Soul of An Octopus

  • by Sy Montgomery
  • Narrated by Sy Montgomery
  • 9 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Sy Montgomery's popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, "Deep Intellect", about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters.
Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?
The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

weirdly sexual

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

cephalopod/tentacle fetishists, woo ladies, people who like their science with huge globs of anthropomorphism


What was most disappointing about Sy Montgomery’s story?

i was hoping this would be a more scientific observation of the author's interactions with an animal, followed up by scientific hypotheses as to why these interactions might be occurring the way they do. instead, it is a series of anecdotes dripping with human emotions applied to a non-human animal, and really visceral overindulgent descriptions of the "caresses" she got from the octopus, which made us really, really uncomfortable in the car. i LOVE cephalopods. just not... you know... like that. we did a lot of ear plugging while yelling. we kept expecting it to get better. it didn't. especially with the inflection of the reader, even non-sexual adjectives come across as trashy romance novel fodder.


Would you be willing to try another one of Sy Montgomery’s performances?

no thanks.


If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Soul of An Octopus?

everything she wrote about her personal experiences. the collected stories of various labs and aquariums were amusing, but the way she wrote about her own interactions was really uncomfortable and new-agey.


Any additional comments?

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- squirrel

Vapid, Speculative, Maudlin

The author purports to show the depth and wonder of the octopus, but does quite the opposite. She relentlessly projects her own thoughts and feelings onto the octopuses (the correct plural), speculates wildly on the workings of the creatures' minds, and shamelessly anthropomorphizes. She spews out a nauseating series of half-baked pseudo-spiritual musings (stroking an octopus is an "uplink to universal consciousness", and being bitten by an animal is a way to connect with the wild; oh, puh-leeze).

Even other animals at aquarium she frequents are subject to her desperate desire to read the minds of other creatures. When an electric eel emits a shock during sleep, Montgomery immediately "knows" that she has witnessed the animal's dreams. (Oy vey).

The author reads the book aloud, and I often felt she was speaking to four-year-olds -- condescendingly.

How much more she could have done with this fascinating topic by emphasizing the scientifically verifiable aspects of octopuses. The raw truth is awe-inspiring; the author's self-indulgence is not. (I really don't care about her hyper-romantic mental image of octopuses and their mothers linking arms through millions of years).

The facts and research she presents are interesting (hence the two stars for "overall"), but comprise only a small portion of this treacly mess of a book.
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- Lumpus "Music nerd"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-12-2015
  • Publisher: HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books