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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  29,267 ratings  ·  4,481 reviews
In pursuit of the wild, solitary, predatory octopus, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism. From New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her ...more
Hardcover, 261 pages
Published May 12th 2015 by Atria Books
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Elizabeth Stolar I think the answer is very simple: If other beings can't think or feel, that makes it easy and ok to do whatever you want to them -- kill them, destro…moreI think the answer is very simple: If other beings can't think or feel, that makes it easy and ok to do whatever you want to them -- kill them, destroy their homes/habitats, eat them, experiment on them, torture them, enslave them, etc. (less)
Linda Grant The book is primarily about the connections that the author, a naturalist working with the Boston Aquarium, made with several octopuses living there. …moreThe book is primarily about the connections that the author, a naturalist working with the Boston Aquarium, made with several octopuses living there. The author learned that these animals can think, solve problems, and have an emotional life as well.(less)

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Bethany Johnsen
I'm kind of "eh" on this book. It bills itself as a "surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness," I guess because it shares a few fun facts about octopus neurology (e.g. THEY HAVE NEURONS IN THEIR ARMS!) and references a few philosophers of mind (e.g. Thomas Nagel) in passing. Maybe it's the former philosophy major in me, but IMHO saying "Hmm, I REALLY wonder what it would be like to be an octopus! Can we even know?" does not qualify as an exploration into the wonders of consciousne ...more
Wil Wheaton
Mar 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's such a beautiful book, such an incredible story. I already loved octopuses, but this book deepened and strengthened my love for them, and all cephalopods. It's an easy read, and by the time you're finished, you'll be asking yourself questions about consciousness, inter-species communication, and maybe even feeling a little more of a bond with the fishes who live in your aquarium ... I know that I did. ...more
Petra-X Off having adventures
I had previously read Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest by this author and had to give it up because it contained very little fact, an awful lot of conjecture and far too much about Sy Montgomery who obviously finds the preoccupations of her spiritual soul far more fascinating than I do. So this time, wanting to read about octopuses I thought I would listen to the book. It was worse!

This is because the author read it herself and it's purpleness, it's fruitiness was increased by her e
Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Although occasionally repetitive, The Soul of an Octopus is a tearful, informative, and memorable love note to octopuses - those strange yet wondrous creatures, intelligent and brimming with personality, that captivate and terrify in equal measure.
Oct 14, 2015 rated it did not like it
The only “surprising” thing about this “exploration into the wonder of consciousness” is that the author so thoroughly convinces us of Octopuses beauty, intelligence and individual personalities yet sees no conflict with keeping them captive, often in cruel conditions. Most of the Octopuses intimately investigated in the book were wild caught and are now captive in public aquariums, namely the New England Aquarium in Boston. They were not rescued due to an injury nor born in captivity and imprin ...more
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin
I had to read this book today because it was due back on Overdrive, so this is going to be a short review until I get my OWN paperback copy.

This book made me cry!!! The creatures and the people both had me torn up at times.

I'm a wildlife lover and activist so I try to branch out into different books on creatures I know nothing about. I was worried this was going to be another textbook style read and I don't like those. This is about a woman (the author) who gets to study octopuses <--- (not oc
Diane S ☔
Mar 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 Though simply written I found this book to be both informative and delightful. I knew nothing about the octopus except for pictures in National Geographic, so this was all new to me. So surprising to learn how clever these creatures are, the variations in size, from six inches with 23 inch tentacles to the giants of the sea. How they use these tentacles like conveyors belts to feed, how they change colors based on mood, how they can show displeasure. How clever they are, escape artists, can ...more
Dov Zeller
It was interesting reading other GR reviews about this book. Some folks complained it wasn't sciency enough, or that it claims to do things that it doesn't, finally, do.

