Book Club, Memoir/Autobiography, Nonfiction, STEM

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

It’s another nonfiction book club book! And we had a record 9 people at book club last night which was the most we’ve had all year and it was so exciting. Especially since we voted on the next couple books, it was lovely to have more than a handful of people there to vote so it felt more like a group effort!


From the Back Cover:
Popular naturalist Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus, the remarkable connections it makes with people, and the vibrant community that arises around this complex, intelligent, and spirited creature. Practicing true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks tot he reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, Montgomery befriends individual octopuses with strikingly different personalities – gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma – who show their cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures, creative trickery to get food, and jetting water to bounce balls. Montgomery also chronicles scientists’ growing appreciation of the octopus’s problem-solving as she tells a love story.

Click on this graphic to explore the book page on LibraryThing!
This graphic was used as my staff pick blurb at the bookstore I used to work at.


We had such a lively discussion yesterday about this remarkable book, The Soul of an Octopus. We discussed everything from the discussion of what makes something science (a continuation from The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs), as well as an in depth debate about whether or not animals have their own code of morality and ethics and how we can study them without imposing our own values and emotions onto their actions. Basically, if we anthropomorphize animals, are we actually learning from them?

Additionally, and this is where I’ll start, I always ask the book club where we should shelve a particular nonfiction title in the store – often it is so hard to pinpoint one particular genre for a book, be it fiction or nonfiction. And while we agreed that there is a strong nature element to the book (which is the section we normally have it shelved in), we agreed that we would probably categorize the book first as an autobiography, second as philosophy, and third as nature, due to the lack of hard science in the book.

And then we agreed, the book is much stronger for the lack of hard science. It is narrative nonfiction in the strongest sense – it has a strong sense of storytelling and Sy constantly makes connections between what she is observing with her new cephalopod friends and the lives of the humans around her. Her chronicle of the lives of the two primary octopuses in her life (fun fact, always octopuses, not octopi) is absolutely fascinating – I had absolutely NO idea that octopuses could behave in the ways they do.

While Sy is often quick to apply human emotion to her octopus observations, I am more hesitant. While I can only view an animal, or any scientific research through my lens as a human, I have to believe, personally, that humans are not the only creatures on this earth to have greater thoughts than are observable by others. We had an extensive conversation about this as well as what actually constitutes intelligence versus instinct. Can an animal without a brain be intelligent? Can an animal with a brain rely on more than instinct to make decisions?

If anyone has read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these questions, and I’m happy to report as well, it’s one of my favorite selections of the year.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Click this image to visit the book page on my Bookshop page!

4 thoughts on “The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery”

  1. This really was a fascinating book. I ended up a little disappointed with it because I’d read her article first, the one that I think eventually led to the book, and I expected something a little different based on that. But it was still so compelling and affecting.

    Liked by 1 person

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