Octopuses have gotten a bad rap for ages. Historically viewed as monsters of the deep, very little was known about these critters until recently. “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness,” by Sy Montgomery, delves into these highly intelligent creatures. Montgomery relates her years of behind-the-scenes experience at Boston’s New England Aquarium. There, she came to know several octopuses, each enchanting her (and the reader) for different reasons.
Montgomery goes on to explore the realm of animal consciousness that is categorized by science as anthropomorphic. Who are we to say for certain what animals think and feel when in actuality we know so very little? One can only watch, wonder, and hypothesize. One thing’s for sure, humans still have so very much to learn.
The book is also a memoir, as Montgomery is very much a part of the story. It follows her relations with fellow enthusiasts, her struggles with scuba diving, and her own emotional connection to the creatures. The book can be incredibly sad. Octopuses live very short lives of only a few years. Montgomery finds herself building a close attachment to these wonderful creatures, only to suffer heartbreak after heartbreak. The creatures can die in very tragic ways. They become senescent and act similar to a human with Alzheimer’s in that they seem lost at times, as if their mind is somewhere else. This personal aspect means that after reading the book you will likely think the unthinkable and want to experience an octopus latching on to your arms and “tasting you.”
Keena KimmelOwner of White Rabbit Books and Curiosities