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

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"

A memoir more than science nonfiction

Any additional comments?

This book is more a memoir including some facts and many subjective observations about octopuses than it is a scientific look at octopuses. As such it's an interesting memoir and a fascinating picture of the personalities of a number of different octopuses that the author meets, as well as several aquarium staff members. It certainly highlighted how intelligent these creatures are, how little we still know about them, and it certainly made me want to go visit some octopuses in an aquarium.

However, if you're looking for any depth of scientific fact or even any depth of philosophical discussion, the book is rather lacking in this department. The author seems to spend some time justifying to herself that it's ok to keep octopuses in captivity -- even when they may occasionally tragically die accidentally -- without really examining the details of both sides of the argument. It feels as if the book COULD have been much more than just a memoir, so it's disappointing in that sense. And if you really don't care about the personal thoughts and philosophizing of the author then you'll probably find it annoying. But, if you're interested in octopuses, stories about them, and random tidbits of science and information, then you may still enjoy this book. Certainly, the more people become interested in learning more about these creatures, the better; so go pick up the book if you think you might like to learn more.

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- Blythe

Book Details

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