The 23 Best Shark Books of All Time

Here are 23 of the best books of all time about sharks. It’s Shark Week on the Discovery channel starting July 7 and hosted by John Cena. So what better time to dive into some books about the monsters of the deep? You’re not scared, are you? (Duh-dum.) I mean, I’m not scared. (Duh-dum.) Why should I be scared? Sharks are not coming for us, even in a sharknado. And I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a Land Shark, no matter what Saturday Night Live may say.

The purpose of Shark Week should be to allay our fears, inform us about these amazing creatures and increase our sense of wonder about nature and…(duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum). And yet, we like to be scared. Which isn’t so hard to do, when shark attacks off Texas and Florida leave four people injured and make national headlines on the 4th of July!

So make every week Shark Week with these great works of fiction, history and nature. I’ve got books that became popular in the wake of Jaws, books with the latest scientific info (since we keep learning more about sharks all the time), novels that feature sharks, popular histories about those occasions when people and sharks did cross paths with disastrous results and even shark books for curious kids. Now put on some sunblock, don’t splash so much (why draw attention to yourself?) and let’s get reading. At the head of the Parade are…

The 23 Best Shark Books of All Time

<p>Courtesy of Ballantine Books, Pantheon</p>

Courtesy of Ballantine Books, Pantheon

1. The Secret History of Sharks by John Long
2. Sharks Don’t Sink by Jasmin Graham

The Secret History of Sharks and Sharks Don’t Sink are the newest books on this list; indeed, the latter comes out July 16. They sparked the question: what are the best shark books of all time?

Long’s book covers the nearly 500 million years that sharks have survived and flourished on this planet, though it worries they may not survive much longer. From the megalodon to sharks that were fossilized while mating (which demonstrates admirable dedication to the task at hand), Long shares both accepted knowledge and cutting edge research about these creatures.

Jasmin Graham shares her personal story of fighting to survive in as brutal an environment as sharks ever faced: lilywhite academia. Graham forged her own path, made like a shark and kept moving and helped found MISS, or Minorities in Shark Sciences to help other women of color support one another while following their passion for marine biology. Will John Long’s broad survey and Jasmin Graham’s inspiring memoir stand the test of time? They’ll have to measure up against some of the best recent works, like the following 20 titles.

The Secret History of Sharks by John Long ($34.99; Ballantine Books) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Sharks Don’t Sink by Jasmin Graham ($28; Pantheon) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

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<p>Courtesy of Crown, Anchor, Owl Books</p>

Courtesy of Crown, Anchor, Owl Books

3. Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo
4. Demon Fish by Julie Eilperin
5. In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton

Here are three great books about sharks throughout history. Close To Shore details one of the great examples of shark hysteria. It’s the summer of 1916 and a rogue Great White shark attacks swimmers off New Jersey. Well, that’s not quite accurate. It attacked swimmers off the shore and it went upriver and attacked people some eleven miles inland, which really freaked folks out. It was the first recorded shark attack on swimmers in US history and a full-scale panic ensued, including what is likely the most elaborate and extensive shark hunt in history. Capuzzo brings the era to life with verve in this acclaimed bestseller. 

Demon Fish
takes a global perspective. Environmental reporter Julie Eilperin describes the seemingly endless varieties of human-shark interactions all over the world, from the benign to the destructive (with a special emphasis on the deadly shark fin market).

And you’ve seen the Steven Spielberg film Jaws, haven’t you? Perhaps the highlight of the film is the drunken monologue by Quint (a magnetic Robert Shaw) in which he describes surviving a horrific shark attack during WW II. It’s a nightmarish story of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, followed by days in the water for hundreds of sailors waiting to be rescued while sharks circled and circled and then struck. Most didn’t survive. Audiences came out of the film wondering if such an outlandish tale could be true…and it is. Doug Stanton details the entire event in a work of nonfiction that became required reading for officers in the US Navy.

Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo ($18; Crown) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Demon Fish by Julie Eilperin ($16; Anchor) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton ($18.99; Owl Books) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble

<p>Courtesy of Scribner, Penguin</p>

Courtesy of Scribner, Penguin

6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
7. Blue Meridian by Peter Matthiessen

You would be amazed how many lists online of great books about sharks don’t include Ernest Hemingway’s novella The Old Man and the Sea. It’s the final work of fiction published in his lifetime, a huge bestseller and one of the most famous books of all to prominently include sharks. In fact, Life magazine published the novella in its entirety on September 1, 1952 and the issue sold more than 5 million copies in two days, followed quickly by an official edition in bookstores. The tale of unlucky fisherman Santiago catching a marlin, only to see his prize luring in a mako shark leads to an epic battle of wills. It’s a Christian parable or maybe the summit of Hemingway’s output or an overpraised trifle at the end of a great career. Take your pick! But you can’t talk about shark books without talking about The Old Man and the Sea.

