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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

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In pursuit of the wild, solitary, predatory octopus, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism. From New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her In pursuit of the wild, solitary, predatory octopus, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism. From New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures like an orangutan; jetting water to bounce balls; and endlessly tricking companions with multiple “sleights of hand” to get food. Scientists have only recently accepted the intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees but now are watching octopuses solve problems and are trying to decipher the meaning of the animal’s color-changing techniques. With her “joyful passion for these intelligent and fascinating creatures” (Library Journal Editors’ Spring Pick), Montgomery chronicles the growing appreciation of this mollusk as she tells a unique love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds.

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In pursuit of the wild, solitary, predatory octopus, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism. From New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her In pursuit of the wild, solitary, predatory octopus, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism. From New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures like an orangutan; jetting water to bounce balls; and endlessly tricking companions with multiple “sleights of hand” to get food. Scientists have only recently accepted the intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees but now are watching octopuses solve problems and are trying to decipher the meaning of the animal’s color-changing techniques. With her “joyful passion for these intelligent and fascinating creatures” (Library Journal Editors’ Spring Pick), Montgomery chronicles the growing appreciation of this mollusk as she tells a unique love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds.

30 review for The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bethany Johnsen

    I'm kind of "eh" on this book. It bills itself as a "surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness," I guess because it shares a few fun facts about octopus neurology (e.g. THEY HAVE NEURONS IN THEIR ARMS!) and references a few philosophers of mind (e.g. Thomas Nagel) in passing. Maybe it's the former philosophy major in me, but IMHO saying "Hmm, I REALLY wonder what it would be like to be an octopus! Can we even know?" does not qualify as an exploration into the wonders of consciousne I'm kind of "eh" on this book. It bills itself as a "surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness," I guess because it shares a few fun facts about octopus neurology (e.g. THEY HAVE NEURONS IN THEIR ARMS!) and references a few philosophers of mind (e.g. Thomas Nagel) in passing. Maybe it's the former philosophy major in me, but IMHO saying "Hmm, I REALLY wonder what it would be like to be an octopus! Can we even know?" does not qualify as an exploration into the wonders of consciousness. (Also, the answer is NO. Very obviously no.) I would have been less bothered by philosophical shortcomings if there was more actual information about octopuses. Many of the anecdotes are not that surprising to someone who knows anything about octopuses to begin with. There's something to be learned for sure, but most of the book is not educating you about octopuses. It's mostly a memoir of the author hanging out at an aquarium getting to touch octopuses, which is super cool, and also learning to scuba dive and swim with them. It wasn't that exciting just to read about it. The first chapter of this book was originally an article that went viral, and it seems like the amount of content here is more suitable for something article-length. As an octopus lover your time might be better spent watching a documentary or reading a different book. Also, as an animal lover, I would have appreciated more consideration of the ethics of keeping wild sea creatures in tanks. The only mention of this occurs when Montgomery describes how a certain individual who catches wild octopuses for aquariums has no regrets because displaying octopuses to the public is necessary for people to care about their preservation in the wild. We don't actually get any evidence that this is true, and it seemed to me like a flip way to dismiss the very real concerns that I had when I learned about a young, growing octopus being kept in a dark 50-gallon tank with no mental stimulation, all because an older display octopus didn't die as early as anticipated. These are very intelligent animals (the main takeaway of the book)---they need stimulation! They hunt and explore in the ocean all day. It seems downright abusive. Other bad things happen to octopuses in the book that are unsettling, and left me wondering about the intelligence of our own species.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Wil Wheaton

    It's such a beautiful book, such an incredible story. I already loved octopuses, but this book deepened and strengthened my love for them, and all cephalopods. It's an easy read, and by the time you're finished, you'll be asking yourself questions about consciousness, inter-species communication, and maybe even feeling a little more of a bond with the fishes who live in your aquarium ... I know that I did.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Petra CigareX

    I had previously read Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest by this author and had to give it up because it contained very little fact, an awful lot of conjecture and far too much about Sy Montgomery who obviously finds the preoccupations of her spiritual soul far more fascinating than I do. So this time, wanting to read about octopuses I thought I would listen to the book. It was worse! This is because the author read it herself and it's purpleness, it's fruitiness was increased by her e I had previously read Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest by this author and had to give it up because it contained very little fact, an awful lot of conjecture and far too much about Sy Montgomery who obviously finds the preoccupations of her spiritual soul far more fascinating than I do. So this time, wanting to read about octopuses I thought I would listen to the book. It was worse! This is because the author read it herself and it's purpleness, it's fruitiness was increased by her emphasis on meaningless similes, one after the other. Her favourite word is, 'like' as in the egg trails of the octopus are like a wedding veil but more beautiful than any.... Simile on the next line too, about gossamer cobwebs, diamond air bubbles and golden... AFAIR. Why write one when two can fill the space? After several boring chapters on the author learning to scuba dive along with descriptions of her tutors and friends including their neurological problems how they had come about their nicknames and lots of similes, I finally got to this all in two paragraphs. "my air rising in silver bubbles like a song of praise.... " "nurse sharks peaceful as a prayer" "the fish wheel in unison like birds in the sky" "I feel elation cresting into ecstasy" "Like in a dream the impossible unfolds before me and yet I accept it unquestioningly" and, "Beneath the water I find myself in an altered state of consciousness with a focus and range and clarity of perception that are dramatically changed. Is this what Kali and Octavia [her two favourite octopuses) feel like all the time? The Ocean for me is what LSD is to Timothy Leary..." That's why I said finally. DNF. Not enough science, too much conjecture, I don't really believe that octopuses tease people for a joke and get their own back on people and then float with smirking expressions she has imagined on their imaginary faces. Remind me never to read another Sy Montgomery book. 2.5 stars rounded down. One and a half stars because I did learn something about the individuality of octopuses which I would really like to know more of and an extra star because she is very good friends with the brilliant anthropologist and ethologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas who is one of my very favourite authors.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. Although occasionally repetitive, The Soul of an Octopus is a tearful, informative, and memorable love note to octopuses - those strange yet wondrous creatures, intelligent and brimming with personality, that captivate and terrify in equal measure.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin

    I had to read this book today because it was due back on Overdrive, so this is going to be a short review until I get my OWN paperback copy. This book made me cry!!! The creatures and the people both had me torn up at times. I'm a wildlife lover and activist so I try to branch out into different books on creatures I know nothing about. I was worried this was going to be another textbook style read and I don't like those. This is about a woman (the author) who gets to study octopuses <--- (not I had to read this book today because it was due back on Overdrive, so this is going to be a short review until I get my OWN paperback copy. This book made me cry!!! The creatures and the people both had me torn up at times. I'm a wildlife lover and activist so I try to branch out into different books on creatures I know nothing about. I was worried this was going to be another textbook style read and I don't like those. This is about a woman (the author) who gets to study octopuses <--- (not octopi) at The New England Aquarium. I never even thought an octopus could have such a wonderful memory, could play, could hug you in their own way or shoot water in your face if they didn't like you or wanted to play. There are so many other things I learned. The people in the book were amazing too. I don't agree with everything but these were people that did the best they could for their animals and family members. There is even a little girl in the book who is helped by the Octopuses with her Autism and her suicide attempt. This was just a wonderful book and I will do a more in depth review, hopefully with some of their pictures and some stories.

