2015 National Book Award Finalist, Nonfiction

Sy Montgomery

The Soul of an Octopus
(Atria/Simon & Schuster)
ISBN: 978-1451697711

The Soul of an Octopus Sy and Cyania, Photo credit: David Scheel


In this luminous nature saga, Montgomery immerses herself in the mysterious world of octopuses, unveiling their alien senses, varied personalities, rambunctious emotions, and startling feats of intelligence and self-awareness. As animal adventure, it’s wonderfully vivid, with a surprise on every page, but it’s also an inquiry into the fabric of consciousness, weaving together a tapestry that’s both human and animal, whose threads unite us in little-known yet spellbinding ways.

National Book Foundation: In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?
Montgomery: In the process of writing this book, I was surprised at every turn: that octopuses taste with their skin. That most of their neurons are not in the brains, but in their arms. That their touch--one that many naturalists I admire found repulsive--was so soft, and that their suckers--dextrous enough to untie knots in surgical silk, and strong enough that just one sucker might lift 30 pounds--were capable of great tenderness. But what surprised me most was that a creature so unlike us was clearly capable of forming bonds with humans, and that my relationships with each individual octopus changed forever the way I understand what it means to think, to feel and to know.


In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus--a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature--and the remarkable connections it makes with humans. Sy Montgomery's popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, "Deep Intellect," about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think? The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds"

About the author

Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and author of twenty acclaimed books of nonfiction for adults and children, including the memoir The Good Good Pig, a New York Times bestseller. The recipient of numerous honors, including lifetime achievement awards from the Humane Society and the New England Booksellers Association, she lives in New Hampshire with her husband, border collie, and flock of chickens.


- symontgomery.com
- Twitter: @SyTheAuthor


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Photo credit: David Scheel