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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness Paperback – April 5, 2016
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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 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.
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, is written by Sy Montgomery, an author, naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and radio commentator. It offers a very readable and rather unique blend of personal experience, scientific knowledge and philosophical opinion about what is understood, and unknown, about the nature of octopuses.
I knew little about octopuses—not even that the scientifically correct plural is not octopi, as I had always believed (it turns out you can’t put a Latin ending—i—on a word derived from Greek, such as octopus). But what I did know intrigued me. Here is an animal with venom like a snake, a beak like a parrot, and ink like an old-fashioned pen. It can weigh as much as a man and stretch as long as a car, yet it can pour its baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange. It can change color and shape. It can taste with its skin. Most fascinating of all, I had read that octopuses are smart."
What Montogomery is able to show in The Soul of an Octopus is that octopuses are complex creatures who exhibit personality, intelligence and emotion, despite having neural systems completely alien to our own. During her time spent at the New England Aquarium she befriended several individual octopuses including Athena, who was the subject of a popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, "Deep Intellect" which went viral and was the inspiration for this book, Octavia, Kali and Karma. Through her study of, and interaction with, these extraordinary creatures she shares what she learns from both science and her experiences, while musing on the mystery of the 'inner lives' of the octopus, who grow from the size of a grain of rice and live for, on average, just four short years.
The Soul of an Octopus is as smart, playful, curious and surprising as the creature it features. A fascinating read I'd highly recommend.
Most recent customer reviews
Very little. Of octopi having met. Only one. Henry befriended me when I leaned against his cage.Read more