  6. 4 out of 5

    María

    Qué clase de magia tiene la autora para que un tema que -en principio- no me interesaba nada, me acabe pareciendo fascinante. He pasado de "los pulpos me dan igual" a "quiero conocer pulpos y ser su amiga y quizás reencarnarme en uno". QUÉ CLASE DE MAGIA ES ESTA.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    The only “surprising” thing about this “exploration into the wonder of consciousness” is that the author so thoroughly convinces us of Octopuses beauty, intelligence and individual personalities yet sees no conflict with keeping them captive, often in cruel conditions. Most of the Octopuses intimately investigated in the book were wild caught and are now captive in public aquariums, namely the New England Aquarium in Boston. They were not rescued due to an injury nor born in captivity and imprin The only “surprising” thing about this “exploration into the wonder of consciousness” is that the author so thoroughly convinces us of Octopuses beauty, intelligence and individual personalities yet sees no conflict with keeping them captive, often in cruel conditions. Most of the Octopuses intimately investigated in the book were wild caught and are now captive in public aquariums, namely the New England Aquarium in Boston. They were not rescued due to an injury nor born in captivity and imprinted making a return to the wild difficult. These were all caught and sold for the purpose of being publicly displayed. Montgomery takes an obscene amount of pleasure in her “wonderful Wednesday” visits to the NEAQ, as if her entertainment was the octopus's purpose. The most horrible thing recounted in the book is an octopus that due to space constraints has to live for 8 months in a tiny pickle barrel with no stimuli beyond the humans bothering her. She is visibly distressed and tries to escape every time the lid is lifted. How was the author and everyone okay with this? It was terrible to read. Finally, the writing was sappy and self-absorbed. While I did learn a lot of interesting things about Cephalopod anatomy, biology and behavior, those bits of knowledge only strengthened my distaste for the questionable ethics of the author and the book. Shame on the National Book Award judges nominating this book for the non-fiction award.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Yodamom

    When I started this I expected a scientific journal watered down for the non scientific reader. I did not expect it to be a personal journal with some scientific facts thrown in. I was looking for more science, more facts then offered. I was a bit miffed at the personal moments, her diving lessons, her ear troubles, relationships of companions. I wanted more information on the octopus and it fascinating life. Fascinating they are, and there is so much more that we still are far from understandin When I started this I expected a scientific journal watered down for the non scientific reader. I did not expect it to be a personal journal with some scientific facts thrown in. I was looking for more science, more facts then offered. I was a bit miffed at the personal moments, her diving lessons, her ear troubles, relationships of companions. I wanted more information on the octopus and it fascinating life. Fascinating they are, and there is so much more that we still are far from understanding. I did gain a new appreciation for the octopus. I was amazed by the interactions between the various beings and humans. They are so much more than taught in school. They are complex living creatures with different personalities, moods and fears. Understanding their types of communications comes from a lot of time spent interacting with them. They have gifts that we do not, which makes it hard for us to relate to them. That does not mean that they are brainless, unfeeling beings without conscious thoughts. The octopus has amazing abilities, their brain can have as many as 75 lobes compared to the human 4. It can see in panoramic views. There is new evidence that they may be able to see with their skin to get the perfect camouflage. This is just a small bit of their abilities, they are truly amazing. There is some information on other species in the sea. Some fascinating facts and tidbits to wow you with the gifts of the sea. I really enjoyed the book even with the slow journal sections that just didn't interest this reader. I did enjoy her focus of the emotional connections she saw. I may go find her Pig book and give it a go.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 Though simply written I found this book to be both informative and delightful. I knew nothing about the octopus except for pictures in National Geographic, so this was all new to me. So surprising to learn how clever these creatures are, the variations in size, from six inches with 23 inch tentacles to the giants of the sea. How they use these tentacles like conveyors belts to feed, how they change colors based on mood, how they can show displeasure. How clever they are, escape artists, can 3.5 Though simply written I found this book to be both informative and delightful. I knew nothing about the octopus except for pictures in National Geographic, so this was all new to me. So surprising to learn how clever these creatures are, the variations in size, from six inches with 23 inch tentacles to the giants of the sea. How they use these tentacles like conveyors belts to feed, how they change colors based on mood, how they can show displeasure. How clever they are, escape artists, can use misdirection, and so much more. The author comes to personally relate with three different types of this species and grows to care about them all. Other sea life are also mentioned as are the people who work with them. Such a unique job, not sure it would be but I found the descriptions fascinating. Actually I found everything in this book fascinating. Such clever creatures, who knew?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dov Zeller

    It was interesting reading other GR reviews about this book. Some folks complained it wasn't sciency enough, or that it claims to do things that it doesn't, finally, do. I can understand folks' frustration with Montgomery's approach. For people looking for a hard-core science book, maybe this isn't the one. Montgomery is essentially telling the story of her journey of studying octopuses, which can't stop at the octopus, because they are part of a larger world. I think that's some of the message It was interesting reading other GR reviews about this book. Some folks complained it wasn't sciency enough, or that it claims to do things that it doesn't, finally, do. I can understand folks' frustration with Montgomery's approach. For people looking for a hard-core science book, maybe this isn't the one. Montgomery is essentially telling the story of her journey of studying octopuses, which can't stop at the octopus, because they are part of a larger world. I think that's some of the message here. One cannot study an octopus in a vacuum (though an octopus may be able to occupy one with dazzling dexterity). There are a lot of things Montgomery learns and shares in this book while learning about the octopus, and they may seem extraneous, but I don't think they are. Montgomery's first visit with an octopus at an aquarium excites her imagination. She learns that octopuses can be dangerous, but also that their curiosity and need for connection are not so unlike our own. Of course, the octopus can learn a lot about us by tasting our skin with their tentacles. We don't do that. Though I think sometimes we can use our senses to determine if someone is a serious coffee drinker or pack a day smoker. We just might not draw away from such a person as the octopus does after tasting of the not so delectable flavor. Right away, according to the narrative, Montgomery experiences a sense affection and wonder for the octopus, and she tells us all about the octopuses she gets to know in captivity, and also there is a cast of human characters she gets to know while getting to know the octopuses. So, this book is about a person learning about octopuses, and a person spending time at an aquarium and getting to know other people who work there. Furthermore Montgomery decides to learn to scuba dive because she wants to see octopuses who aren't in captivity. This is a book that wanders around a bit, and doesn't stay as zoomed in on science and octopuses per say, but I found it to be gripping and delightful. I agree with some reviewers that it is hard to read about animals being captured and kept in captivity. It is a practice I also dislike. But it would be happening whether or not Montgomery writes this book so I guess I'd like to and learn what I can. The question of octopus consciousness doesn't of course get answered in here. Montgomery thinks they have souls. (Maybe even plural, given that each tentacle is a bit of creature of their own.) I think the concept of the soul is one that tries to separate planetary creatures into those whose lives are worth something and those whose lives are expendable. So, I prefer to ask different questions and leave the soul out of most things unless I'm feeling poetic. But I appreciate that Montgomery looks at her octopus friends as individuals with their own personalities, experiences, desires, etc. I don't think making a personal narrative about her emotional and social experiences with octopuses makes it less scientific. It just makes it more nuanced and rich. The book is broken up into parts names after octopuses kept at the aquarium. There is Octavia, Kali, Karma. (I can't remember if there were other sections. Book is back at the library.) We get to see octopuses interact with each other, with people, with their environments. We see a mother lay and tend her unfertilized eggs, we see some octopuses die and some get released back into the ocean so that they can enjoy the end of their lives in their home-habitat. We see octopuses push people away, pull them closer, tease people, lash out, weaken, die, expand and thrive. Octopuses change shape, change color, express pleasure and loneliness and longing. And we see a community of people become more attuned to their environments and more sensitive to the lives of seemingly incomprehensible others, simply by connecting with the octopus. Being read (and tasted) by the octopus seems to bring people a sense of calm and peace. People who spend time with octopuses seem to believe in the intensity of intelligence of other beings, which can be a shock to them, particularly as relates to a creature which has probably not been thought of until recently as having the personality and intelligence more along the lines of mammals than cephalopods. Of course, many people still like to believe humans are the only intelligent animal. Which is proof in itself that human intelligence can be a truly paradoxical pair of words. It makes sense that this book celebrates our relationships with each other, and with the many other intelligent beings in our midst, particularly, the octopus. I can only hope a heightened awareness of our interconnectivity might bring us to our senses some day. Here are some quotes. AWARENESS OF THE MOODS OF SEA LIFE “I smell fish stress.” The scent is subtle—I cannot smell it at all—but the low-tide odor Scott detects, he explained at the time, is that of heat-shock proteins. These are intracellular proteins that were first discovered to be released, in both plants and animals, in response to heat, and are now known to be associated with other stresses as well. (73) SLIME It might be more appealing to describe octopuses as slippery. But a banana peel is slippery; slime is a very specialized and essential substance, and there’s no denying that octopuses have slime in spades. Almost everyone who lives in the water does. ‘More of the ocean’s residents use, deploy, or are made up of slime than I ever expected,’ marine scientist Ellen Prager observes. ‘The undersea world is a seriously slimy place.’ Slime helps sea animals reduce drag while moving through the water, capture and eat food, keep their skin healthy, escape predators, protect their eggs. Tube worms like Bill’s feather dusters secrete slime to build a leathery tube, like a flower stalk, to protect their bodies and keep them attached to a rock or coral. For some fishes—Scott’s Amazon discus and cichlids among them—slime is the piscine equivalent of mother’s milk. The babies actually feed off the parents’ nutritious slime coat, an activity called ‘glancing.’ The brightly colored mandarin fish exudes bad-tasting slime to deflect its enemies; the deep-sea vampire squid, an octopus relative, produces glowing slime to startle predators. Bermuda fire worms signal with luminous slime to attract mates like fireflies flashing on a summer night. The female fire worms glow to attract the mass; the males then flash, after which the two please eggs and sperm in tandem. “Kali’s and Octavia’s slime isn’t bad," I told Jody. "Anyway, they’re way less slimy than a hagfish." A creature of the ocean bottom, a hagfish grows to about 17 inches long, and yet, in mere minutes, it can fill seven buckets with slime—so much slime it can slip from almost any predator’s grip. The hagfish would be in danger of suffocating on its own mucous, except it has learned, like a person with a cold, to blow it out its nose. But sometimes it produces too much slime for even a hagfish… (75) THEORY OF MIND/SOPHISTICATED AWARENESS OF OTHERS From building shelters to shooting ink to changing color, the vulnerable octopus must be ready to outwit dozens of species of animals, some of which it pursues, others it must escape. How do you plan fro so many possibilities? Doing so demands, to some degree, anticipating the actions—in other words, imagining the minds—of other individuals The ability to ascribe thoughts to others, thoughts that might differ from out own, is a sophisticated cognitive skill, known as ‘theory of mind.’ Once it was thought to be unique to humans. In typical children, theory of mind is believed to emerge around age three or four. The classic experiment goes like this: A toddler views a video of a girl who leaves a box of candy behind in her room. While she’s gone, an adult replaces the candy in the box with pencils. Now the child comes back to open up her box again. The experimenter asks the tot, what does the little girl expect to find in the box? The toddler will say: pencils. Only an older child will understand that the little girl would expect to find candy, even though that’s not what’s really there. Theory of mind is considered an important component of consciousness, because it implies self-awareness. (83) Of course, there are many other examples. The birds of prey with whom falconers hunt look to the falconer, or to her dogs, to flush game. African honey badgers follow certain birds (known as honey guides) to find bees’ nests. Both parties seem to realize that when badgers open up the nests to eat the honey, the birds can then feast on the bee larvae. (85) TENTACLES It’s even possible that the octopuses have some shy arms and some bold arms. University of Vienna researcher Ruth Byrne reported that her captive octopuses always choose a favorite arm to explore new objects or mazes—even though all of their limbs are equally dexterous…Her team counted the octopuses using only forty-nine different combinations of one, two or three arms for manipulating objects, when, according to her calculations, 448 combinations were actually possible…(160) “Octopus arms really are like separate creatures,” Scott agrees. Not only can they grow new arms when needed, there is evidence that, on occasion, an octopus chooses to detach its won arm, even in the absence of a predator….Is this like what happens when Siamese twins fight? (161)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Montzalee Wittmann

    Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and narrated by the author, is such a delightful book that warmed my heart and I didn't want it to end. I felt so entranced by the love of the sea life, especially these precious octopuses, that I felt I knew them. Warning, make sure you have tissue handy for happy times and grieving moments. This book was a true blessing! I felt so in touch with life, the universe, and my own personal thoughts after listening to this. It was a soothing balm for the soul! Ofte Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and narrated by the author, is such a delightful book that warmed my heart and I didn't want it to end. I felt so entranced by the love of the sea life, especially these precious octopuses, that I felt I knew them. Warning, make sure you have tissue handy for happy times and grieving moments. This book was a true blessing! I felt so in touch with life, the universe, and my own personal thoughts after listening to this. It was a soothing balm for the soul! Often I cringe when I know the author is going to do the narration but her voice is so nice and she told it with her own emotions. Touching. This book is for anyone who loves animals or those that don't. Maybe they will when they finish. I had mixed feelings going into it about getting wild octopuses for zoos and Aquariums but I think I understand better now. I did learn that more than one octopus is NOT called octopi! Lol!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Octopuses get a bum rap in popular culture. They've starred in numerous books and films, pulling sailors (and sometimes ships) into briny graves, lurking about in holes waiting to ambush unsuspecting divers and even attacking submarines. They've long been a shorthand for 'monster' - there's a reason Cthulhu has an octopus for a head - but these sensitive, smart beasties have been unfairly maligned. Sy Montgomery's book, The Soul of an Octopus is an antidote to these negative perceptions, and does Octopuses get a bum rap in popular culture. They've starred in numerous books and films, pulling sailors (and sometimes ships) into briny graves, lurking about in holes waiting to ambush unsuspecting divers and even attacking submarines. They've long been a shorthand for 'monster' - there's a reason Cthulhu has an octopus for a head - but these sensitive, smart beasties have been unfairly maligned. Sy Montgomery's book, The Soul of an Octopus is an antidote to these negative perceptions, and does an excellent job of showing how amazing and intriguing Octopuses are, and the relationships that humans can have with them. Beyond that, however, this book didn't live up to my expectations. Have you ever watched a race where a runner lunges off the starting line, smashes world records for the first fifty meters then stumbles, trips and face-plants into a twisted heap before the halfway mark? That’s a little how this book felt for me. The first hundred pages of The Soul of an Octopus are amazing. While reading the first few chapters I was regaling friends with scintillating Octopus facts- their multiple hearts, the way their neurons are distributed throughout their limbs, seemingly giving each arm a mind of its own, the way they can taste with their suckers, and their impressive, curious intelligence. It was a torrent of engaging and fascinating facts, told with an interesting and empathetic voice. I learned a lot (I’d always thought the plural of octopus was ‘octopi’ – how wrong I was…) and my existing interest in cephalopods (Octopuses, cuttlefish and the like) was fired way up. I was watching octopus videos online, thinking about visiting the local aquarium, and talking to my partner about making a snorkeling trip to a nearby pier known for its sealife - Montgomery had turned me into an octopus fanboy. And then… the content kind of dried up. As the book goes on less and less interesting octopus related information is presented. The discussion of scientific studies drops off, and the book mainly becomes a tale of the author’s friendship with several Octopuses in the Boston aquarium. While these relationships are interesting, it is the earlier section of the book, which blends the author’s experiences in with informative and compelling revelations about Octopus anatomy and behavior that gets the balance right. In the later sections I found myself becoming bored, that most fatal of feelings for a reader, and I felt as though I was reading a memoir, rather than an exploration of ideas and science. I generally dig personal-journey-through-a-scientific/historical/political-minefield style books, where the author inserts themselves in the story, such as John Safran's Murder in Mississippi. I love the way a well-written personal story can sneak facts, debates, arguments and other tasty morsels into a book in ways that can trick my lazy brain into learning without even realizing it. Unfortunately, by about two-thirds in Montgomery's story starts to feel repetitive, and overall it lacks the depth of content I look for in books of this type. After reading Montgomery's book I discovered that its beginnings are to be found in an article that the author wrote, an article that later became the first sections of this larger work. Considering how interesting the first section of The Soul of an Octopus is I can see how it would make a great article, and I can heartily recommend reading perhaps the first hundred pages. Beyond that point there was little to engage me, although if you like Montgomery's writing voice you may find her personal connection with several aquarium octopuses to be enough to sustain your interest. This isn’t a bad book, it just isn’t what it could have been. Its starts out very strongly, but runs out of puff a fair way from the finish line.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jailyn

    I have a love hate relationship with this book. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by the author and she did a great job of narrating. The descriptions of the octupuses were beautiful and the discussions about their habits, emotions, and intelligence were very interesting. But (and you knew this was coming), I don't think aquariums should catch or pay to catch animals from the wild for their exhibits. Even though the people in the book cared about their charges, in reading you could I have a love hate relationship with this book. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by the author and she did a great job of narrating. The descriptions of the octupuses were beautiful and the discussions about their habits, emotions, and intelligence were very interesting. But (and you knew this was coming), I don't think aquariums should catch or pay to catch animals from the wild for their exhibits. Even though the people in the book cared about their charges, in reading you could see how the conditions for the animals was sometimes cruel (Kali in particular). I know accidents and deaths can happen, but it seemed like the aquarium went through its animals relentlessly. Why can't they be enjoyed by scuba divers or in electronic exhibits rather than in person? If these creatures are so intelligent (and I have no doubt they are), why do we abduct them and keep them in a life of captivity? The mindset is alien to me, just as my mindset is probably alien to them. The book was beautiful, but oh so sad for someone who believes animals should have the right to their freedom and their own lives.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hana

