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Octopus!: The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea

3.8 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1591845270
ISBN-10: 1591845270
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Octopuses have been around for 300 million years, surfacing in ancient mythology and various cuisines and currently living the world over in an array of several hundred species that are, to our mammalian eyes, strange, even alien. Courage, an associate editor of Scientific American, gamely explores the bustling realm of the octopus. She endures seasickness off the coast of Spain while watching two fishermen haul up hundreds of octopuses, adding to the 50,000 tons caught and consumed each year. She follows the tentacle trail to Brooklyn, Puerto Rico, and Greece. But the most fascinating chapters in this entertaining and eye-opening inquiry are Courage’s laboratory visits with scientists who are in awe of the “smartest invertebrate” on the planet. With their three hearts, regenerating arms, remarkable musculature, and superhero powers, octopuses can radically change shape, size, texture, and color. Underwater genies of disguise, they are well-armed and adept at escape. Scientists are eager to learn how these startlingly intelligent and dexterous marine creatures perform their miraculous transformations, and readers will look forward to more of Courage’s jauntily elucidating dispatches. --Donna Seaman


“The octopus is like an alternate experiment in intelligent life—sophisticated, alluring, and wholly alien. In her fresh, deeply reported

book, Katherine Harmon Courage makes this creature a little less mysterious, but no less marvelous.”
CARL ZIMMER, author of A Planet of Viruses and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution

“What is it like to be an octopus? We need to imagine that our arms, all eight of them, can think and that our skin can see. Despite our obvious trouble understanding this invertebrate, no one doubts its intellect. A delightful book about a fascinating creature!”

FRANS DE WAAL, author of The Bonobo and the Atheist

“According to this book, octopuses can sprout temporary horns. Horns! Seriously, you need to read this book.”
WILL TRACY, editor in chief, The Onion

“A pleasant, chatty book on a fascinating subject.”

“[A] well-written, accessible book”.
-Library Journal
“Katherine Harmon Courage’s reportage on what the mollusk is teaching us about robotics, invertebrate intelligence and camouflage is excellent”
Nature Journal
“In journalist Katherine Harmon Courage’s intimate, expansive portrait of these mysterious creatures, she reveals their role in everything from military research to tasty cuisine.”
Psychology Today
"Katherine Harmon Courage’s first book Octopus! is crammed with funny, weird, memorable stories about human interactions with cephalopods that start out strange and only get stranger."

"I love Octopus! What creature is more beguiling, expressive and enigmatic? Katherine Harmon Courage's breezy, accessible book introduces us to a top predator, a shape-shifter, a sea mystery that no one can resist."
--SY MONTGOMERY, author of Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Current (October 31, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591845270
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591845270
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #759,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
A caveat here...you 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 lens...so far, the answer might be yes.Read more ›
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