First added: 18 January 1999. Last updated 23 February 2004: added Müller's Schildkröten and two TFH booklets on keeping turtles/terrapins.


The following is a list of books which deal with all chelonians, or with a whole family (eg Testudidae). Books that deal with a group of or individual chelonians are included under the appropriate genus. General reptile books are dealt with under the appropriate section.

Please note that this is not an all-inclusive list: there are other books out there that I have not read, including some from the Tortoise Trust which are probably quite good. Likewise, if anyone, particularly experienced keepers, has any comments to make on these books, please let me know.


Turtles and Tortoises of the World, David Alderton

Blandford's "...of the World" series covered several major animal groups quite well, and this is no exception. It introduces the Order Chelonia and gives an overview of their biology, their life in the wild and their distribution. Although not encyclopaedic, most if not all of the chelonian species are covered, and there is a full listing at the back of the book with the scientific and common names. Some of the taxonomy has changed slightly since the book's publication, but otherwise this is recommended.

For Keepers

Turtles and Tortoises, Bartlett & Bartlett, Barrons.

Yet another herpetological book by the Bartletts in the Barrons pet series. Like their others, this one is well presented and fairly comprehensive. Perhaps its greatest asset is that it covers not only the better-known chelonians such as tortoises, box turtles and red-eared sliders, but also the unusual or little-known species such as the soft-shells or chelids. As usual the first few chapters are general, dealing with habitat, behaviour and health and even the law, and the book then proceeds to deal with different genera and species in turn. When writing the chelonian pages on this site I was indebted to this book for its information on the more unusual breeds. Some might quibble that certain tortoise genera from southern Africa are not covered, but as these are either protected or have little chance of survival outside their natural environment, it's hardly a loss. Recommended.

Tortoise Trust Guide to Tortoises and Turtles, A C Highfield, Carapace Press

Andy Highfield is a co-founder of the Tortoise Trust (back in the eighties, before imports were banned) and has made the study of chelonians virtually his life work. It is not surprising therefore to find that this rather slim volume (60 pages) is actually packed with a great deal of useful information on the general care of chelonians. The emphasis here is on the practical care rather than the natural history, and some readers might be disappointed that the lesser-known species (eg Pancake Tortoises or Side-Necked Turtles) are not listed here. Then again, Highfield is a British writer, and the omission may reflect the extreme rarity of these species in the UK. Diet, hibernation and medical care (including the sad but sometimes necessary use of euthanasia) are all described in detail. This book is slightly more expensive than some of the others (I paid £9.99 for my copy) but worth every penny, and I urge anyone thinking of keeping a tortoise or turtle to get hold of a copy.

Schildkröten [Turtles and Tortoises], Gerhard Müller

This German publication is similar in range to that of the Bartletts', but deals with a somewhat wider range of species, possibly because it is aimed at the European market where some of the rarer species are bred in captivity. Müller gives a short but useful section on a species-by-species basis, including a small bibliography for each species. He also notes when a species is suitable for a beginner, or when it is likely to be delicate or tricky in captivity. Recommended if you can understand German: I do not know whether an English translation is available.


Tortoises: Natural History, Care and Breeding in Captivity, Jerry G Walls, TFH

Although I have had my doubts about some books produced by TFH, Jerry Walls' are normally pretty sound and comprehensive. This is in fact the only one to list all the tortoise species, and gives interesting information on those species protected or extremely rare, plus (most importantly) reasons as to why they should be left in the wild. The general care instructions are also reasonably helpful. This is a good one for a reader who might be interested in the natural history of tortoises but is not necessarily interested in purchasing one.

General Care and Maintenance of Popular Tortoises, Philippe de Vosjoli, Advanced Vivarium Systems.

De Vosjoli is another prolific herpetological writer, an expatriate Frenchman living in the USA. I can recommend all his books, and this one is no exception. Here he concentrates on tortoises which are likely to be seen in captivity, even if irregularly, and lists their requirements. As always, the general care instructions are very good: this book usefully describes the sort of space requirements the different species will need, the need for secure accommodation, and interestingly, the personalities of the different species (from "indifferent to owner" to "follows owner around the garden", etc). The author also issues a timely warning about the threat both to tortoise ownership (from often illogical laws) and to the tortoises themselves, both from indiscriminate collecting for the pet trade and the destruction of their habitats. Recommended.