I can understand folks' frustration with Montgomery's approach. For people looking for a hard-core science book, maybe this isn't the one. Montgomery is essentially telling the story of her journey of studying octopuses, which can't stop at the octopus, because they are part of a larger world. I think that's some of the message
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
When I started this I expected a scientific journal watered down for the non scientific reader. I did not expect it to be a personal journal with some scientific facts thrown in. I was looking for more science, more facts then offered. I was a bit miffed at the personal moments, her diving lessons, her ear troubles, relationships of companions. I wanted more information on the octopus and it fascinating life. Fascinating they are, and there is so much more that we still are far from understandin ...more
Montzalee Wittmann
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and narrated by the author, is such a delightful book that warmed my heart and I didn't want it to end. I felt so entranced by the love of the sea life, especially these precious octopuses, that I felt I knew them. Warning, make sure you have tissue handy for happy times and grieving moments. This book was a true blessing! I felt so in touch with life, the universe, and my own personal thoughts after listening to this. It was a soothing balm for the soul!
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, non-fic
Octopuses get a bum rap in popular culture. They've starred in numerous books and films, pulling sailors (and sometimes ships) into briny graves, lurking about in holes waiting to ambush unsuspecting divers and even attacking submarines. They've long been a shorthand for 'monster' - there's a reason Cthulhu has an octopus for a head - but these sensitive, smart beasties have been unfairly maligned.

Sy Montgomery's book, The Soul of an Octopus is an antidote to these negative perceptions, and does
May 07, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, 2015
I have a love hate relationship with this book. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by the author and she did a great job of narrating. The descriptions of the octupuses were beautiful and the discussions about their habits, emotions, and intelligence were very interesting.

But (and you knew this was coming), I don't think aquariums should catch or pay to catch animals from the wild for their exhibits. Even though the people in the book cared about their charges, in reading you could
Amy (Other Amy)
The service is conducted in Tahitian, a language I don't understand. But I understand the power of worship, and the importance of contemplating mystery - whether in a church or diving a coral reef. The mystery that congregants seek here is no different, really, from the one I have sought in my interactions with Athena and Kali, Karma and Octavia. It is no different from the mystery we pursue in all our relationships, in all our deepest wonderings. We seek to fathom the soul. [...] But I am certa ...more
Mar 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was a lovely book—both fascinating and deeply kind, with a lot to interest a broad swath of readers. The science is accessible without being dumb, and at the same time Montgomery brings the octopuses (NOT octopi!) and their personalities (yes, they have 'em) really vividly to life. Plus I love reading about any interest that attracts the oddballs among us, and octopuses definitely seem to fall into that category—I guess I can count myself among those oddballs now. Thus ends any pulpo consum ...more
Aug 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A Giant Pacific Octopus

No still photograph can possibly capture the weird, other-worldly grace of these creatures, so here is a video:

Do octopuses have souls? I remain agnostic on the subject of octopus souls but they most certainly have brains. They use tools and solve puzzles. They seem to play. They recognize and react to different humans--both by tasting them with their suckers, but also by seeing them with their remarkable eyes. Most of all, octopuses
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Never thought I'd weep for an octopus. Not a spoiler: you will meet lots of octopuses in this moving memoir. (Also, among the myriad things I learned about this incredibly smart and empathetic animal is this: the plural is not octopi.) This is a lovely and wise book that will remind you of just how much we share with creatures that seem spectacularly foreign to us -- such as the octopus. ...more
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
First nonfiction book to ever make me cry. This was informative, thought-provoking, and absolutely beautiful.
aPriL does feral sometimes
Until I read ‘The Soul of an Octopus’, by Sy Montgomery, talented amateur scientist (journalist) octopuses were almost not ever in my thoughts in any way. As I have learned in reading this book, this was a serious deficiency in my education.

First of all, giant Pacific octopuses have been living near my home all my life in Seattle, a port city. I have walked and partied on Seattle’s beaches all of my life and ate seafood at restaurants with beachside tables on Seattle’s piers. The Seattle Aquari
"Soul is the fingerprint of God."
- Sy Montgomery


I love octopuses. Sy Montgomery loves octopuses. I would love to discover a logical expression that would allow me, however, to love Sy Montgomery's book on Octopuses. The dialogue was plastic and the book was just too mawkish and too, for me, focused on the human experiences with the octopuses and not enough on the SOUL or the OCTOPUS.

