Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Water for Elephants” as Want to Read:
Water for Elephants
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Water for Elephants

by
4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,024,052 Ratings  ·  53,930 Reviews
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and for Jacob the circus was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that h ...more
Paperback, Media-Tie, 350 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Algonquin Books (first published May 26th 2006)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Fault in Our Stars by John GreenHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. RowlingThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Recommended by 2016 Reading Challengers
47th out of 688 books — 356 voters
Spirit Bound by Richelle MeadPerfect Chemistry by Simone ElkelesSilence by Becca FitzpatrickHalo by Alexandra AdornettoRules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
Couples on books Covers
56th out of 294 books — 182 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Rachel
Dec 03, 2013 Rachel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooked
I think I expected too much out of this novel and therefore had room only for disappointment. Though I finished the book in its entirety, I wrote a short review on my blog about halfway through, expounding on the aspects of the book that irritated me. I have adapted it herein.

First, the main "heroine," Marlena, is incredibly flat & boring. The narrator/main character, Jacob, is clearly infatuated with her, but I'm not sure why other than she looks good in pink sequins. She's married to her a
...more
Rachel
Dec 29, 2007 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: romance lovers
* * REVIEW CONTAINS SLIGHT SPOILERS * *

I really wanted to like this book. I think my low opinion is partially my fault, because I drove into the story with high expectations due to rave reviews. I need to learn not to do that.

The beginning of this novel was excellent. A Ivy League dropout, who formerly studied to be a vet, runs away and joins the circus. The time period? The Depression and Prohibition America - a historical era of uncertainty and chaos. I was looking for an intriguing tale of a
...more
Kevin
Dec 04, 2013 Kevin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Catriona (LittleBookOwl)
Oh man, this was lovely.
Sammy
Nov 15, 2007 Sammy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: a-the-best
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nataliya

I picked up Water for Elephants after seeing the movie. You know, the one with "that Twilight guy" - who for a change was allowed to smile. And to have other facial expressions besides "permanently constipated". The math is simple:

.........................
Drum roll: Rosie the elephant works better than Ex-Lax!

But on to the book now. In addition to Jacob Jankowski's "love affair" with Rosie the elephant (and a noticeably less sweet affair with Marlena-the-bland-chick) we get a parallel story of J

...more
RJ McGill
Aug 23, 2015 RJ McGill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Shelves: reviewed, must-reads
Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants is one of those rare novels, that will be read and re-read, discussed and enjoyed for many years, by old and young alike. Destined to be passed between family and friends and back again, until the tattered, time worn pages resemble the books beloved central character and narrator.Jacob Jankowski, just days from the final exams at Cornell University that would have attached the respectable Dr. of Veterinary medicine forever to his name, had his world forever alter ...more
Michele
Feb 09, 2008 Michele rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now THIS is a Good Book!
When I finished reading Water for Elephants, goose bumps covered my skin. Now this is a good book! Immediately engrossed, I had a hard time putting it down as I read the story of Jacob Jankowski and his reminiscence of days with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth--otherwise known as a train circus in 1930's America.

A talented writer and storyteller, Sara Gruen takes readers on a bumpy and tense train ride through history. This tale defines Americana. Ther
...more
Beth F.
Just to put it out there, I’ll admit straight off the bat that I’m one of the people who enjoyed this book. It was a fast read (which I always appreciate, because I’m perpetually drowning in a list of books TBR) and it was fairly easy to get through. I also didn’t see the end coming until a few pages before it actually happened, which probably added immensely to my enjoyment factor.

I’ve been reading all the criticisms of this book in an attempt to organize my opinions after reading this book. It
...more
Matt
April 24, 2008 edition of Coastal View News

The glitz and grit, glam and sham of depression-era circus life limps along in Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” with little aid from her shoddy prose, predictable plot and underdeveloped metaphor. Although the book has a flashy appearance and is easily digested, it offers less nutritional value than promised.

When his parents suddenly and tragically die, Jacob Jankowski quits veterinarian school at Cornell University just before graduation and finds hi
...more
Kat Kennedy
Oct 11, 2010 Kat Kennedy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like the circus. Or People who don't like the circus. Or people who have bolt cutters.
I can count the number of times I've been to the circus on one hand. Actually, realistically, on one finger.

