The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea

Book - 2013
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No one understands the octopus. With eight arms, three hearts, camouflaging skin, and a disarmingly sentient look behind its highly evolved eyes, how could it appear anything but utterly alien?

Octopuses have been captivating humans for as long as we have been catching them. Many cultures have octopus-centric creation myths, art, and, of course, cuisine. For all of our ancient fascination and millions of dollars' worth of modern research, however, we still have not been able to get a firm grasp on these enigmatic creatures.

Now, Katherine Harmon Courage, a veteran journalist and contributing editor for Scientific American, dives into the mystifying underwater world of the octopus. She reports from around the globe of her adventures in Spain, Greece, and even Brooklyn, inviting us to experience the scientific discoveries and deep cultural ties that connect us to the octopus. You'll discover-

The oldest known fossilized octopus is estimated to have lived 296 million years ago even before the first dinosaurs emerged. Government agencies are funding research labs around the world to re-create the octopus's naturally occurring camouflage techniques. About two thirds of an octopus's brain capacity is spread throughout its eight arms, meaning each one literally has a mind of its own. Octopuses have aced numerous intelligence tests, including opening childproof bottles, solving mazes, and even recognizing individual people. The octopus can change colors and textures within milliseconds to vanish against its background yet we have no evidence that it can see in color.

Courage deftly interweaves personal narrative with interviews with leading octopus experts. The result is an entertaining yet scientifically grounded exploration of the octopus and its infinitely complex world.

Praise for Octopus!

'The octopus is like an alternate experiment in intelligent life sophisticated, alluring, and wholly alien. In her fresh, deeply reported book, Katherine Harmon Courage makes this creatures a little less mysterious, but no less marvellous.' Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses and The Tangled Bank- An Introduction to Evolution

'What is it like to be an octopus? We need to imagine that our arms, all eight of them, can think and that our skin can see. Despite our obvious trouble understanding this invertebrate, no one doubts its intellect. A delightful book about a fascinating creature!' Frans De Waal, author of The Bonobo and the Atheist

'According to this book, octopuses can sprout temporary horns. Horns! Seriously, you need to read this book.' Will Tracy, editor in chief, The Onion

Publisher: New York, New York :, Current,, 2013, ©2013.
ISBN: 9781591845270
Branch Call Number: 594. 56 COU
Characteristics: 238 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.


From the critics

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Nov 18, 2015

Really interesting! I knew Octopus were cool creatures, but this is a new level of awesome!

Apr 18, 2015

Not recommended. I am keenly interested in octopuses but won't continue reading this disappointing book. I expected stronger writing and a more focused approach from an editor at Scientific American; instead, this reads like a collection of poorly organized facts presented by means of a meandering travel memoir. I imagine the intent was to make the content "accessible" but the breezy tone is a complete turn-off. The book opens with a tale of fishing for octopus, and provides recipes for its preparation - again, not the engaging scientific overview I'd hoped for. Every interesting but under-explored factoid about the supposed subject of this book requires wading through pages of pointless filler. I will return this and instead borrow the Jennifer Mather book mentioned in the above Library Journal review.

May 09, 2014

Courage presents an interesting and well researched yet concise account of this awesome creature. The scientific facts and concepts are easy to understand even for non-scientific minded-people and it's a quick read. The topics include octopus cuisine, culture, and biology (skin, brain, reproduction, etc), and I learned a lot. I'd highly recommend this book!

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