06/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Essential Vegetarian Reading List

As a vegetarian for more than 20 years who works on vegetarian advocacy for PETA, I am often asked for my recommendation of the best books for someone interested in learning about vegetarianism.

Here are my favorites, with some reflections on each; I (strongly) suggest that all vegetarians read (and own) 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 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.

Skinny Bitch and Skinny Bastard by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
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 is the male version, and should be on your gift list for all the young men you know. Just to be clear: These are far more than diet books; they also go into all the reasons to eat a vegetarian diet -- with humor and verve.

Quantum Wellness and The Quantum Wellness Cleanse by Kathy Freston
In our toxic society, Kathy Freston is pumping 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 discussing a range of other practices that will inspire readers to be 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!

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 just prevent, but 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 it's this book. 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 to be so awesome that they've kept at it to this day. These were already healthy guys, and they were definitely GUYS -- Texas fire fighters! 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 irreverent or who aren't interested in the environmental and animal protection reasons to adopt a vegetarian diet.

• The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)'s Healthy Eating for Life Book Series
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 amongst these books. The overall theme is that there is a vegetarian book for everyone you know.

Happy reading!