Mediterranean Tortoises, Brian Pursall, TFH

Brian Pursall is an English writer who, at the time of publication, was living in the West Midlands in the UK. I have not seen any other titles by him, nor any articles in the herpetological press. Nevertheless this is a very impressive and detailed book, and one that I would say is vital to anyone wishing to keep one of the Testudo species of tortoise (particularly applicable here in the UK). Pursall has taken most of his data from observations of Testudo graeca, but the material here is applicable to most if not all of the genus, especially the notes on general care and hibernation, and there is a nice section on how to distinguish the different species (and the subspecies of T. graeca). In fact this is best book I have seen so far that deals with the natural history of the Testudo genus. Pursall also bangs our anthromorphic, or humanising, tendencies towards tortoises on the head: eg Mediterranean tortoises are solitary creatures, they don't pine for a mate, and females are best kept separate from males because of the harassment they get otherwise. The book is full of practical tips and at the end there is a section on how to use the principles of the book to interpret care for other tortoise genera.
NB: Highfield takes great issue with Pursall's claims about Testudo graeca not voluntarily drinking: see this Tortoise Trust article.

A Step-by-Step Book About Tortoises, Christine Adrian, TFH

Christine Adrian is another author whose name I have never heard of apart from here. This book is one of a series from TFH, and was originally published in Germany as Our Tortoise. Hence I suspect that the author(ess) is really Frau Adrian, and hence writing from a European viewpoint. Although I've felt in the past that most of the "Step By Step..." series was aimed more at children, or were rather simple entry level books, this is actually quite a reasonable one for its price and number of pages (my copy was £3.50 for 64 pages, which include a lot of photographs). The book starts with a gentle lecture on the plight of tortoises and responsibilities of would-be keepers, and then takes a brief look at popular species in captivity. This latter also includes Western and Eastern US Box Turtles, which is probably fair enough since they are popular (and often misunderstood) pets. After that there are general chapters on care, including housing and overwintering. I have just two quibbles with the book. Firstly, Christine Adrian lists the "Chaco" tortoise, Geochelone chilensis, as a popular species. In fact Jerry Walls (another TFH author, see above), describes it in his more in-depth book as a species not well established in the pet trade and one that so far has done poorly in captivity. My second and more serious query would be that the overwintering chapter fails to mention which tortoises should be hibernated. Testudos normally need this, but others don't necessarily, although obviously they do need to be kept warm in cold weather. (Apart from that the chapter is quite good, I think). A reasonable book, then, but some of the facts should be verified with other sources.

Turtles and Terrapins

Your First Turtle, Louis Dampier, TFH 1991.

Louis Dampier contributed several articles on turtles and terrapins to the now-defunct Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist magazine, and here produces a short introductory guide to keeping land- and water-turtles. This is actually quite a good booklet as he stresses that these creatures are easier to keep than tortoises and that in the case of illness, prevention is definitely better than cure. A number of American and Asian species are recommended at the end, while some (including Soft-Shells and Snappers) are cautioned against, at least for beginners. He is also lukewarm about Red-Eared Sliders and Cooters, due mainly to the size they reach and the potential for salmanellosis.

Your First Terrapin, David Green, Kingdom Books, 1996

Although Kingdom Books is an imprint of TFH Publications, David Green's book is somewhat different in emphasis as this concentrates largely on keeping Red-Eared Sliders (known as terrapins in the UK) in captivity. This seems to be because these reptiles are, or were, readily available in the UK, not being subject to the USA's "four-inch" rule on the sale of hatchlings. However, he does warn at the beginning of the book of the potential issues in keeping one, such as their size and the small risk of salmonella (he adds that he does not know anyone who has ever contracted this from terrapins). At the end of the book there is a small section on other terrapins and turtles available, including Pelomedusa and Pelusios from Africa and the European Pond Turtle, Emys orbicularis. People in the UK will probably find this booklet useful.

More books will be reviewed here as I come across them.

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