This is my favorite non fiction book of 2015! I talked so much about it that I forgot to write a review. Before I explain what is so wonderful about the book, let me share a story told to me by a friend, Suzanne, a science teacher who happened to be working at the Steinhardt Aquarium in San Francisco, CA. She described that one summer over several weeks fish began to disappear from different aquariums, not just one. They put extra security on the shifts when viewers came to visit the aquarium in case that it was people who were somehow stealing the fish. No luck. Finally after two months they decide to put cameras up to find out what was happening to the missing fish. The answer was an Octopus. The camera shows the Octopus getting out of its aquarium and wandering down the hall, looking at the different aquariums for prey. It would climb into an aquarium, pick a fish and return to his aquarium to eat it. Truly amazing.
Montgomery’s the Soul of an Octopus is a great read about the facts and myths about Octopuses (yes, they are called Octopuses in the plural, not Octopi). But even more importantly it is about Montgomery’s relationships with Giant Pacific Octopuses in Seattle and Boston Aquariums and her excellent writings about these curious, sensitive, intelligent, affectionate, shape shifters! She even goes to a convention where people who house octopuses as pets meet to share information and tell stories of play, puzzles and intelligence. Sy Montgomery says it best in this excerpt from her book:
“Her name was Athena, but I didn’t know that then. I knew little about octopuses—not even that the correct plural is not octopi, as I had always believed (it turns out you can’t put a Latin ending—i—on a word derived from the Greek, like octopus). But what I did know intrigued me. Here is an animal that has venom like a snake, a beak-like a parrot, and ink like an old-fashioned pen. It can weigh as much as a man and stretch as long as a car, yet can pour its baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange. It can change color and shape. It can taste with its skin. Most fascinating of all, I had read that octopuses are smart. This bore out what scant experience I had already had; like many who visit octopuses in public aquaria, I’ve often had the feeling the octopus I was watching was watching me back, with an interest as keen as my own.
How could that be? It’s hard to find an animal more unlike a human than an octopus. They have no bones. They breathe water. Their bodies aren’t organized like ours. We go: head, body, limbs. They go: body, head, limbs. Their mouths are in their armpits—or, if you prefer to liken their arms to our lower, instead of upper, extremities, between their legs. Their appendages are covered with suckers, a structure for which no mammal has any analog.” Excerpt from: The Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery.
The prose is beautiful and the information astounding. The people who care for the creatures in the aquariums are wonderful and see the individuality of their wards. There is one volunteer at the aquarium who is an “Anaconda whisperer”. Won’t say another word about that because everyone should pick up this book. One warning: after reading this book, you might never eat an Octopus again, I sort of hope so!
That’s my two cents….Tracy