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on November 17, 2013
This book should be re-subtitled, "Intelligent, emotional, mysterious and beautiful so let's kill it and eat it." The author simply regurgitates the amazing facts that other researchers have been expounding on for years. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the book somewhat if this was the only flaw, but the author's constant mention of the killing and eating of these magnificent creatures gets rather disturbing. It should not be cataloged as a biology book at all. Even though the author investigated and, as mentioned before, sites some amazing research into the species, she focuses more on cuisine (not even sure if I should use that term) rather than science. Rarely does a section not contain a reference to a slaughtered octopus or a mention of using them as food...Including pictures and recipes??... If you are actually interested in the science, biology and social life of the octopus, I would recommend; Octopus: The Ocean's Intelligent Invertebrate, by Roland C. Anderson, Jennifer A. Mather and James B. Wood.
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on November 10, 2013
Octopusses are fascinating, highly intelligent and alluring animals. Not nearly enough of that comes through in this book, which emphasizes the culinary delight of dining on calamari, the details of octopus harvesting, and the complex chemistry of the animal's various organs. Yes, there's information about their behavior and intelligence too, especially in the second half-hence three stars instead of two.

The dry, scientific tone often lacks immediacy and liveliness, and at several points I found myself counting the pages to the next chapter. There's a bit more humor and verve in the second half. And the book is well-researched.

But did we really need to know about a diving expedition during which the author saw not a single octopus? Did we really need to hear the author enthuse about her experience of dining on a fresh, still wriggling octopus tentacle-a practice and mode of preparation condemned by PETA?

In most of the book, Ms. Courage maintains a tone of aloof detachment that I found off-putting.
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on September 3, 2014
This book has so many problems it isn't even funny, well it kind of is, unless you paid for this or your tax dollars paid to put it in a library. Let's get started:

1. Chatty magazine-ish prose. Like a People magazine article on octopuses (yes, that is correct, there is no "i" in octopi). Words like "gazillion," "cool," and "bejesus" just don't belong in a natural science book. I cringe.

2. The first two chapters and half of the Introduction deals with, I kid you not, eating octopus. 60 pages including recipes. The first chapters! We are treated to both the details of the author's peregrinations to the various restaurants and then the gourmandizing itself. Complete with the live suckers sticking to her gums! Yeah! Good book so far.

3. Who is this book written for? Page 66: "The mouth is hidden away at the center of the eight arms. But be careful up there - it has a sharp beak and a scary toothed radula for drilling into hard shells. This chitin structure awkwardly positioned on the octopus's underside, at the center of all its appendages, almost evokes the strange myth of the vagina dentata. (But don't worry; because the female octopus accepts sperm from a male directly into her mantle, she keeps the chance for love bites to a minimum.)" Woo-who

4. Bad Science. Page 159. "A sucker's strength depends in part on how much volume it holds." Hmmm, volume of what? Presumably water. The murk becomes inkier. "Under water, that force is limited by the weakness of the water molecule itself." What? The suction force driven by a sucker is dependent on the "weakness" of the water molecules themselves.

'Once a sucker is stuck onto something, "if you reach the point where water capitates (sic) - where you're actually breaking apart the molecular structure of the water - so it is not holding itself together anymore, it will break" he says. So in theory,the octopus could generate more force of attachment if the water itself were stronger'

Where to start? Well the correct word would be cavitate not capitate. Cavitation creates suction by forcing a fluid to cavitate, form a lower pressure vapor by mechanical means instead of thermal means. Like when a propeller in a liquid turns fast enough to start cavitation, small unstable vapor bubbles are formed mechanically.

You are not at any point creating enough mechanical cavitation force to be "breaking apart the molecular structure of the water." There are forces between water molecules that are affected by cavitation, but the structures of the water molecules themselves never break apart. This would require truly tremendous mechanical forces no organic creature could manage.

Journalists should all be required to take at least one science course as an elective.

5. Plain absurdity: Page 97 Caption under a black & white photo that reads thus: "Woods Hole Octopus flashing its blue ring at me." I suppose we're to guess just exactly where this blue ring is on the b&w photo.

6. Dumbed down. The prior quote about vagina dentata excluded, this is written for a ten year olds reading level. It is just cringingly full of childish simile.

I'm not going to savage the author since this will get me flagged and it will serve no good purpose otherwise let it simply do to say Ms. Courage had great courage to attempt to write a science book that is clearly above her depth. (he, he, he)
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on February 14, 2014
An amateurish write-up of octopuses. Too much devoted to cooking and eating them (with meunues), rather than exploring its intelligence. No mention of the fact that their offspring inherit parents’ genetic memory.
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on March 16, 2014
Not to mention the few, black-and-white photos.

Yes, the author spends too many words on catching and cooking the octopus. It isn't until page 83 that the anatomy is addressed, to finally appease those of us who wanted to learn more about the camouflaging skin, the vision and behavior, the tentacles. But, alas, we are reminded, yet again, of the culinary affections of this cephalopod, on page 149, when the author gives yet another account of an octopus dish - this time, live, squirming, cut-up bits of tentacles dipped in a Korean sauce.

It just doesn't work. When I want "Best Octopus Recipes" I'll google it, okay?

When I buy a book about octopuses, I don't want to know how to catch them, kill them and cook, them, thank you very much.

I want to know about the creature. And see what these fabulous animals look like, with not-so-amateurish photos.
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on February 27, 2016
With eight arms, a bulbous head, the ability to change color and shape, and a gift for problem solving, the octopus has fascinated humanity for thousands of years. Katherine Harmon Courage’s “Octopus, The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea,” sketches this intelligent invertebrate’s history on the planet and our own briefer relationship with this submarine “beast” that we’ve both deified and vilified in literature and lore.

