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.
©2015 Recorded by arrangement with Atria, a Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc. (P)2015 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
I am a grower. A tangle of vines weaving round myrtle branch fences. Rusty metal, soft stone, and worn wood. Unkempt curls and knees covered in clay. I listen.
This is a really beautiful book. Sy definitely did her homework when it comes to the hard science, but her natural curiosity and passion for understanding the natural world comes through in the most joyfully contagious way. I admire her for writing from both persecutive so deftly! She is not afraid to put herself in the picture and by proxy the reader. Her emotions are heartfelt, but also not left unexamined. Even when anthropomorphizing the Octopus she takes the time to explore and also explain how those sentiments are both helpful and harmful at times.
I don't think that I have read any other naturalist writing that exactly compares to this book, but the first thing that comes to mind would be Michael Pollan's book Botany of Desire. However I think that the qualities that make me want to compare these two books is the attempt at seeing life from the perspective of the subject. That at the natural passion of the writers.
I personally love when the authors read their work, because so often you can hear the emotion in their voices as they retell the stories that they have written.
There were actually a few, but I feel like I shouldn't spill the beans here. I experienced both swells of joy/awe and deep sadness. There were a couple times in the book when I was brought close to tears.
This book is definitely worth the read! Especially if you are a naturalist at heart!
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.
Can't stop listening
A family member's obsession with cephalopods brought me to this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It opened up a whole new world for me and I didn't find it overly sweetened or pedestrian. If I was forced to quibble, it would be about the nature of consciousness being glossed over too much. But the content was well presented.
This book made me YEARN to meet an Octopus! Written with great compassion and a profound respect and love of the the grace and beauty of the great truth about the inner life of sentient beings besides ourselves!
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.
This story is beautiful and well written, with interesting insight into the personalities of octopuses. Throughout the narration, I find myself longing to switch places with the author, so that I may experience the things written if first hand.
Depends on who it is. I found the book enjoyable and interesting to a point, but the author could get a little too caught up in emotional speculation.
Perhaps, but not sure
Several touching and astounding moments focusing on the octopus's amazing abilities
I like the book in general, but there was just a tad too much kuybaya.
cephalopod/tentacle fetishists, woo ladies, people who like their science with huge globs of anthropomorphism
i was hoping this would be a more scientific observation of the author's interactions with an animal, followed up by scientific hypotheses as to why these interactions might be occurring the way they do. instead, it is a series of anecdotes dripping with human emotions applied to a non-human animal, and really visceral overindulgent descriptions of the "caresses" she got from the octopus, which made us really, really uncomfortable in the car. i LOVE cephalopods. just not... you know... like that. we did a lot of ear plugging while yelling. we kept expecting it to get better. it didn't. especially with the inflection of the reader, even non-sexual adjectives come across as trashy romance novel fodder.
everything she wrote about her personal experiences. the collected stories of various labs and aquariums were amusing, but the way she wrote about her own interactions was really uncomfortable and new-agey.
I was really excited about this when I saw it, because there aren't many that I know of about the intelligence of octopuses. The first 20% of the book contained some interesting situations and examples of octopus intelligence, but nothing I had not heard before. I was hoping to hear something really interesting and new. After that, it was riddled with facts about other animals more so than the octopus.
The hardest part about this audio book was that the author was the reader, and she really tries too hard to inject emotion into it. Over-emphasizing is the only way I can describe it. For me, it was super-distracting.
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