    A Giant Pacific Octopus No still photograph can possibly capture the weird, other-worldly grace of these creatures, so here is a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3m9i... Do octopuses have souls? I remain agnostic on the subject of octopus souls but they most certainly have brains. They use tools and solve puzzles. They seem to play. They recognize and react to different humans--both by tasting them with their suckers, but also by seeing them with their remarkable eyes. Most of all, octopuses A Giant Pacific Octopus No still photograph can possibly capture the weird, other-worldly grace of these creatures, so here is a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3m9i... Do octopuses have souls? I remain agnostic on the subject of octopus souls but they most certainly have brains. They use tools and solve puzzles. They seem to play. They recognize and react to different humans--both by tasting them with their suckers, but also by seeing them with their remarkable eyes. Most of all, octopuses have personalities, the octopuses we meet in Sy Montgomery's wonderful book are distinct and rather lovable individuals. No one who has ever had a dog or cat will be surprised that animals have personalities, but we are talking about a mollusc a creature like a clam or oyster! Octopuses have very strange brains. While the human brain has four different lobes each associated with different functions. "An octopus brain...has as many as 50 to 75 different lobes. And most of an octopus's neurons aren't even in the brain but are in the arms." Octopuses are adapted to extreme multi-tasking--all those arms can act independently and the arms seem to be able to both taste and see. Octopuses are all predators and while the ones Montgomery describes seem gentle enough she is warned never to let the tentacles near her face since they could easily take out a human eye. Their interest in us may not be entirely pacific. One octopus had a 'thing' for people in wheelchairs or using canes. Another was particularly interested in watching small children. Often captive land predators like tigers show such preferences too. Do they recognize easy prey? The thought makes this picture somewhat sinister.... Since Octopuses have no bones they are able to squeeze themselves through tiny holes and they are amazing escape artists. I have to admit this video of an octopus crawling off the deck of a ship and back to water creeped me out big time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yHIs... Sy Montgomery loves them, though, and has what is to my mind a weird fondness for having her arms wrapped up in octopus tentacles--à chacun son goût. And speaking of taste, I suspect that anyone who reads this book will think twice before eating octopus or for that matter swallowing a raw oyster. Montgomery's love of octopuses was so intense that it even got to me. I didn't think I could tear-up reading about the death of an octopus but these eight armed molluscs have so much personality and alien intelligence they seem rather like ET in the movie. Unfortunately there are rather a lot of octopus deaths in the book since they only live about 3 or 4 years. Part of the pleasure of this book for me is getting a behind the scenes look at one of the most wondrous places in Boston, the New England Aquarium. Montgomery takes time out from the octopuses to describe many of the thousands of fish, birds and other animals at the aquarium. My favorite is Myrtle, a 350 pound green sea turtle, about 80 years old, who dominates even the sharks, stealing squid right out of their toothy mouths. Right now there is a special exhibit on at the NEAQ of octopuses, squid and other tentacled creatures. I can hardly wait for my next day off! UPDATE: Spotted the two New England Aquarium Giant Pacific octopuses, Sy and Anna. Sy was in the front tank reaching out with thin tentacles to feel (?) taste (?) see (?) a spiny sea urchin. Amazingly the urchin was also reaching out, waving and stretching its tube feet to meet Sy's tentacles. They explored each other very delicately and deliberately for some minutes. What were they sensing? Is this Friend or Foe? Dinner or Danger? Anna was in the back tank, pale grey, very quiet and hard to see. A volunteer told me she has laid infertile eggs and is guarding them. Readers of the Soul of An Octopus will know that (view spoiler)[The last act of a female octopus before dying is to lay and guard her eggs. As the volunteer told me about the eggs I could not hide my dismay. "We thought she was younger," she said in a sad whisper as our eyes met. (hide spoiler)] "But with octopuses you never know." And there we stood in communion--two humans, minds and feelings briefly joined--as an octopus watched.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amy (Other Amy)

    The service is conducted in Tahitian, a language I don't understand. But I understand the power of worship, and the importance of contemplating mystery - whether in a church or diving a coral reef. The mystery that congregants seek here is no different, really, from the one I have sought in my interactions with Athena and Kali, Karma and Octavia. It is no different from the mystery we pursue in all our relationships, in all our deepest wonderings. We seek to fathom the soul. [...] But I am certa The service is conducted in Tahitian, a language I don't understand. But I understand the power of worship, and the importance of contemplating mystery - whether in a church or diving a coral reef. The mystery that congregants seek here is no different, really, from the one I have sought in my interactions with Athena and Kali, Karma and Octavia. It is no different from the mystery we pursue in all our relationships, in all our deepest wonderings. We seek to fathom the soul. [...] But I am certain of one thing as I sit in my pew: If I have a soul-and I think I do-an octopus has a soul, too. I have been writing this review in my head for a couple of weeks now, and it's time to be done with it, so here I go. Part of the difficulty in reviewing this particular book is that I review things for what they are, but this book doesn't know what it is. The subtitle suggests both popular science and philosophical tract, but it really isn't either of those. It fails spectacularly as journalism. The reader is left with a kind of memoir, a sort of 'my neat experiences with an aquarium' (focusing of course on that aquarium's octopi*), but even that is rather shallow. Looking back over the whole thing, this book was not what it wants to be or pretends to be, and as such I remain a disappointed reader. (However, book length treatments focusing mainly on the octopus are not particularly plentiful, so the book still has some value even with its many flaws.) There is science in this book, yes (did you know an octopus has more neurons in its arms than its brain?), but it is more a collection of hodgepodge of facts (how about that they can taste with their skin?) strung together through the author's rambling (in fact, they may be able to see with their skin, but only maybe) stories about her adventures making friends at the aquarium (an octopus' eye has no blind spot, can detect polarized light, is panoramic instead of binocular, and can swivel independently, but sight is limited to about an 8 foot range), learning to scuba dive (the octopus is the chameleon of the sea, but much, much more finely tuned and capable than a chameleon), and above all her repeated stabs at a vague, semi-mystical notion of consciousness (cephalopods can disappear on a checkerboard and have done so in labs) which are unfortunately laced through with all manner of religious references the author does not really appear to understand (this camouflage thing is fantastic; look at this; the octopus starts at 1:50). There are no footnotes or endnotes (although there is the obligatory index and a nice bibliography), which makes it difficult to track down a lot of the science that is presented (they are strong enough to resist perhaps 100 times their body wait in pull, and for the big ones that may be almost 4,000 pounds) in the same wide-eyed fashion as the philosophy (I could go on like this all day, but I actually would like to finish this review, so I'll stop now). The quote I pulled above gives a pretty good idea of the tone I'm talking about: The author attends a Protestant service held in a church that now occupies the site of a former temple to the octopus in Tahiti. Even though she doesn't speak the language, she happily assumes she understands enough to use the experience as her springboard into musings on the soul. (I have the advantage of having come from a Protestant tradition, and I can fairly say she is probably directly wrong as to the contents of the service.) Add to this the fact that the questions we ask give us the answers we get, and the author is determined to ask stupid questions. (Can we ever understand the octopus? Lady, I can't understand my family, friends, and neighbors. What on God's blue earth makes you think we can understand another species? It's like Hume never happened for this woman.) Or she is determined to avoid asking the questions. The book give two fairly uncomfortable portrayals of these lovely (and, yes, very, very intelligent) animals in distress: Octavia is brought to the aquarium near adulthood due to Athena's sudden demise, and shows clear distress over her change in environment, while Kali is kept for an unexpectedly long time in a barrel behind the scenes as Octavia takes much longer than anticipated to die after egg laying; Kali also exhibits clear distress and boredom. A journalist would have been forced to ask some probing questions here about the ethics of these practices with wild animals who appear to be at least as smart as, say, the family dog. No such questioning arises. The author relates the situation, but she does not investigate the different sides of the argument. (She does later present the thoughts of an obtainer of octopi, who takes the animals from the wild for aquariums, and who does what he does because people must learn about them to protect them, but that is as far as it goes.) Given the obvious controversy here (and the traditional close relation between studies of an organism's level of consciousness and the ethical questions of how to relate to that organism accordingly), this refusal to dive in is especially disappointing. As a memoir, this functions on about the same level of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know , another book that promised to explore the science but was ultimately bound to the idiosyncratic interpretations and ideas of its author. This is a decent enough read to get a passel of facts, but not the survey of the wonder of octopus intelligence the title seems to promise. I have moved on to The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins , which seems to be a more promising treatment of a similar subject, although not, unfortunately, of the wondrous octopus. *I am aware (indeed this book immediately makes the reader aware) of the current pushback by grammar hounds against the marvelous word 'octopi' on the grounds that 'octopus' is a word of Greek origin, meaning you cannot have the Latin plural 'octopi' but must instead have either the regular English plural 'octopuses' or the Greek plural 'octopodes' (which is almost never heard outside of this debate and remains generally unrecognized). I am not generally one to join in choruses of 'Is that even a word?' and this round of that game is particularly offensive. It ignores the wonderful capability of the English language to make an inspired mistake, and the fact that this is an inspired mistake. It is better as a word, on almost every level, than the regular plural form, so unless my fellow English speakers suddenly accept that Greek business on a widespread basis, I'm keeping it. Grammar hounds who don't like that can take a long walk off a short pier. Maybe they will meet some octopi. Reviewed 3/13/16. **************************** 2/29/16: So, 2016 continues to be the year of books I thought would be better. Review to come.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This was a lovely book—both fascinating and deeply kind, with a lot to interest a broad swath of readers. The science is accessible without being dumb, and at the same time Montgomery brings the octopuses (NOT octopi!) and their personalities (yes, they have 'em) really vividly to life. Plus I love reading about any interest that attracts the oddballs among us, and octopuses definitely seem to fall into that category—I guess I can count myself among those oddballs now. Thus ends any pulpo consum This was a lovely book—both fascinating and deeply kind, with a lot to interest a broad swath of readers. The science is accessible without being dumb, and at the same time Montgomery brings the octopuses (NOT octopi!) and their personalities (yes, they have 'em) really vividly to life. Plus I love reading about any interest that attracts the oddballs among us, and octopuses definitely seem to fall into that category—I guess I can count myself among those oddballs now. Thus ends any pulpo consumption for me ever again, and no big loss.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lisa See

