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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness Hardcover – May 12, 2015
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“Enter the mysterious intelligent alien world of the octopus. Experience a real intelligence based on a sense of touch that humans can barely imagine.” (Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation)
"Renowned author Sy Montgomery's latest gem is a must read for those who want to dissolve the human-constructed borders between "them" (other animals) and us. Surely, there are large differences among nonhuman animals and between nonhuman and human animals, but there also are many basic similarities. Connecting with other animals is part of the essential and personal process of rewilding and reconnecting with other animals, and The Soul of an Octopus is just what is needed to close the gap." (Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional lives of Animals)
"Diving deeper than Jules Verne ever dreamed, The Soul of an Octopus is a page-turning adventure that will leave you breathless. Has science ever been this deliciously hallucinatory? Boneless and beautiful, the characters here are not only big-hearted, they're multi-hearted, as well as smart, charming, affectionate...and, of course, ambidextrous. If there is a Mother Nature, her name is Sy Montgomery." (Vicki Constantine Croke, author of Elephant Company)
"In The Soul of an Octopus, Sy Montgomery immerses readers into an intriguing, seductive world just beneath the ocean waves and the lives of the creatures living within. In this beautifully written book, she brings empathy, insight, and an enchanting sense of wonderment to the bonds we inherently share with other beings—even those seeming far different from us." (Vint Virga, DVM The Soul of All Living Creatures)
“A captivating book on an intelligence as ‘alien’ as one from outer space. And its not science fiction.” (Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven)
"Can an octopus have a mind and emotions, let alone a soul? Sy Montgomery faces these questions head-on in her engaging new book as she explores the world of octopuses, making friends with several and finding heartbreak when they die. They aren't, she discovers, simply brainless invertebrates, but personable, playful, conscious beings. Montgomery's enthusiasm for animals most of us rarely see is infectious, and readers will come away with a new appreciation for what it means to be an octopus." (Virginia Morell, author of ANIMAL WISE: How We Know Animals Think and Feel)
"With apparent delight, Montgomery puts readers inside the world of these amazing creatures. A fascinating glimpse into an alien consciousness." (Kirkus Reviews)
"The Soul of an Octopus is one of those works that makes you hope we can save the planet if for no other reason than to preserve the wondrous beasts we are fortunate enough to share it with." (Steve Lysaker, Outward Hounds)
"Sy Montgomery’s joyful passion for these intelligent and fascinating creatures will have you rethinking that order of calamari." (Library Journal Editors' Spring Pick)
"Sweet moments are at the heart of Montgomery's compassionate, wise and tender new book... Only a writer of her talent could make readers care about octopuses as individuals... Joins a growing body of literature that asks us to rethink our connection to nonhumans who may be more like us than we had supposed." (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
About the Author
Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and author of twenty acclaimed books of nonfiction for adults and children, including the National Book Award finalist The Soul of an Octopus and the memoir The Good Good Pig, a New York Times bestseller. The recipient of numerous honors, including lifetime achievement awards from the Humane Society and the New England Booksellers Association, she lives in New Hampshire with her husband, border collie, and flock of chickens.
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The book gets two stars because I did read it in its entirety - an easy enough read - and enjoyed the occasional information tidbits; furthermore if this treatment of the topic persuades anyone out there to think anew about such creatures, then despite shortcomings, there is some value to it.
However, I give it no more than two stars for two reasons:
1. This was pretty thin gruel, as others have said, with respect to any new or particularly insightful information about octopus behaviors or relationships or what we might deduce about octopus intellect or emotional life from closely and rigorously observing these things. This more is a story about the author's many visits 'behind the scenes' to a series of captured aquarium octopuses, and about the aquarium staff associated with that activity. The main gist about 'soulfulness' is drawn from how these confined creatures responded to the author, and others, in ways that she interpreted to be friendship. Perhaps so, perhaps not - she offers little to support this beyond the sensation of suckers winding up her arms, and what may have just as likely been the animals' desperate attempts to find relief from such close boring confines.
2. That leads to the second reason for only two stars. If as seems the case that the author and aquarium staff care so deeply for these creatures, how can they then reconcile confining - alone - in a small dark boring pickle barrel for months at a time, animals captured in young and mid-life from their wild free oceanic homes. It might just be that these octopuses rise up in their barrel prison and taste those protruding arms with their suckers because there is NOTHING ELSE TO DO other than dying of depression. This confinement seems cruel beyond imagining...indeed one of the captured octopuses does die trying to escape, and others chomp at the restraints in similar attempts. It seems we've come to some consensus that this is not the way to treat primates, why then should it be ok for marine creatures which are being highlighted in this very same book as smart, soulful, and sentient. Does not add up.
One can reasonably argue the value, plusses and minuses of zoos and aquarium in general, but capturing and tightly confining smart, free, wild animals for eventual display - and losing some in this process as the price of doing business - does have implications that are an inherent yet all but unacknowledged under-theme of this book. This created a wrinkle that this reader at least just could not overcome.
For a more cogent treatment of this topic, I recommend Carl Safina's 'Beyond Words, What Animals Think and Feel' or watch his excellent recent TED talk on the same topic.
I read this book after "What a Fish Knows" which is a brilliant book, very insightful, and maybe I set the bar too high and was expecting something similar.