The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

Recently a friend of mine asked me how I decide which books to read. Right now I’m finding a lot of great reads through “writers to watch” or “best of” listicles of Asian Americans, writers of color, and women writers. Other times I take recommendations from my networks, mentions of other writers in book reviews, or even what folks on tv say. For Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness it was watching the 2015 National Book Awards.

In the fall of 2015 I was team teaching a course on Black Social Movements with colleagues Kevin Winstead and Danny Swann, led by Patricia Hill Collins. Dr. Collins was one of the judges for the non-fiction category of the National Book Awards. She had shared with us a bit of what she had been doing in that capacity and I was intrigued. We were already reading one of the finalists – Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me (which ultimately won the National Book Award for non-fiction).

As I browsed the other finalists’ titles, I was intrigued by The Soul of an Octopus. That year I put Montgomery’s book on my Christmas wishlist and was happy to find it under the tree on Christmas morning.

As I settled into her book, hot cocoa in hand, I was immediately engaged in Montgomery’s immersion journalism. She provides a rich exploration into the lives of these invertebrates while also tackling broader questions about animal consciousness. Her relationships with each of the unique octopus she befriends demonstrates the emotions, intelligence, and creativity of these often misunderstood creatures.

Throughout The Soul of an Octopus, Montgomery shares her face-to-face and hand-to-tentacle experiences while interspersing facts about octopus history, their lives, and debunking myths. By the end, I had a new perspective about octopus, one that made me think about them differently especially those we keep in captivity (or eat!).

As if Montgomery’s vivid writing were not enough, full color photos of octopus including some of the ones she befriends are included. Also, be sure to flip through the book from beginning to end to see the illustrations at the bottom of the pages in action.


PAIR IT WITH a Deep Sea Diver – rum, rum, and more rum with triple sec, powdered sugar, and lots of lime.