    I had read an op ed by the author, Sy Montgomery, and felt compelled to buy the book. Who know I would be so captivated?

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cody

    The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery is an entertaining, highly personal, and very informative look at the intelligence and consciousness of one of the worlds most fascinating animals. Thinking of intelligent creatures on our planet, it's quick to point to the ability of chimpanzees to learn sign language or German shepherds in policing and military environments to sniff out bombs, but an Octopus is an even more intriguing subject on the matter. Octopuses are invertebrates, but who thinks of The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery is an entertaining, highly personal, and very informative look at the intelligence and consciousness of one of the worlds most fascinating animals. Thinking of intelligent creatures on our planet, it's quick to point to the ability of chimpanzees to learn sign language or German shepherds in policing and military environments to sniff out bombs, but an Octopus is an even more intriguing subject on the matter. Octopuses are invertebrates, but who thinks of a class of the animal kingdom that includes slugs and clams as having traits associated with intelligence? There's a bias there certainly, and as Montgomery explains, we certainly have much more to learn about our world and the creatures that inhabit it. Covering four different Octopuses lives at the New England aquarium, Montgomery's book is quite touching and even tear jerking as she develops such personal relationships with all of them. It's amazing the level of consciousness these animals have, from their individuality to problem solving skills to recognizing the people they interact with. The almost taboo subject of animal consciousness quickly becomes the underlining theme here in relation not just to octopuses, but other creatures on both land and sea. Not too long ago biologists like Jane Goodall were hesitant to apply psychological traits associated with humanity to animals, and only just recently has the scientific community been able to really push forward these studies on various subjects in the animal kingdom. Montgomery provides such a passionate analysis that the reader should walk away with that very same passion and respect for these wonderful animals.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melissa (Mel’s Bookshelf)

    This was an enjoyable book about a couple of friendly octopuses (yes that is the correct plural term, I looked it up!) and an extremely enthusiastic octopus-loving author. Sy Montgomery also narrates the audio version of this non-fiction memoir about her time at the New England Aquarium with these octopuses over a period of a few years. Why a few years? Because they only live to be a few years old. Did I teach you something new? Because I had no idea they had such short lives! This book really ta This was an enjoyable book about a couple of friendly octopuses (yes that is the correct plural term, I looked it up!) and an extremely enthusiastic octopus-loving author. Sy Montgomery also narrates the audio version of this non-fiction memoir about her time at the New England Aquarium with these octopuses over a period of a few years. Why a few years? Because they only live to be a few years old. Did I teach you something new? Because I had no idea they had such short lives! This book really taught me a lot that I had no clue about, nor would I have particularly cared about prior to listening if I'm honest. But wow, octopuses are pretty amazing creatures. For such a short life, they make quite an intelligent package. And I am amazed at their ability to manoeuvre themselves through extremely tight spaces! Did you know that octopuses need a lot of intellectual stimulation and can solve complex puzzles? It blew my mind how strange these creatures are! As fascinating as some of these octopus facts were, this book however, didn't amaze me. I enjoyed it and found it fascinating at times, but I feel maybe it would have been a bit better with some visuals, as a documentary or something. I'm not sure if there are any visuals in the paper version, I couldn't find any files in the audio one. What did I think of the audio? I enjoyed the narrator, and I always give extra points when an author narrates their own work and does a good job! Something about it just fell flat for me. I'm not sure exactly what it was. I was expecting/hoping to get completely WOWed about the consciousness aspect, and sure it had some very interesting moments and theories, but I was left feeling slightly underwhelmed. There was a lot of the authors speculations about the motives behind the behaviours of the octopuses. It did however inspire a video search of octopuses on YouTube and I found some AMAZING documentaries and videos and was blown away by some of them. I wouldn't have even thought to look them up prior to reading this book. Would I Recommend The Soul of an Octopus? It was an enjoyable, educational and somewhat touching story. It didn't grip me as I was expecting, but I still enjoyed it and it inspired me to want to learn more about these creatures. If you like this kind of book then I am sure you will enjoy it too. * I purchased The Soul of an Octopus at my own expense on audible.com

