The Soul of an Octopus

Sy Montgomery
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Jul 5, 2015

Lately I've been traveling a lot, and a string of great nonfiction audiobooks have kept me sane. I need something fascinating, hopefully with a touch of humor, to keep me awake and not bored out of my mind while I travel. Having hit the jackpot with my last choice, I was hoping my next choice wouldn't disappoint. And luckily, serendipity led me to Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus

Books on animal psychology, done well, are some of my very favorites. I've loved books like Irene Pepperberg's Alex & Me and Karen Pryor's Reaching the Animal Mind. I want smart science and interesting questions about consciousness and theory of mind. I would also appreciate not needing too many Kleenexes at hand. The Soul of an Octopus delivers! (Although you will indeed need Kleenexes.) It's the story of a woman's growing fascination with this species that has inspired horror, disgust and fascination. It's also the story of several individual octopuses (the correct plural, I learned) that she got to know, and the story of her quest to better understand them. It's also the story of the people these amazing animals brought her into contact with. It is entirely engrossing, especially in audio. The author herself reads it and you can quite clearly hear her elation, fascination and tenderness as she describes her adventures and experiences. It's also disturbing and upsetting, particularly when you wonder why Montgomery didn't fight as hard as she could for better treatment and care of these animals she clearly cares for. For instance, one of the cephalopod characters, a clearly lively and curious individual, is kept for basically her whole life in a tiny barrel. I'm pretty sure my memoir would have ended with me busting that octopus out of her barrel and going on an escape/rescue mission to save others in captivity, too.

It's available in print too, if that's what floats your octopus boat.


ETA: I recently read Other Minds, which is about cephalopods, science, and philosophy, and it's absolutely enthralling. And there are no mistreated, captive animals.

Reviewed by Jo F.
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