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The Essential Vegetarian Reading List

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image0014I am often asked to recommend a book that would work best for someone interested in learning about vegetarianism. Ten years ago, this was an easy question to answer, since there were so few at the time.

In my estimation, the two best all-purpose books about vegetarianism remain the Marcus and Robbins books discussed below. But many people are not so interested in a straightforward, well-sourced, scientific book about vegetarianism, which makes some of the other recommendations better suited for certain readers.

Here are my favorites, with some reflections on each; I (strongly) suggest that all vegetarian advocates read all of them so that you can recommend them articulately and loan them to friends and relatives.

  • The Food Revolution by John Robbins

If I could make everyone in the world watch one movie, I’m with Peter Singer: I’d make them watch Sean Monson’s Earthlings. If I could make them read one book, it would be this one. John Robbins’ writing style and overwhelming avalanche of facts makes an irrefutable case that anyone who cares about the environment, their health, the global food crisis, or animals should be eating a vegetarian diet. Says PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk, “A vital and wonderful book and easy to digest, this is a perfect read for anyone with a body, a mind, and a heart. The Food Revolution is the most positive book of the decade.”

  • Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus

I’m quoted on the cover of Vegan stating that this is the best concise introduction to veganism that exists. Eight years after its publication, that’s still true. You can read it in a few sittings, it’s extremely well-written, and it does most of what Robbins does, but more concisely. For someone who is open to reading about vegetarianism but may not want to read something as in depth as Robbins, this is the perfect choice.

The best-selling vegetarian book in world history, Skinny Bitch has been published in more than a dozen languages, boasts more than 3 million copies in print, and has turned countless people vegetarian, including home-run slugger Prince Fielder and other notables. This is by far the best book for the younger set (and for anyone, really, who enjoys a chatty and irreverent—and I do mean irreverent, so be warned!-tone). Skinny Bastard will be out soon and should be on your gift list for all the young men you know. Just to be clear: These are diet books, but they also go into all the reasons to eat a vegetarian diet-with humor and verve.

  • Eat More, Weigh Less by Dean Ornish, M.D.

Ornish’s foreword to the 2001 edition remains one of the most convincing and concise health arguments for vegetarianism that I have ever read, and the entire book is superb. Ornish crushes the Atkins diet and explains that a low fat vegetarian diet is the only way to long-term weight loss, with concomitant benefits, including increased energy, better sex, and a much lower likelihood of dying from a heart attack. Speaking of which …

  • Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D.

If you know someone with angina or who has suffered a heart attack, stop reading now and buy them this book-it’s just spectacular. Although it only covers heart disease, it makes an overwhelming and irrefutable case that heart disease-which kills half of men and almost half of women-is self inflicted and that a vegetarian diet can not only prevent but also reverse the disease. On the American Heart Association diet, patients keep getting worse, just a bit more slowly. On Esselstyn’s vegetarian diet,  they all get better-yes, all of them. And the book makes the case with stories about actual people-named in the book-who have changed their lives by adopting a vegetarian diet. The stories are priceless.

  • The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D.

There is a small war between those who think that Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease makes the best scientific argument for vegetarianism from a health perspective and those who believe that this book does. What Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease does from a heart disease vantage, this book does regarding cancer, making an overwhelming scientific case that animal protein both causes and fuels cancer.

  • The Engine-2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn

Texas firefighter Rip Esselstyn explains how he put his entire unit on a low fat vegetarian diet and how every one of them found the health benefits inspiring. These were already healthy guys, and they were definitely GUYS-Texas firefighters! If they can do it, anyone can. With an extremely appealing narrative style, Esselstyn offers up the overwhelming scientific evidence on behalf of vegetarianism for health reasons, covering heart disease, cancer, and obesity especially well. The Engine-2 Diet is Skinny Bastard for people who are a bit older and/or a bit less insane … I mean, irreverent (also, unlike Bastard, this one doesn’t cover environmentalism and animal protection).

  • Quantum Wellness and The Quantum Wellness Cleanse by Kathy Freston

In our toxic society, Kathy Freston is breathing in some much-needed fresh air, with chapters discussing not just the importance of eating a vegetarian diet for health, ecological, and spiritual reasons but also a range of other practices to make us the happiest and healthiest people we can possibly be. Anyone you know who enjoys Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Thich Nhat Hanh, or the Dalai Lama-give them these books. The first book sports an introduction by Mehmet Oz, M.D., and the second by Dean Ornish, M.D.-you can’t beat those endorsements!

PCRM promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research. This series includes books on women’s health, raising healthy vegetarian kids, cancer, and diabetes. They’re a bit drier than the other selections, but the Vegetarian Diets for Children and the Vegetarian Diets for Women books are by far the best books that exist on these two topics.

There is, of course, quite a bit of overlap among these books. The overall theme, I think, is that there is a vegetarian book for everyone you know-oh, and just to be clear, these books all advocate veganism, not just vegetarianism.

Happy reading!

Bruce Friedrich is vice president at PETA. Watch Bruce’s recent talk about animal rights and religion.

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9 Comments

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    Ginda says...

    July 23rd, 2009, 12:36 pm

    Thank-you so much for this information. I am an adult education teacher, and less than 30 minutes ago, one of my students was asking me about vegetarianism. I am going to print this list and give it to him next class session. Thank-you.

    Elizabethxf says...

    August 9th, 2009, 11:59 pm

    This is a great list. There is only one book missing.. Diet for a New America. That book has converted so many of my friends to vegetarians for years and it still does the trick. Its a classic.

    Marina says...

    April 17th, 2010, 10:36 am

    Thanks for the recommendation! A friend with diabetes was asking how he vegetarian diabetics manage not to eat too many carbs—now I can refer him to the book on that subject in the PCRM series! I’d encourage anyone who can afford to donate this series to your local library to do so, also.

    Bob Andelman says...

    July 13th, 2012, 7:57 pm

    Here’s a correction for the link above to the Mr. Media interview with the Skinny Bitch/Skinny Bastard authors, Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin: http://www.mrmedia.com/2008/10/rory-freedman-and-kim-barnouin-skinny-bitch-diet-authors-mr-media-interview/

    PETA Prime says...

    July 13th, 2012, 8:02 pm

    Thanks Bob, the link has been updated!

    Milly says...

    January 10th, 2013, 5:43 am

    It’s an interesting list, but i would want more books about vegetarianism in itself, and why is it good for the world. This looks like weight losing and just health-based books.
    If you ever update your book lists with books like “One straw revolution” or “Eating animals”, i would love to check it out once again.

    Ann says...

    January 12th, 2013, 7:56 pm

    Excellent list!!! I would recommend two more – Main Street Vegan by Victoria Moran (an excellent guide to being a vegan in the real world – and there is an easy to cook, outstanding to taste recipe at the end of each chapter), and Super Immunity by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. His plan allows both a meat and meat free option, but it discourages the eating of much meat even in the option with meat, and it encourages the meat free option. Also, it provides a guide to people who want to lose weight but might need a little more fat in their diets for skin and hair appearance. I was trying to be a low fat vegan/vegetarian, and not having much luck and getting frustrated, and these two books saved the day!

    kenya says...

    February 12th, 2013, 3:16 pm

    Go PETA

    Rebecca says...

    December 19th, 2013, 11:39 am

    Thank you so much for this list. I work in a chiropractic office and we like to stock our waiting area with books that will benefit our patients’ health. I wanted some ideas for introducing veganism, and your list is really helpful.

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