  20. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. *Spoiler alert of epic proportions* The subtitle of Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness clearly states Montgomery’s purpose. And she starts her exploration off well enough. She’s meeting Athena, the New England Aquarium’s 40 pound, two and a half year old, octopus for the first time. Montgomery is charmed. I’m charmed. For “those who work with octopuses report seeing things that, according to the way we’ve learned the world normally wo *Spoiler alert of epic proportions* The subtitle of Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness clearly states Montgomery’s purpose. And she starts her exploration off well enough. She’s meeting Athena, the New England Aquarium’s 40 pound, two and a half year old, octopus for the first time. Montgomery is charmed. I’m charmed. For “those who work with octopuses report seeing things that, according to the way we’ve learned the world normally works, should not be happening.” Montgomery proceeds to eloquently make her case; octopuses are intelligent, emotional beings with distinct personalities and memory. So imagine my surprise, no my dismay, when she reveals that “in [her] quest to get to know an octopus better, [she] had been looking into acquiring one of [her] own.” Yes, Montgomery feels a need to possess an animal that she herself, in the very title of her own book, acknowledges possesses a soul. She goes on to say,“… whether you’re a person or a monkey, a bird or a turtle, an octopus or a clam, the physiological changes that accompany our deepest-felt emotions appear to be the same. Even a brainless scallop’s little heart beats faster when the mollusk is approached by a predator, just like yours or mine would do were we to be accosted by a mugger.” Or captured in your ocean home by a strange creature, and transferred to a barren tank in that creature’s otherwise uninhabitable living room. Fast-forward…Athena has died. Octopuses, we know from chapter one “live fast and die young. Giant Pacific octopuses are probably among the longest-lived of the species, and they usually live only about three or four years.” Thus, the aquarium is now home to Octavia, who is nearing the end of her life, and Kali, Octavia’s replacement who lives in a dark, 50 gallon barrel. The flower pot Montgomery had given her to hide in has been removed from her barrel for lack of space. At which point Montgomery decides she needs to experience the ocean; would “love to be actually in the real ocean with them.” She wants to be in the very ocean home denied the same octopus she wants to be in the real ocean with. Huh. Montgomery describes the ascent from her final dive: “I ascend with [Rob] slowly, like a dying soul reluctant to leave its body, and we watch the silver trail of our bubbles rising above us like shooting stars.” Is this how Kali felt on her final ocean ascent? Is this how Kali feels in her barrel right now? Fast-forward again… after living in a dark 50 gallon barrel for roughly six months, Kali has finally been transferred to a new, temporary enclosure. The first night she escapes and dies; somewhat reminiscent of an only slightly less tragic escape scene at the end of Finding Nemo. Of the incident Montgomery and aquarium staff says: "Kali was extremely lucky to have lived as long as she did. Most octopuses die as paralarvae. Only two in 100,000 hatchlings survive to sexual maturity – otherwise the sea would be overrun with octopuses. “And at least we know she had a good last day.” I said. “Yes,” said Wilson. “She had a day of freedom. And that she got out tells you a phenomenally inquisitive and intelligent creature wanted her freedom. We know, clearly, it must have taken a lot of effort to get out. A stupid animal wouldn’t do that.” “She died like a great explorer,” I said. Like the astronauts who died blasting off in Challenger, or the brave men who perished in an attempt to find the source of the Nile, penetrate the Amazon, visit the poles, Kali had chosen to face unknown danger in the quest to widen the horizons of her world. “Octopuses have their own intelligence that we can’t match,” Wilson said. “And hopefully we’ll learn from our mistakes. That’s the best we can do. After all,” he said, “we’re only human.” I’m not convinced the comparison to astronauts and African explorers is valid. For those souls chose a life of adventure and Kali was not on a “quest to widen the horizons” of “her” world. She was on a quest to widen the horizons of an artificial world forced upon her. Nor am I convinced that Kali enjoyed one happy day. In Wilson’s own words, “…that she got out tells us…[she] wanted her freedom.” She didn’t get it. Like Wilson, I too, hoped they would learn from their mistakes. So imagine my surprise when, eight days after Kali’s escape the aquarium has ordered another octopus off the internet. She will be named Karma. With no permanent tank for her, they put her in Kali’s dark prison barrel. Leaving me unclear as to what any of them have learned. Except that instead of planning ahead, and putting kindness before profit, when tragedy strikes we shrug our shoulders and claim we’re innocent…because we’re human. I picked up The Soul of an Octopus because, ten years ago, I was utterly enamored with Mongtomery’s The Good Good Pig. My expectations were so high that the contrast between what I learned about the inner lives of octopuses, and the Stockholm Syndromesque relationships between they and their keepers became too disappointing, too enraging, and just too tiring. While I imagine Montgomery’s aim is to paint a portrait of herself and her aquarium colleagues as fighting the good conservation fight, she has unwittingly lumped her book in the same category of documentaries like Blackfish, and books like David Kirby’s Death at Sea World.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Never thought I'd weep for an octopus. Not a spoiler: you will meet lots of octopuses in this moving memoir. (Also, among the myriad things I learned about this incredibly smart and empathetic animal is this: the plural is not octopi.) This is a lovely and wise book that will remind you of just how much we share with creatures that seem spectacularly foreign to us -- such as the octopus.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alex Farrand

    The Soul of an Octopus is about a naturalist discovering the world of an Octopus. What are your first thoughts about an Octopus? Mind were they would squeeze the life out of me if I found them in the middle of ocean. Why is that? Why are we afraid ocean, which is largely unexplored. Is it the movies where Jaws attacks the innocent? Sharks biting people? Squids taking down whole ships? Moby Dick? Pinocchio? I really think it is because we do not really know, or comprehend our sea creature breth The Soul of an Octopus is about a naturalist discovering the world of an Octopus. What are your first thoughts about an Octopus? Mind were they would squeeze the life out of me if I found them in the middle of ocean. Why is that? Why are we afraid ocean, which is largely unexplored. Is it the movies where Jaws attacks the innocent? Sharks biting people? Squids taking down whole ships? Moby Dick? Pinocchio? I really think it is because we do not really know, or comprehend our sea creature brethren. If you believe in evolution, we all started in the ocean, before we evolved lungs and different eyes that were more adaptable on land. If evolution is true, then why wouldn't we share consciousness with other creatures. Sy Montgomery investigates what it is like to be an octopus. The book had wonderful facts about Octopus, and probably amazing pictures. Unfortunately, I did not have the book, but listened to the audio. I need this book. She gathered evidence of a few captured Giant Pacific Octopuses, and studied a few in their habitat, but can we say they have true consciousness. I think anything could have consciousness, how can we say otherwise. There is no evidence that other animals cannot or do. So, I guess it is like a theory and it will always stay a theory until proven or disproven. Can we say we as humans have true consciousness? We made up the word, and I argue words can change meaning. Would it be so bad if other organisms have the same intelligent levels as humans? Maybe, they are studying us like in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe, we are even in the Matrix I thought it was a great book, and just amazing things to learn. I will carry that information around in my pocket. I do recommended it, and it sounded like it wasn't overly scientific. I believe it wasn't a hard read. I noticed this book was in the YA section in the library, so I do not imagine it being hard, and maybe even a lighter read. I did watch a strange video of octopuses mating. I don't know if I should say it was interesting or just awkward. Well, happy reading.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lauri

    I loved this book. Actually, I've loved all the books I've read by Sy Montgomery. She writes beautifully, and she has an amazing ability to create a nonfiction book that is a real page turner. Through Sy's visits to the New England Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium, and through her scuba adventures in the wild (which truly were adventurous), you'll learn a lot about octopuses (apparently, the plural is NOT octopi, as I had previously thought), and you'll enjoy every minute of it. Although octopu I loved this book. Actually, I've loved all the books I've read by Sy Montgomery. She writes beautifully, and she has an amazing ability to create a nonfiction book that is a real page turner. Through Sy's visits to the New England Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium, and through her scuba adventures in the wild (which truly were adventurous), you'll learn a lot about octopuses (apparently, the plural is NOT octopi, as I had previously thought), and you'll enjoy every minute of it. Although octopuses are mollusks, more closely related to snails than to mammals, they are very smart and clearly have moods and personalities. Sy becomes very well acquainted with a few octopuses in particular, and her interactions with them are fascinating. The book raises questions about the meaning of intelligence, nurturing, interspecies relationships and play - obviously, these are very intelligent creatures, even though their brains and neural systems bear very little resemblance to our own. I will never look at an octopus the same way again. I highly recommend this book and this author. She has a gift.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katie Ziegler (Life Between Words)

