A fascinating glimpse into an alien consciousness.

THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS

A SURPRISING EXPLORATION INTO THE WONDER OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Naturalist Montgomery (Birdology, 2010, etc.) chronicles her extraordinary experience bonding with three octopuses housed in the New England Aquarium and the small group of people who became devoted to them.

As a casual visitor to the aquarium, she had been intrigued by the sense that the octopuses, invertebrates separated from us by millions of years on the tree of life, she watched were also watching her. “Was it possible,” she writes, “to reach another mind on the other side of the divide?” Their appendages are covered with “dexterous, grasping suckers” that propel food into mouths located in their armpits, and they savor the taste of food as it travels along their skin. This ability is one of the ways in which they perceive their environment. On her first behind-the-scenes visit to the aquarium, Montgomery was given the opportunity to directly interact with Athena, a 2 1/2-year-old, 40-pound octopus housed in a 560-gallon tank. Hosted by the aquarium's director of public relations, with other personnel on standby to ensure her safety, the author was encouraged to place her hand in the tank. Though Athena possessed the strength to pull Montgomery into the tank, she was gentle and even playful. The author describes the thrill of this and subsequent encounters with Athena and two other octopuses housed at the aquarium. They recognized and openly welcomed her visits, soliciting petting and stroking as might a house pet in similar circumstances. Octopuses seemingly relate easily to humans, quickly learning to pick up cues from their keepers, who make a game of hiding food, and in turn play tricks on them. Yet in the wild, they are generally solitary and may attack and eat others of their species if placed in the same tank. With apparent delight, Montgomery puts readers inside the world of these amazing creatures.

A fascinating glimpse into an alien consciousness.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9771-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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