-check the description. Sometimes it’s not easy to tell.

The final factor to consider is the opinions of others who have already purchased the book that’s caught your eye. In the reviews section, you can typically find important tidbits that help you make a final decision. Like in the example above, if you’re looking for a book that incorporates illustrations, diagrams, and full-color photographs, a review might reveal that it’s primarily text-only. This little detail helps you move on to a book that better suits your interests.

Up Next, Explore More Books About Animals:

About the Author

Angie is a writer with over 10 years of experience developing content for product and brand reviews, focusing much of her time on animals of all types. A cat owner herself, she enjoys writing articles on beloved pets that both inform and entertain her audience.

The 6 Best Books About Mammals to Captivate and Surprise You FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is considered a mammal?

Mammals are vertebrates but they have several distinctive features. For example, mammals feed their offspring via milk secretions from mammary glands. They also all have hair or fur to some degree, even marine mammals.

Are sharks a mammal?

No, sharks are not mammals. However, whales, dolphins, and porpoises are. Sharks are fish. They do not have bones, rather they have cartilage. Although some shark species can birth their offspring, they do not have the ability to produce or secrete milk to feed them.

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