The Soul of an Octopus offers a new insight on the natural world


Maddie Hooper '24

The Soul of an Octopus provides a new, life-changing perspective of the natural world.

Ms. Sy Montegomery’s The Soul of an Octopus (2015) offers a transformative perspective into the natural world.  Following researchers and divers as they recount their experiences with octopuses, the novel reveals the subjectiveness of beauty.  Those featured stress the importance of transcending the barrier between humans and the natural world.  The Soul of an Octopus is an impactful text that addresses the themes of empathy, curiosity, and the true meaning of beauty.

Sacred Heart Greenwich required ninth and tenth grade students and faculty to read The Soul of an Octopus as part of the summer reading curriculum.  This novel connects to the 2021 to 2022 World Literature theme of “Monsters, Misfits, and the Misunderstood.”  Beginning in Icelandic mythology and continuing to modern news and art, media commonly portrays octopuses as monstrous.  Research shows, however, that these depictions are false considering the empathy of the species, according to  Upon closer examination, one can find the beauty in the quirks and habits of an octopus.

Ms. Sy Montgomery sits with her border collie Thurber.  Courtesy of

Ms. Montgomery is a naturalist and explorer who has a strong passion for all of nature’s creatures.  She published The Soul of an Octopus in May 2015.  The novel then won the 2016 Orion Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction, according to

Ms. Montgomery provides an interesting take on the similarities between octopuses and humans by explaining the complex inner workings of an octopus’s brain.  She highlights the intelligence of octopuses when describing how, similar to humans, an octopus’s mind is constantly working. Aquariums have devised methods to keep octopuses entertained through inventing fidget toys and boxes for octopuses to unlock.

The Soul of an Octopus encourages readers to take action within their communities.  Ms. Montgomery’s word choice inspires curiosity and captivates readers, providing an immersive reading experience.  Mrs. Angela Carstensen, Director of Library and Information Services, reflected on Ms. Montgomery’s writing style.

“The novel helps you see how interconnected everything is and also the fact that we are responsible for taking care of the natural world,” Mrs. Carstensen said.  “It expanded my idea of natural beauty because you don’t necessarily think of octopuses as beautiful but then you are able to confine beauty when you see something up close.”

Ms. Sy Montgomery poses with a falcon named Banshee.  Courtesy of

Ms. Montgomery’s novel encourages readers to question why there is such a divide between animals and humans.  Curiosity within readers is the first start on the path to developing empathy towards the natural world, according to The New York Times.  The ability to learn about an animal in such great depth can help change the mindset that the unknown is immediately ominous.  Ms. Montgomery’s writing influences many to see beyond their fears and discover the beauty within the octopus’s soul.

“I have written about the minds of animals in all of my work, acknowledging of course that they have them, which not everybody seems to do as a given,” Ms. Montgomery said, according to “In the 1960s, before Jane Goodall went into the field and began her studies of chimpanzees, writing a book about the mind of an animal would be sniffed at as ridiculous.  Even when Jane wrote her first scientific papers saying that chimpanzees use tools, they were rejected, and not just because people thought ‘oh, chimps can’t be using tools.’  It was even more fundamental than that—it was because she named them, and people felt that you had to number them like rocks because their individuality didn’t matter or did not even exist.  So I was able to come to the point where I was able to write about the mind of an octopus by standing on the shoulders of giants like Jane Goodall.”

Featured Image by Maddie Hooper ’24