We were taken once by my grandparents when I was about five. First, last and only time. My parents hate the idea of the circus and scorned it with all the pretentious uninterest that would likely scar their children for life, causing them to grow up embittered, solitary and convicted to write scathing, snarky reviews on GoodReads as a form or self expression in order to share their own mis
...more
Kristina Horner
This book was PERFECT and I loved it. I want to read it again and again, and I can't recommend the audio book enough.
Christina
Apr 29, 2016 Christina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars!

It's the 1930's, in the midst of the great depression and prohibition. At 23, Jacob Jankowski is just days away from taking his final exams at Cornell and becoming a veterinarian. He plans to join his fathers practice. Then he gets the devastating news that both his parents were killed in an automobile accident. They were behind on their mortgage and both their house and his fathers practice belong to the bank. There's nothing left for Jacob, no home to go to anymore. In a daze, he walk
...more
Kristen
Sep 25, 2007 Kristen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is so terrible it made me physically angry. It's predictable, cliched and unimaginative. The good-hearted poor boy meets the good-hearted beautiful girl, who's involved with the bad-hearted, controlling man. Whatever will happen?

Seriously. Don't buy this book. I know the cover is pretty, and the title is intriguing, and the summary is enticing. It's all razzle-dazzle. Kinda like a circus itself.
Tory
Sep 16, 2007 Tory rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very good example of why one should have no expectations when going into a book. I wanted this book to be great. I thought this book was going to be great. A depression era traveling circus and all that entails? Awesome! The author’s voice being likened to Mr. Irving? Awesome! The fact that damn near everyone LOVED it? Promising! The only other circus book I’ve read was GEEK LOVE, and holy shit. Awesome! All of this lead me to believe that I was about to be blown away.

But, it wasn’t aw
...more
Dannii Elle
I can fully see why this book has such a polarizing effect on its readers: the circus setting led me to anticipate this as a fantastical and magical, fast-paced read, akin to The Night Circus. What was actually delivered was a moving and slow-building portrait of life as part of a circus. This was densely descriptive and evocative of the life of Jacob Jankowski, veterinarian for the Benzini Brothers' circus show, but there was little plot to move the story forward.

The novel was split between pas
...more
Brenda
Jul 29, 2007 Brenda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cotton candy junkies
I just finished reading "Water for Elephants" out on my deck. Just boo. That's my review. Boo. Not a loud boo, or an emphatic boo, just your average boo. Water for Elephants equals boo.

Why do I give this a boo rating? Mostly for the dialogue. The author tries to explain 1930s carnival vernacular through a green carnie's questions about the world around him. And the questions come out over simplified and make for unrealistic and stilted conversations.

Sara Gruen also tries to intersperse a 90-yea
...more
Theresa
Feb 09, 2016 Theresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such a whimsical and fascinating novel. Some of the violence involving circus animals was a little upsetting but overall, I enjoyed reading about Jacob's story. I really liked him. :)
Jason Koivu
Reading this was like running a marathon on bloody stumps. It took forever and it was painful.

The subject - a vet recalling his days in a failing 1920s circus - would've interested me if the writing had been up to par. It wasn't horrible, just amateurish at times. Also, the dialogue could've been better. If the characters sounded more like they came from the '20s it might've drawn me more into the story, but they sounded like contemporaries who like to use old timey jargon. Also, I can't get do
...more
Nancy
I wasn’t planning on reading this story, but my co-worker insisted. Since we had so much fun reading and discussing The Help, I decided to borrow the audio book from the library.

Craig enjoyed the story more than I did and gave it four stars, while I gave it just three. We both enjoyed the alternating perspectives, from that of Jacob when he’s in his early 20’s and working for the Benzini Brothers circus to the old Jacob, when he’s 90 (or 93) and living in a nursing home. We loved the large cast
...more
Buggy
In the beginning of Water For Elephants Jacob Jankowski tells us that he is ninety or ninety-three. One or the other. He's not really sure anymore. His body betrayed him years ago and Jacob now fears that his mind isn’t far behind. Shuffling along miserably behind his walker, he’s living out his final days in the nursing home and hating every minute of it. Just another invisible senior citizen who’s family and the world as a whole has forgotten about.