    I never in a million years thought I would feel a kinship or a keen interest in Octupuses. I did not go into this book fascinated with Octopuses; I read it because it claimed to explore consciousness and the soul. A topic I'm fascinated with given my grandmother's diagnosis and long and losing battle with Alzheimer's Disease. In fact, in terms of the subject matter of this book, I'm still not sure I'd really want to commune with an octopus in the same way as the author. For a hot second I imagin I never in a million years thought I would feel a kinship or a keen interest in Octupuses. I did not go into this book fascinated with Octopuses; I read it because it claimed to explore consciousness and the soul. A topic I'm fascinated with given my grandmother's diagnosis and long and losing battle with Alzheimer's Disease. In fact, in terms of the subject matter of this book, I'm still not sure I'd really want to commune with an octopus in the same way as the author. For a hot second I imagined being in the author's shoes and visiting an aquarium to let an octopus entwine one (or several) of it's slimy, suckered arms around my own, and that thought did nothing but fill me with anxiety. That being said, I did become fascinated with Octopuses. And I even grew an affectionate attitude towards them - albeit from a safe distance. They are, after all, fascinating creatures, utterly foreign to ourselves; but so curious, so individual, so intelligent you can't learn about them and not wonder about them and contemplate their similarities to ourselves. And I am fascinated by their crazy anatomy, their unusual behavior, their intelligence, their ability to problem solve, and their incredible connection with the people who have the privilege to get to know them. It explores profound questions like what is intelligence? What is it to be conscious? And what does it mean to have a soul? All through attempting to understand Octopuses - these are questions that illuminate more about ourselves when explored through the lens of creatures so utterly alien to us. Sy Montgomery wrote a book, part memoir, part science book, part Octopus love story, that was so compelling, and so full of compassion, affection, tenderness, and at times pathos that I found myself in tears. Several times. If you told me I'd ever cry about octopuses, I'd have told you you're crazy. But there you have it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    Until I read ‘The Soul of an Octopus’, by Sy Montgomery, talented amateur scientist (journalist) octopuses were almost not ever in my thoughts in any way. As I have learned in reading this book, this was a serious deficiency in my education. First of all, giant Pacific octopuses have been living near my home all my life in Seattle, a port city. I have walked and partied on Seattle’s beaches all of my life and ate seafood at restaurants with beachside tables on Seattle’s piers. The Seattle Aquari Until I read ‘The Soul of an Octopus’, by Sy Montgomery, talented amateur scientist (journalist) octopuses were almost not ever in my thoughts in any way. As I have learned in reading this book, this was a serious deficiency in my education. First of all, giant Pacific octopuses have been living near my home all my life in Seattle, a port city. I have walked and partied on Seattle’s beaches all of my life and ate seafood at restaurants with beachside tables on Seattle’s piers. The Seattle Aquarium has a few octopuses, and some of them are Youtube stars. Secondly, the Aquarium catches them in Elliot Bay, just off the pier where the Aquarium was built. Third, the local diving clubs see them all of the time, posting videos of them, including one video of baby octopuses hatching from eggs, while their dying mother waves them on. The babies are cute as buttons, literally, being the size of tiny pearl collar buttons. Mom octopuses die shortly after the babies begin hatching because the moms starve themselves on guard duty while the eggs grow after being laid. : ( They have been under my feet all my life, so to speak. I learned to look up only after I married my husband, a small plane pilot. Did you know the most beautiful clouds are in Seattle, huge, puffy, beautiful? I should have also been looking down, and out across the water, which often was within walking distance of my rented apartments. I certainly have owned boats, and had boyfriends with boats. My only excuse is the water is very very cold. And maybe, I am thick in the head. Why did I think on most days the bays, lakes, rivers and ocean near me were only for getting a tan? o _ O Octopuses are, like, A-listers of the aquatic world. They are powerful, smart, alpha dogs, or maybe like real black-ops guys - a Navy Seal Team? Hehe. They have to be, since their bodies are like pudding with muscles. They hunt to eat, mostly crabs, but things like to hunt for them, too. But once they reach their full size, watch out. They have been caught on video killing sharks. Yeah. Sharks, man. Below is a link to a talk given by the author, posted on Youtube. She reads from the book, so, you don’t really have to read the book, I guess, if you want the condensed version. It is as interesting as the book is. However, the book goes into more detail about many of the employees and volunteers who work with octopuses at the Boston New England Aquarium. The book also describes how the author learned to scuba dive, and the observations she made of sea life. https://youtu.be/_N2yDf7_1oc As I read the ebook, I discovered more videos by clicking on the links provided by the author in the back of the book in the Selected Bibliography section. They are excellent! people can be so generous. As the author notes, octopuses can be generous, too. When they get to know a person (they recognize individual humans!), they allow people to pet them, at least the ones they like. They have preferences. If they don’t like you, you might get hosed. Yes, they are slimy, but. Wouldn’t you give a body part to pet an octopus? Plus, they are playful, moody, and are able to escape from almost anything - covered tank or barrel, tied up plastic bag, jar with a lid screwed on (there are videos showing octopuses can unscrew lids from inside the jar- if there is a minimum of a one- or two-inch gap anywhere - only their beak doesn’t squish small. Being adventurous, they have been discovered outside of their tanks laying on aquarium floors drying out, or having taken up residence in other nearby fish tanks, which had been full of fish, somehow escaping from their own tank. However, the octopus may now be all alone in its new tank it chose as a new home, and all of those expensive rare fish have mysteriously disappeared. An octopus that is maybe forty pounds can drown you, too, as they are way powerful. Their bite can kill you as they can inject you with a neurotoxin which is flesh-eating. It is a good thing they almost never bite the hands that feed them, eh? But what they enjoy is grabbing their caretakers’ hands, arms, pulling lightly (sometimes not so lightly) with their suckers ( maybe up to 1500 of them, each capable of individual manipulation!), tasting, smelling, feeling you - and maybe liking it. What they like about us, well. Their caretakers like to assume they like us for our loving natures, right? However, they get bored easily, and they like toys. Maybe we are a toy? Given their clever hunting skills including the ability to change their appearance into anything - fish, rocks, sandy floors, their ability to flash colors like a disco dance floor to attract us, their enormous strength, I suspect we are interesting toys to them. At best. Caretakers, keep petting and caressing those octopuses when you feed them! They then have a reason to keep YOU around... The book also has an Index section and photographs. There never are enough photos! Of course, I am now a major fan of octopuses. They can kill sharks. Sharks. Holy shit.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    I love octopuses. I have always found them fascinating, graceful and absolutely beautiful in that utterly alien way. Their otherness actually inspired one of my favorite tattoos, a Pacific octopus on my left leg, that coils around my ankle and foot (which subsequently led to my getting bombarded with octopus-themed stuff every birthday and Christmas – from shower curtains, salt and pepper shakers, mugs, purses, bottle of booze that happen to have a cephalopod on the label; you name, I got it). T I love octopuses. I have always found them fascinating, graceful and absolutely beautiful in that utterly alien way. Their otherness actually inspired one of my favorite tattoos, a Pacific octopus on my left leg, that coils around my ankle and foot (which subsequently led to my getting bombarded with octopus-themed stuff every birthday and Christmas – from shower curtains, salt and pepper shakers, mugs, purses, bottle of booze that happen to have a cephalopod on the label; you name, I got it). The love story with cephalopods started when I read an article about those fascinating little creatures, and learned some astounding facts: they have the ability to change color (according to mood or environment), they are experts at escaping tight spaces (capable of squeezing their entire bodies through tiny tubes!), they have extremely sophisticated eye structures, problem-solving intelligence, use their tentacles to taste their environment and have three hearts! They are such a strange animal and they inspired me and caught my imagination. When I heard of this book, I immediately wanted to read it, even knowing that it wouldn’t be a hard-science book and more of a personal memoir with the general “What I learned hanging out with a bunch of octopuses” kind of thing. The question of the consciousness, awareness of the world and personality is a very intriguing topic, but it’s also rather metaphysical. I was afraid of the book being a bit more wishy-washy than I was looking for… Let me reassure you, the book is very informative: Montgomery spent time with a lot of experts, aquarists and octopus-handlers (for lack of a better word), who shared their knowledge and experience of working with the fascinating little creatures. I learned a bunch of new things, that built on what I was already aware of when it comes to octopuses: they each have distinct personalities, are incredibly curious, strong and very creative. Not unlike other “smart” animals, they need a lot of stimulation or they will get bored and find - often destructive - ways of alleviating their boredom. They can be playful, stubborn, friendly… and they can run! “The Soul of an Octopus” is also very well written (though the prose is a tad more purple than I had expected!), and spends a lot of time exploring the questions of “animal” intelligence, perception and inter-species interaction. This is all very interesting, but I do wish there had been a bit more science and a tad less philosophy. I already share the author’s sense of wonder and deep affection for the little creatures, so every passage discussing how wonderful they are was basically preaching to the choir. I appreciate the respect she has for the octopuses she encounters, how she really treats them like individuals. Her observation about the possibility that they observe us just as much as we observe them is a tantalizing idea: we can’t begin to imagine how they must perceive and understand their interactions with us and what it means to them, but it’s an interesting exercise of mind to ponder that question. That means that this book is more anecdotal than anything else, which is fine because Montgomery has a palpable tenderness for her subject, and she expresses inspiring compassion towards all the squishies she gets to meet. That makes her book a very charming and entertaining read, but it also felt somewhat superficial. I feel like she could have added more biology and observational data instead of waxing poetic about consciousness, to make the book a little more thorough. Insightful, charming and interesting, but not quite enough to fully satisfying this octopus enthusiast.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Olive (abookolive)

    First nonfiction book to ever make me cry. This was informative, thought-provoking, and absolutely beautiful.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Caren

