The Soul of an Octopus

A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

The Soul of an Octopus

Finalist for the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction

New York Times Bestseller

“Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus does for the creature what Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk did for raptors.” (New Statesman, UK)

Starred Booklist and Library Journal Editors’ Spring Pick

“One of the best science books of the year” – “Science Friday,” NPR

A Huffington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of the Year

One of the Best Books of the Month on Goodreads

Library Journal Best Sci-Tech Book of 2015

An American Library Association Notable Book of the Year

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.
  • Atria Books | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451697711 | 
  • May 2015
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Discover the 'Soul of an Octopus' with Sy Montgomery

What makes octopuses so fascinating? Sy Montgomery, author of the New York Times bestselling and National Book Award finalist book 'Soul of an Octopus', gives us a glimpse.

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Soul of an Octopus includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In The Soul of an Octopus, Sy Montgomery recounts her friendships with several octopuses—complex, spirited creatures who make remarkable connections with humans. She explores their almost alien intelligence, one that is of the Earth but so different from our mammalian and human consciousness that it might not be out of place in another world. Practicing true immersion journalism, Montgomery journeys from the New England Aquarium to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico in pursuit of these wild, solitary, predatory mollusks. It’s an underwater adventure story but also the story of relationships that are forged within the community of people that arises from their mutual care for the octopuses. Each octopus turns out to have a distinct personality, and each becomes the central character in her own drama, like a character in a Jane Austen novel. The story is in turn funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, as it reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds.

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About the Author

Sy Montgomery
Photograph © Selinda Chiquoine

Sy Montgomery

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.