The author travels the world in search of the octopus, accompanying fishermen, marine biologists and even chefs to understand more about this largely reserved and solitary creature which spends much of its short life hiding in its den and focusing on the basic biological functions such as finding food, reproducing and dying, with only some time for tool use and play. Crafty enough to sneak in and out of a crab trap or its tank at the local aquarium, the octopus has oft been labeled the smartest invertebrate on the planet, and it has demonstrated the ability to tell the difference between individual people, eerily scrutinizing us while we study them. We even study them for what they anatomically teach us toward robotic engineering and neurology, although these intelligent, eight-armed test subjects have easily foiled our attempts at keeping electrodes fastened to them. However, these signs of intelligence and other admirable traits don’t prevent octopuses and other soft-bodied mollusks from being a delicacy on our menus.

Along the way, Ms. Courage introduces us to an interesting cast of scientists, naturalists, trappers and culinary experts and also reveals herself through her lively prose, sense of humor and honest treatment of the subject matter and her own very human flaws, such as a sloppy bout of seasickness. This honesty and her flair for non-technical content is why this book makes for such a fine introduction to the octopus world. The book is courageous enough to admit that there is still much about octopuses (and our impact on them and vice-versa) that we need to discover and that this is just the beginning of the journey.
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on November 22, 2014
A caveat have to have some sort of curiosity about these creatures to finish this book; while the author doesn't get too scientific, she does delve into the ever-increasing abilities of these intelligent roamers, from their changing adaptations to their delicious taste (some recipes are included, primarily traditional Greek and Italian fishing port dishes). And remember, this is an author who attended Vassar and has written for Scientific American so get ready for a Discovery-like read...but an interesting one. So to begin, yes, the octopus can change color and texture (to mimic rocks and even wavy algae) and do so in about 3/10 of a second. Keep an octopus in the dark for hours then turn on a light and the octopus will blend into the environment. Each of its arms are basically independent of its walnut-sized brain, functioning much like a series of command centers occasionally reporting to headquarters; but beyond that, each of the suckers on the arms are also independent, able to "taste" as well as grab or fold into a slit (and unlike our man made rubber suction cups, the octopus' suckers can hold or release at will and without the "pop" we so expect...robotics engineers are fascinated by this ability and are frustratingly working to figure out how this works). Their eyes have evolved much like ours...only better. They can see polarized light, have no blind spot, can possibly see more color wave lengths (we see three, some shrimp can see twelve), and possess a horizontal slit which has camera engineers rethinking if that is indeed a better system than our current circular-fan type far, the answer might be yes. Most octopuses (yes, that is the preferred plural spelling, despite the popular octopi spelling) are harmless (other than their birdlike beak for eating) but some are quite poisonous, one type weighing less than an ounce having enough bacterial venom to paralyze and kill ten humans within an hour). And that's the author just getting started. If you jump to her acknowledgements in the back, you can almost feel her enthusiasm at getting this book out; and that freshness emerges in her writing. But again, as fascinating as octopuses are, if you're not so inclined to read further on this subject, then you may not find this book quite worth IS after all, titled Octopus, and that's what it's about. Ten percent legends and lore, ten percent fishing expeditions and local scientists, and the balance all octopus. But if you ever wanted to learn more about one of the most interesting creatures (they are quite solitary, almost impossible to raise in a lab or commercially, and have been here on earth for 500 million years) then this is one heck of a primer; and in this book, the author does an amazing job of making an interesting subject even more interesting.
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I only wish that the author had included more photos, especially in color. Octopuses are such amazing and intelligent creatures, but her book is a bit too much like a textbook. I was disappointed that there were very few photos.
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on April 26, 2015
Octopus! suffers from a fatal misjudgment of its own target audience, somehow confusing people who want to read a book about an animal with people who want to eat that animal. In fact, as obsessed with plating the 'pus as Katherine Harmon Courage's book is, the subhead should have been The Most Delicious Creature in the Sea: the first sixty pages are devoted entirely to the octopus as culinary object.

Courage, who apparently undertook this project after writing a blog post for Scientific American on tool-wielding octopus, is a solid if uninspiring science writer, and the latter parts of the books dedicated to fascinating facts about the octopus (camo skin! super suckers! smarter than your average bear!) are the most readable bits of the work. What Courage is not is a conversational travel writer, and it feels very much like some editor told her she needed to sandwich her sciencey bits in between mildly-humorous personal travelogues to make her book marketable. The result is an unfortunate Frankenstein stitched together with recipes that seem in extremely bad taste given the amount of time Courage spends talking about how bright octopus are and how much personality they can have. Certainly cephalopods as foodstuffs needed to be addressed, but the way it's handled here might drive you temporarily vegetarian.

Coming in at just over two hundred pages, Octopus! also feels a little light, and is surprisingly lacking in its assessment of octopus in social, historical, literary, and mythological context. Still, there's some interesting scientific trivia to be had here...provided you can stomach the way it's served up.
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on May 5, 2014
This was written by a non-scientist magazine writer for the non-scientist. It is easy to read and normally fun but just a bit too many attempts at octo-humor. I would have preferred a more in-depth study and less on eating octopus. I don't read cookbooks. I'm no where near a PETA person but I'm sure this book will drive them crazy as eating Octopus seems to be a main theme including the entire first chapter. The treatment of the Giant Squid in "Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid" by Wendy Williams is more what I was expecting of this book. Don't misread me - the book was interesting, informative and fun to read and I give it four stars for that, HOWEVER, the sparse black and white pictures were both horrible quality and rarely added to the story. They seemed very random and unnecessary. I'd have kept this review at 4 stars sans "photos" or whatever they were. (Black and White Blurry unimportant images would be a better term) I'd check this one out from the library and not add it to your own.
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