    Sometimes, when the news from the human world is just too depressing, I like to escape into a book about the natural world. This book allowed me a look into a world entirely unknown to me, the oceanic world of octopuses (and yes, it is 'octopuses', not 'octopi'). Most of the octopus friends the author introduces live in aquariums, in particular, the New England Aquarium. They have short lives, usually just three years (and that is in captivity), but they are truly amazing, intelligent creatures. Sometimes, when the news from the human world is just too depressing, I like to escape into a book about the natural world. This book allowed me a look into a world entirely unknown to me, the oceanic world of octopuses (and yes, it is 'octopuses', not 'octopi'). Most of the octopus friends the author introduces live in aquariums, in particular, the New England Aquarium. They have short lives, usually just three years (and that is in captivity), but they are truly amazing, intelligent creatures. The author speaks of these octopuses as being her close personal friends. Telling the reader, in a conversational manner, of the research being done by scientists, and of her own observations, she allows us a glimpse into their hidden world. The author considered getting her own octopus, but decided against it since she often travels, which would throw the care of the creature onto her husband. She has so many stories of others who either keep or work with octopuses. From page 65, here is one: "Ceph keeper Nancy King discovered that her two-spot, Ollie, didn't always see where the live crabs she dropped in to feed her had landed. So she took to helping her, using her index finger on the outside of the aquarium to show her where the prey was hiding. Ollie soon figured out the meaning of the pointing finger. (This is a very specialized skill. Dogs---but not their direct ancestors, wolves---are among the tiny handful of species other than humans who can do this. ) 'In this way', she charmingly wrote, 'Ollie and Nancy hunted crabs together'. " Here is another account from page 214: [On a dive, a researcher is observing and photographing octopuses.] "How can you decide which of your subjects is more photogenic, when both change color and shape before your eyes? Keith chose to stick with the first one, who crawled around the side of a rock. As Keith was photographing it, the second octopus traveled up and over a higher rock nearby, stood up tall on its arms, as if on tiptoe, and, with what looked like keen interest, leaned toward Keith and the other octopus he was photographing. 'It actively positioned itself so it could observe me,' Keith said. 'It was so amazing to be observed like that. In all my years photographing animals underwater---sharks, tuna, turtles, fish---I've never encountered anything that watched me like this. It was like a person watching a model at a fashion-photo shoot, or watching a pro football player at a game. Most of the time, fish observe you and notice you. But they don't look at you like this, like they are watching and learning. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.' " Ms. Montgomery's joy is infectious. She often visited the octopuses at the New England Aquarium and spent time stroking them and letting them taste her arms with their suckers. From page 90, she says: "While stroking an octopus, it is easy to fall into reverie. To share such a moment of deep tranquility with another being, especially one as different from us as the octopus, is a humbling privilege. It's a shared sweetness, a gentle miracle, an uplink to universal consciousness---the notion, first advanced by pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaxagoras in 480 BC, of sharing an intelligence that animates and organizes all life." In addition to her weekly aquarium visits, the author took part in a number of deep-sea dives and shares that experience, as well as some wonderful photographs, in the book. In her bibliography, she includes some interesting links to videos of octopuses in action. I also discovered a very nice talk she gave about octopuses and the idea of consciousness in creatures other than humans. Here is that talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aI4II... Here is a video of her friend from the New England Aquarium interacting with an octopus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6DWQ... Here is an octopus using a coconut shell as shelter, even carrying it with him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BULXK... Here is a wily octopus hunting a crab: http://aeon.co/video/science/drole-dh... And finally, here is a video of an octopus who stole a diver's camera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5DyB... This was a great summer read. When the days are hot, you can immerse yourself in an intriguing and alien underwater world through Ms. Montgomery's lucid prose.

  29. 5 out of 5

    AmberBug *shelfnotes.com*

    www.shelfnotes.com review Dear Reader, The first thing I learned from this book was the correct pluralization is not octopi but octopuses. Go ahead, have a laugh... it made me giggle too but I'm also a little sad that octopi doesn't exist (THE word). Anywho... I want to be best friends with Sy Montgomery, not only because she writes about amazing animals but she usually calls her friends up to join in these adventures. Oh, how I would have loved to be the one to meet her at the New England Aquariu www.shelfnotes.com review Dear Reader, The first thing I learned from this book was the correct pluralization is not octopi but octopuses. Go ahead, have a laugh... it made me giggle too but I'm also a little sad that octopi doesn't exist (THE word). Anywho... I want to be best friends with Sy Montgomery, not only because she writes about amazing animals but she usually calls her friends up to join in these adventures. Oh, how I would have loved to be the one to meet her at the New England Aquarium for the chance to "pet" an octopus. Died! I would have died from excitement. I don't know why these non-furry creatures give me such a thrill? Okay, I admit that after reading this book... I clearly know why... THEY FRAKIN' RULE. Let's get this over with... shall we? I mean, we all know I'm going to list off some fascinating facts from the book, right? Please turn your head or galavant down to the bottom paragraph if you would like to read this book blindly. I won't blame you. The facts you'll learn will have you "Ooo0ing" and "Ahhhing" quite often. However, I can't begrudge those who won't pick this book up... NO! I must convince them that reading about octopuses is entirely worth it. Which, by the way... It IS! My friend Marsha (Hi Marsha!) sent me a link to this amazing video that pretty much goes over all these amazing facts (plus the narrator is to die for!!) I highly recommend watching it AND reading this book. CLICK here to watch the amazing video! Fascinating fact #1: When an octopus is relaxed, it will appear white. Other colors can range all across the rainbow, giving them one of the most impressive camouflaging ability in the animal kingdom. As the author states in the book, "They can change color, pattern, and texture in seven tenths of a second." Fascinating fact #2: An octopus has three hearts (Whovian?) and a brain that wraps around its throat. Now THAT is redonkulous but guess what? It gets better. An octopus can also regrow its arm if broken off. Why? Because "three fifths of octopus' neurons are not in the brain but the arms." Dumbfounded. Where did these creatures come from? I was going to keep listing facts but I decided the best thing would be for you to experience the book for yourself. The Author is amazing, she really knows how to write a book about something that could mind numbing boring (in a scientific way) but manages to do the exact opposite. I can't wait to read more books from her. She even mentions Victor Hugo (LOVE) and many other literary and cultural references that had me excited. She also compared an octopus to a dog, how she could "pet his head or scratch his forehead... he loves it". My mission in life is to pet an octopus now. The Author also brings to life this mysterious animal. She makes this story real, not just scientific. We get to hear all about the the people who have been changed from interacting with these animals, in a wonderful heartfelt way. If you think octopuses are scary, believe me... after reading this, you'll feel differently. Happy Reading, AmberBug

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    I would probably not have given this book a second glance except that just days before it was offered to me for review I had read Turtle Reef, an Australian contemporary romance novel, in which the heroine, working at a marine park, befriended an octopus. I was intrigued by the relationship and was delighted by the opportunity to learn more. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, is written by Sy Montgomery, an author, naturalist, documentary scriptwrit I would probably not have given this book a second glance except that just days before it was offered to me for review I had read Turtle Reef, an Australian contemporary romance novel, in which the heroine, working at a marine park, befriended an octopus. I was intrigued by the relationship and was delighted by the opportunity to learn more. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, is written by Sy Montgomery, an author, naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and radio commentator. It offers a very readable and rather unique blend of personal experience, scientific knowledge and philosophical opinion about what is understood, and unknown, about the nature of octopuses. I knew little about octopuses—not even that the scientifically correct plural is not octopi, as I had always believed (it turns out you can’t put a Latin ending—i—on a word derived from Greek, such as octopus). But what I did know intrigued me. Here is an animal with venom like a snake, a beak like a parrot, and ink like an old-fashioned pen. It can weigh as much as a man and stretch as long as a car, yet it can pour its baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange. It can change color and shape. It can taste with its skin. Most fascinating of all, I had read that octopuses are smart." What Montogomery is able to show in The Soul of an Octopus is that octopuses are complex creatures who exhibit personality, intelligence and emotion, despite having neural systems completely alien to our own. During her time spent at the New England Aquarium she befriended several individual octopuses including Athena, who was the subject of a popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, "Deep Intellect" which went viral and was the inspiration for this book, Octavia, Kali and Karma. Through her study of, and interaction with, these extraordinary creatures she shares what she learns from both science and her experiences, while musing on the mystery of the 'inner lives' of the octopus, who grow from the size of a grain of rice and live for, on average, just four short years. The Soul of an Octopus is as smart, playful, curious and surprising as the creature it features. A fascinating read I'd highly recommend.

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