Now if a list of books about sharks includes one by Hemingway, you would be safe to assume his will be the best written. But you would be wrong. Peter Matthiessen is a supreme nature writer and really, if you’ve never read him start with his masterpiece The Snow Leopard. But don’t miss out on Blue Meridian. In it Matthiessen documents a year and a half spent tracking the Great White shark all over the world. Matthiessen is a wonder when describing swimming in open water amidst hundreds of sharks. But he’s just as good capturing the tension and camaraderie of people working in close proximity with a single focus on their goal.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway ($17; Scribner) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Blue Meridian by Peter Matthiessen ($17; Penguin) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

<p>Courtesy of Ballantine Books, Alfred A. Knopf, Forge Trade</p>

Courtesy of Ballantine Books, Alfred A. Knopf, Forge Trade

8. Jaws by Peter Benchley 
9. The Book of Sharks by Richard Ellis
10. Meg by Steve Alten

It’s time for some fun and that means Jaws. Critics scoffed at the novel and yet loved the film. But it was Peter Benchley’s original novel that proved a sensation, setting the stage for the (admittedly superior) film. It was the novel that became an ironic beach read, since who the heck would go swimming after devouring its suspenseful tale. Director Stephen Spielberg’s film was a pioneer in many ways, almost inventing the summer blockbuster and the wide release (along with national TV ads). People never imagined movies could make that much money that fast. The same could be said for the book, which leveraged book clubs and canny advertising worthy of a movie one-sheet to make the novel a blockbuster long before the movie hit theaters. (No bonus points for reading Benchley's White Shark, a creature feature about a human-shark hybrid created by Nazis. But it's tempting, isn't it?)

The film came out in 1975 so you can’t say a book that came out in 1976 really capitalized on it. But you can, actually. Publishing often moves slowly and in this case a movie like Jaws played throughout 1975 and into 1976 and then get a full re-release and then another one in 1979. Also out in 1976 was The Book of Sharks. It proved hugely popular and is very likely the best-selling nonfiction book of all time about sharks. Artist Richard Ellis filled it with marvelous photography, sketches and paintings, along with descriptive text that made this a coffee table book and work of science all wrapped up into one.

More than 20 years later, sharks were still freaking people out, way beyond any reasonable fears one should have. So sci-fi author Steve Alten reached back to prehistoric times to revive the megalodon, nickname her MEG and bring her back to life to scare the bejesus out of everyone by Jason Statham (at least in the inevitable film version). The book was a big hit and led to eight or nine sequels and aficionados insist the second book–The Trench, aka Meg 2: The Trench–is better than the original book and the two movies they inspired. I’ll let you know if I agree, after the summer beach season is over and I’m ready to read it.

Jaws by Peter Benchley ($18; Ballantine Books) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

The Book of Sharks by Richard Ellis ($36.32; Alfred A. Knopf) Buy now on Amazon

Meg by Steve Alten ($18.99; Forge Trade) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

<p>Courtesy of William Morrow, Holt, Vintage</p>

Courtesy of William Morrow, Holt, Vintage

11. Chasing Shadows by Greg Skomal 
12. Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey
13. Shark Drunk by Morten Strøksnes

People get obsessed with sharks. Here are three memoirs with three great examples of that.

Greg Skomal is a marine biologist and a fixture on nature documentaries about sharks. His well-reviewed memoir about tracking down these fearsome creatures is just out in paperback. Or if you just want the facts, buy the third edition of his work The Shark Handbook.

Journalist Susan Casey was watching TV one day when she glimpsed the sharks that can be found just off the coast of San Francisco. Any sane person would be thrilled to be safe at home. Casey managed to join the scientists studying them just months later and then dove into the deep end one year later, staying in a haunted house perched on the Southeast Farallon Island sailors dubbed “Devil’s Teeth” so she could be around sharks all the time. What could possibly go wrong? Everything.

Morten Strøksnes may be even crazier. He and his friend Hugo decided it would be fun to hunt a shark from a small rubber dinghy. Of course! One assumes drinking was involved (not to mention a perverse desire to have a fair fight). Morten’s memoir is wide-ranging, philosophical, funny and harrowing all at the same time.