When the circus comes to town and sets up it
...more
Izetta Autumn
Somehow I feel that I have to defend why I liked this book, even though there's no one saying why I shouldn't have enjoyed it. Here's what I found most touching: the author took an fantastic premise - an orphan running away to the circus, a love triangle, an elephant, and the Great Depression and weaved a tale that doesn't make you say "bullocks," at every page. Gruen outlines use of anachronistic story telling is effective and she is skilled at moving the story along, even more adept at highlig ...more
Will Byrnes
Jul 15, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ladies and gentlemen. Direct your attention to the performer in print. You will be amazed, dazzled and mystified by the daring feats you are about to witness. Well, that might be overstating a bit. The story does open with drama, though. A circus menagerie has gotten loose and there is mayhem. The narrator, Jacob, sees the ringmaster murdered. We then scoot ahead to the present. Jacob is in his 90s and looks back, revisiting his ghosts. From here, we flip back and forth between Jacob in the pres ...more
Crystal Craig


Recommended Reading

Every so often, a book comes along you enjoy it from start to finish. I feel this way about, Sara Gruen's, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. Yes, there was a few tough sections to read - mainly the animal abuse, but, how can a book about a 1930's traveling circus not show the reader what it was like for animals. As the reader, I want to feel what the animals feel. I thought the book was well-written, and I enjoyed the characters.

Sparrow
I have a problem with books when the nicest thing people can think of to say about them is, "It is based on a true story," or, "At least it was well researched." It is the same as saying a woman "has a great personality" or a man is "super sweet". In the case of fiction, as with these backwards insults to humans, the "based on a true story" and "well researched" labels actually mean that the books are ugly or stupid. That is not to say I am against true stories or research, but if it's the nices ...more
Laz
Mar 07, 2015 Laz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: romantics
Shelves: tear-jerkers, romance
“When you are five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties, you know how old you are. I'm twenty-three you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties, something strange starts to happen. It is a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I'm--you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you are not. You're thirty-five. And then you're bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It
...more
Apatt
Apr 18, 2016 Apatt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mainstream
"A Whole Lotta Rosie!"

AC/DC do not appear in this book, nor do they get any kind of shoutout, more is the pity. The massive presence of Rosie in this book just reminds me of this headbanging classic.

I really shouldn't read Goodreads reviews before reading a book because some of them just give me false expectations. One reviewer called it "Dumbo for adults" fercrissake! What was he smoking? Beside having an elephant that is more capable than she initially seems this book has nothing in common wi
...more
Tracy Rhodes
I do like a good vintage-travelling-circus story - "Geek Love", HBO's "Carnivale" (which I was really sad to see cancelled), etc... In fact, this book reminded me of "Carnivale" - I had a hard time believing the author's idea to write the book wasn't inspired by the series.

I liked the perspective from which the story was told - a feisty 90-something old man reflecting in flashbacks on his adventures in a travelling circus 70 years earlier, while lamenting the indignities of his current nursing-h
...more
Holly
Aug 14, 2008 Holly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely wonderful.
Heidi
Aug 28, 2007 Heidi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I read this book in one day. It pulls you in.

I learned a lot about the old traveling circuses and life with them. That was really interesting.

But the most important thing I got from this book was the narrative from the perspective of Jacob as an old man. I have a hard time truly making myself realize that elderly people were once like me. They were young, with lives just like mine (in the important ways). When talking to elderly people, I spend my energy being sympathetic about their problems an
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • The Queen of the Big Time
  • Dreams of Joy (Shanghai Girls #2)
  • The God of Animals
  • Belong to Me
  • Beach Music
  • The Girls
  • The Wild Girl
  • The Book of Bright Ideas
  • Cutting for Stone
  • All Different Kinds of Free
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain
  • People of the Book
  • Garden Spells (Waverley Family, #1)
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
  • Sea Glass
  • Voyager (Outlander, #3)
  • When Crickets Cry
  • Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer
24556
Sara Gruen is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of five novels: AT THE WATER'S EDGE, APE HOUSE, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, RIDING LESSONS, and FLYING CHANGES. Her works have been translated into forty-three languages, and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was adapted into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Rob Pattinson, and Christ ...more
More about Sara Gruen...

Share This Book



“When two people are meant to be together, they will be together. It's fate.” 776 likes
“With a secret like that, at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.” 728 likes
More quotes…