Book Review

the Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

MONTGOMERY, S. (2015). The soul of an octopus: a surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery  has an excellent balance of story telling and fact sharing. It was like hearing a story from a science friend who wants to keep you informed with all their experiences, as well as share everything they learned with you.

Octopus Karma at the New Englad Aquarium, January 2017. photo credit: Anne M. Hartwell


In this non-fiction story the author, Sy Montgomery, details her journey through many trips to the New England Aquarium as she makes friends with humans and octopuses alike.  She also takes us to the shallow ocean on a few SCUBA expeditions, and across the country to Seattle  for some octopuses romance on Valentine’s day.  The story chronicles the relationships she builds with the aquarium scientists and volunteers, and the unexpected, yet very special, bonds she shares with the octopuses she meets along the way.  Sy Montgomery comes away from her story having learned more about herself and the world around her thanks to her enthusiastic obsession with the mystifying octopus.  She was pleasantly surprised to learn just how much octopuses can teach us, and that, even though humans are obviously very different than octopuses anatomically, our souls are not so different.


Sy Montgomery’s style is informal, detailed, honest, and funny. The book is comfortable and relatable.  It is suitable for any adult reader, or mature teen, who Is looking for a relaxed story that can teach them a thing or two about marine life.  Montgomery does elude to some references that, as a female, I found practically humorous, but the majority of her experiences are not gender specific.

Octopus Karma at the New England Aquarium, January 2017. photo credit: Anne M. Hartwell

Montgomery’s stories convey many emotions.  She emphatically describes the joy of getting to know new friends.  Each character Montgomery introduces has their own story- some happier than others.  All in all Montgomery’s story, and the character’s stories within it, reveal many happy experiences, like love and birth, but they also share experiences with the pressures of poor health, the pain of death, and the agony of not knowing the right answer.   In this way the book is appropriate for a wide audience with a variety of backgrounds.

The Soul of an Octopus is best read a little bit each night, in my opinion.  The author interjects many  detailed and educational tangents into the relaying of her story. The tangents, which are usually relevant to the tale being told and are always about marine life, break up each chapter in a way that caters to ‘small bite’ readers like myself.  My mother on the other hand, who generally reads for pleasure more so than myself and also enjoyed the book, finished it in about a week.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a relaxed read- and particularly to those who appreciate the unspoken bonds we are able to form with animals.

The Soul of an Octopus is a New York Times Bestseller and was a finalist for the National Book Award.  The 244 page story is available in paperback and hardbound; both have a nice selection of color photographs in the middle.  Sy Montgomery has received recognition as an author of science non-fiction books geared towards adults and children.



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