Chasing Shadows by Greg Skomal ($18.99; William Morrow) just out in paperback Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey ($21.99; Holt) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Shark Drunk by Morten Strøksnes ($14.76; Vintage) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

<p>Courtesy of National Geographic Kids, Sourcebooks Explore, Orchard Books</p>

Courtesy of National Geographic Kids, Sourcebooks Explore, Orchard Books

14. The Ultimate Book of Sharks by Brian Skerry
15. Shark Lady by Jess Keating; illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns
16. Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Scott Magoon

You may be wary of sharks but kids often are fascinated by them. Feed their brain with these three offerings. The Ultimate Book of Sharks is a fact-filled and photo-heavy offering of facts and information about these creatures. Author Brian Skerry is also a photographer for National Geographic. And as Jeopardy champ James Holzhauer would tell you, books like this are also perfect for adults looking to absorb some fun facts as quickly as possible.

Shark Lady
is a cool picture book about the pioneering ichthyologist Eugenie Clark, who defied those who believed sharks were ugly and cruel, as well as those who thought women shouldn’t be scientists and certainly not marine biologists and certainly not study sharks.

Misunderstood Shark is another picture book, this one a goof where a shark makes like Eugenie Clark and dispels all sorts of fallacies about sharks in witty, amusing fashion.

The Ultimate Book of Sharks by Brian Skerry ($19.99; National Geographic Kids) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Shark Lady by Jess Keating; illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns ($18.99; Sourcebooks Explore) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Scott Magoon ($18.99; Orchard Books) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

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<p>Courtesy of Riverhead Books, Graywolf Press, Penguin Books, Picador</p>

Courtesy of Riverhead Books, Graywolf Press, Penguin Books, Picador

17. The Beach by Alex Garland
18. The House of Rust by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber
19. The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor
20. Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

Sharks are rarely the star attraction of a novel. But they can be a powerful plot twist or deux ex machina. Artist Alex Garland is enjoying one of the most interesting careers around, crafting great screenplays (like 28 Days Later) before making his mark as a director with Ex Machina and Civil War, among others. It’s easy to forget he began as a novelist. But The Beach was a blockbuster debut, with its dark fairy tale of young people seeking a refuge from the modern world. The Beach was drenched in pop culture and featured not one but two shark attacks. They can be conveniently found in two chapters, one titled “Jaws One” and the other “Jaws Two.”

Sharks pop in with intriguing fashion in three more books that enjoyed acclaim. The House of Rust is a marvelous, magical tale that begins in Mombasa and climaxes with a brave girl facing down Baba wa Papa: the father of all sharks. The Shark Club is a sweet romance in which a marine biologist is brave under water but tentative onland. Her biggest romance in life involve sharks…until life gives her a second chance at first love (human love, that is). And Sharks in the Time of Saviors was a favorite of many critics (and President Barack Obama) in 2020. When a little boy falls out of a boat in Hawaii, he’s rescued by a shark that beneficently cradles the child in its jaws before delivering the boy back to his mother. Clearly, the kid is meant for a meaningful life, but the fantastical soon recedes in the face of the challenges of modernity. Sometimes, sharks are the least of your worries.

The Beach by Alex Garland ($18; Riverhead Books) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

The House of Rust by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber ($16; Graywolf Press) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor ($16; Penguin Books) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn ($19; Picador) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

<p>Courtesy of Princeton University Press</p>

Courtesy of Princeton University Press

21. The Lives of Sharks by Daniel C. Abel & Dr. R. Dean Grubbs
22. Sharks of the World by David A. Ebert, Marc Dando and Sarah Fowler

Now let’s get down to business. If you’re really serious about learning more about sharks and don’t need to be held by the hand with spun-out narratives or personal histories, these are the books for you. The Lives of Sharks is very nicely illustrated and gives detailed info even students of the animal will learn from. Sharks of the World is even more comprehensive, detailing 536 different shark species. They are both for those who are not messing around when it comes to their thirst for knowledge, but are also just beautiful to look at.

The Lives of Sharks by Daniel C. Abel & R. Dean Grubbs ($35; Princeton University Press) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org 

Sharks of the World by David A. Ebert, Marc Dando and Sarah Fowler ($60; Princeton University Press) (A Pocket Guide To) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

23. Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters by Robert Sabuda & Matthew Reinhart

Some look in awe at the wonders of the deep. I look in awe at the paper engineering of that marvel known dismissively as the “pop-up” book. Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart are masters of the form and their Encyclopedia Prehistoricas are as good a place to start as any. One volume covers dinosaurs was hugely popular. This follow-up tackles sharks and other monsters of the deep. Their work is a pleasure to open (and close and open again) and is always paired with text that deepens the delight. Just as learning more about sharks will make you admire them more, observing how these marvels actually work will make appreciate the craft and skill and ingenuity of a well-made “pop-up” book. 

Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters
by Robert Sabuda & Matthew Reinhart ($49.99; Candlewick) Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org

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