The Soul of an Octopus: Review

There’s that whole saying, isn’t there – don’t judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately I do this all the time, and that was pretty much the sole reason that I ended up picking up The Soul of an Octopus a couple of months ago. However, much to my delight, I was not disappointed! 

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This book is basically a science paper – it follows the development and actions of octopuses (first thing I learnt in this book – it’s octopuses, not octopi…) at the New England Aquarium over a fairly lengthy period of time. However, the book also has some extremely personal elements to it too. Sy Montgomery (the author) takes you on her own journey in which she tries to learn to scuba dive. It’s actually a little traumatic, and you can really feel her distress in her writing – something many writers, both fictional and non-fictional, aspire to achieve. You also have the friends that she makes at the aquarium, and their own troubles – Wilson’s wife and Anna’s school-life issues. Montgomery works to make them feel like your own friends, and had me reacting to their own problems as if they were my own. Then there’s the actual octopus bit. I learnt so so much from this book, it was unreal. It really made me question a lot of things – both octopus and non-octopus related. The heartbreak and despair felt at the death of one octopus in particular had me tearing up a little.

This definitely isn’t one of those easy reads that you cruise through on the beach in 2 days. This is one of those “it took me two weeks to finish, but I’m so glad I read it” books. It’s intense. It’s, as I stated at the beginning, a science paper with a bit of a personal twist to it. However, it is well worth a read if you can pick it up.

Favorite page/line: Page 190 – “Karma can help us develop wisdom and compassion. In Hinduism, karma is a path to reaching the state of Brahman, the highest god, the Universal Self, the World Soul. Our karma is something over which, unlike fate, we do have control”.

Read if: You want something a bit different and something to broaden your mind. You don’t have to be a scientist at all to read this one!


5 comments on “The Soul of an Octopus: Review

  1. Great review!


  2. Toongirl

    Some animal behaviorists are slowly starting to realize that it may be best to err on the side of anthropomorphism than anthropocentrism, especially when it comes to mammals. Consider that the mammalian family tree had many millions of years to develop cognition & such proven animal emotions such as empathy, jealousy, & affection long before humans came onto the scene. By taking the above into account, it makes more sense to see that humans inherited such traits of consciousness from their animal forbears than assuming cognition & emotions are a recently evolved human-only monopoly.

    So if we can happily accept that dolphins are obviously intelligent & sensitive mammals, then the fact that octopuses, an animal much further separated from us on the Tree of Life, also exhibits higher brain functions & personalities should be even further proof that higher cognition & advanced behavioral abilities already existed in many animal species far back in Earth’s time long before the arrival of “Man.”


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