An octopus has 3 hearts, perhaps I just have none. Could be the case. Could also be true that I am not the target
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery is an entertaining, highly personal, and very informative look at the intelligence and consciousness of one of the worlds most fascinating animals. Thinking of intelligent creatures on our planet, it's quick to point to the ability of chimpanzees to learn sign language or German shepherds in policing and military environments to sniff out bombs, but an Octopus is an even more intriguing subject on the matter. Octopuses are invertebrates, but who thinks of ...more
Lisa See
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I had read an op ed by the author, Sy Montgomery, and felt compelled to buy the book. Who know I would be so captivated?
Apr 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Actually, I've loved all the books I've read by Sy Montgomery. She writes beautifully, and she has an amazing ability to create a nonfiction book that is a real page turner. Through Sy's visits to the New England Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium, and through her scuba adventures in the wild (which truly were adventurous), you'll learn a lot about octopuses (apparently, the plural is NOT octopi, as I had previously thought), and you'll enjoy every minute of it. Although octopu ...more
I love octopuses. I have always found them fascinating, graceful and absolutely beautiful in that utterly alien way. Their otherness actually inspired one of my favorite tattoos, a Pacific octopus on my left leg, that coils around my ankle and foot (which subsequently led to my getting bombarded with octopus-themed stuff every birthday and Christmas – from shower curtains, salt and pepper shakers, mugs, purses, bottle of booze that happen to have a cephalopod on the label; you name, I got it). T ...more
Melissa (Mel’s Bookshelf)
This was an enjoyable book about a couple of friendly octopuses (yes that is the correct plural term, I looked it up!) and an extremely enthusiastic octopus-loving author.

Sy Montgomery also narrates the audio version of this non-fiction memoir about her time at the New England Aquarium with these octopuses over a period of a few years. Why a few years? Because they only live to be a few years old. Did I teach you something new? Because I had no idea they had such short lives! This book really ta
Katie Ziegler (Life Between Words)
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I never in a million years thought I would feel a kinship or a keen interest in Octupuses. I did not go into this book fascinated with Octopuses; I read it because it claimed to explore consciousness and the soul. A topic I'm fascinated with given my grandmother's diagnosis and long and losing battle with Alzheimer's Disease. In fact, in terms of the subject matter of this book, I'm still not sure I'd really want to commune with an octopus in the same way as the author. For a hot second I imagin ...more
The title is somehow misleading: it is more of an exploration into the author’s feelings and her excitement when meeting an octopus. The very few scientific data could be easily found on Wikipedia and the writing style is, to put it mildly, childish. But then I read that the author wrote some children’s books also – aha, so there’s the explanation.

But on the other hand, it was a light and mostly ok read. Nothing new about octopodes* if you have seen a documentary or two about them, but I enjoyed
Is it possible to weep for an octopus' death?

Sy Montgomery combines scientific inquiry with her own moving meditations on the purpose of life, the perception of time, and the possibilities of connection in this book. Her subject is the giant Pacific octopus, and she relates her intimate interactions with four of them, residents of the New England Aquarium in Boston. When she touches her first, an octopus named Athena, she is surprised. “...[H]er head is silky and softer than custard. Her skin i
Jul 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Sometimes, when the news from the human world is just too depressing, I like to escape into a book about the natural world. This book allowed me a look into a world entirely unknown to me, the oceanic world of octopuses (and yes, it is 'octopuses', not 'octopi'). Most of the octopus friends the author introduces live in aquariums, in particular, the New England Aquarium. They have short lives, usually just three years (and that is in captivity), but they are truly amazing, intelligent creatures. ...more
MissBecka Gee
You can feel the passion & excitement from the author as she narrates the book.
I enjoyed all the bits surrounding octopuses and learning new stuff about these amazing creatures.
I was less enthused by the weird (and unnecessary in most cases) human stories.
I don't care about the people you work with and their personal stories that are completely unrelated to octopuses.
Tell me more about the octopuses!!!
Decent book, but lots of filler stuff that had it been left out, I think this book would have
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Play Book Tag: (Poll Ballot Tally) The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery - 4 stars 4 14 Oct 04, 2020 10:46AM  
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Part Indiana Jones, part Emily Dickinson, as the Boston Globe describes her, Sy Montgomery is an author, naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and radio commentator who has traveled to some of the worlds most remote wildernesses for her work. She has worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba, been hunted by a tiger in India, swum with pink dolphins in the Amazon, and been undressed b ...more

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