Ever since My Octopus Teacher broke Netflix with all of its viewers, there has been a surge in interest in octopuses. They’re wicket smart, masters of camouflage, can squeeze themselves into tight spaces, and super helpful when you need an extra set of hands.
And if you read the following books about octopuses, you’ll also find that they are escape artists, mythical beasts, the key to humankind and crime scene witnesses.
We’ve curated these octopus books for a mix of fiction and non-fiction, featuring cephalopods that are both real and imagined.
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8 Fiction Books About Octopuses
Remarkable Creatures, Shelby Van Pelt
Seventy-year-old Tova Sullivan works the nightshift as a cleaner at Sowell Bay Aquarium. She was recently widowed and also still mourns the loss of her son, who disappeared into the Puget Sound some years ago. Tova doesn’t really need to work, but she like to keep busy and she prefers to share her time with those who don’t ask a lot of questions.
Enter Marcellus. He’s a giant octopus who was rescued by the aquarium. However, he believes himself to be a captive. He fancies himself a pretty bright octopus and he keeps stretching the bounds of his tank by occasionally escaping…and Tova keeps finding him. Over time, the two develop a very special bond.
This book makes a great book club read, for which you can use our Remarkable Creatures discussion guide.
The Mountain in the Sea, Ray Nayler
Octopuses are known to be smart. But these octopuses are dangerously smart. They may even hold the key to unprecedented breakthroughs in extra-human intelligence– and Marine biologist Ha Nguyen will do anything to study them.
This speculative fiction thriller is set in a near-future. The AI fishing fleets have over-harvested the oceans, and octopuses are really feeling the pressure. They’ve adapted by evolving into super-intelligent creatures with complex social structures. There are shadowy forces at work while Nguyen, a mercenary, and a sentient AI are isolated on a secret research island, working to understand the octopuses.
The book’s themes touch on identity, the nature of consciousness, and the destructive nature of human power.
The Last Guest, Tess Little
This mystery opens with the death of death of British director, Richard Bryant. He was found dead of asphyxiation in his Hollywood home following an extravagant birthday party. Let’s just say that Richard is not well-loved– not by his birthday party guests and certainly not by his imprisoned pet octopus, Persephone.
Richard slung around a lot of power and influence…and not in a good way. So there are plenty of suspects, including Persephone. The book reads like a locked room mystery, with a lot of interesting power dynamics.
The Octopus and I, Erin Hortle
Lucy and her husband Jem live on the Tasman Peninsula. Lucy’s recovering from a major breast cancer surgery and the book explores her struggle to regain her sense of self, amidst other people’s reactions and judgment about her reconstructive surgery.
Lucy befriends a some older local women who hunt and pickle octopus. Lucy grows fascinated by the local octopuses and they become a metaphor for her body dysmorphia. Her attempts to save an octopus sets Lucy on a path to healing and independence.
In addition to Lucy’s story, some of the chapters switch over to the point of view of the cephalopods and from them, the reader will gain insight into the Tasmanian marine landscape.
Lily and the Octopus, Steven Rowley
Ted Flask has an intensely loving relationship with his dog, Lily. Ted’s had some heartbreak along the way, but his dachshund gets him through it and she’s much better for him than his lame therapist. But there’s an octopus getting in the way. It’s a metaphorical octopus, but still– and Ted and Lily have teamed up to battle it.
We won’t spoil it by saying too much more, but this book would be great for fans of The Art of Racing in the Rain.
Keep some Kleenex handy because you may spring a leak with this touching story.
Beasts of Sonara, Shawn C. Butler
After Ray lost his wife to cancer, he heads down to Sonara, Costa Rica to heal and hang out. There are some deep and dangerous powers lurking in the waters there, and Ray gets sucked into the thick of it when the body of a local woman is found in the water.
Why is there a world class cancer hospital in this backwater? Why is Ray’s new girlfriend/Oncologist so emotionally remote? Who are these corporate types that keep showing up? And what’s with that gigantic sentient octopus?
We’ll save the spoilers for your own reading experience.
Kraken, China Mieville
Confessions. There’s not an octopus, but rather you’ll find a giant, magical monster squid at the center of this weird story. But you know…watery beast…tentacles…we figured you’d want to hear about it. Mieville excels at stories with mythical elements and there is always something (usually a dark and twisty something) going on under the surface.
In this case, hapless Billy Harrow, a cephalopod specialist, is distraught after the prize giant squid goes missing from London’s Natural History Museum. And the Congregation of God Kraken, an ancient sect of squid worshippers aren’t happy about it either. In fact, the disappearance sets off a countdown to an apocalyptic fight between competing cults and criminals.
The books weaves a complicated story that demands that you check your disbelief at the door.
Of Octopuses and Men, by Misha Bell, Anna Zaires and Dima Zales
That book cover! And what about Oliver with his long hair and six-pack abs? Well, he’s really not up for Olive’s shenanigans. For her part, Marine Biologist Olive is just trying to find a home for her pet octopus, Beaky. And look, Florida is a weird place, making it the perfect setting for this slow burn rom-com, which is chock full of antics, sun screen and key lime pie.
I had a dear friend who used to say “The deep end of my brain is very deep, the shallow end of my brain is very shallow, and I feed them both.”
This book is a buffet for the latter.
4 Non-Fiction Books About Octopuses
Other Minds: The octopus, the Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
by Peter Godfrey-Smith
If you’ve already read Remarkably Bright Creatures and found it a stretch that the octopus character, Marcellus, was able to escape, manipulate his tank and recognize his humans, this book is for you.
In it, Godfrey-Smith explains just how cephalopods have evolved from single-celled creatures into consciousness; becoming the intelligent and social creatures that they are today. As a Professor of Philosophy and Science, he has the chops to explain the current science regarding our understand of octopuses and cuttlefish. But he goes beyond pure biology to discuss the philosophy of cognition in cephalopods. And as a diver, he also brings his own personal experience to the discussion.
“If we want to understand other minds, the minds of cephalopods are the most other of all.”
Monarchs of the Sea: The Extraordinary 500-Year-Old History of Cephalopods
by Dana Staaf (Author) and Cynthia Clark (Illustrator)
This octopus book focuses more on the evolution and natural history of cephalopods. Staaf has a PhD in the biology of squid babies, so she knows a thing or two about this class of mollusks.
The book explores how these living fossils evolved to swim, why some developed external shells (and others didn’t), what squids eat…and who eats them along with other dangers that face them. All of this is delivered with an honest, geeky enthusiasm for our tentactular friends.
“At only around eight hundred living species, cephalopods are among the less species-rich mollusks. (Let’s not make them feel bad by comparing them with the insectoid wealth of arthropods. Nobody needs that.)”
Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate
by Jennifer A. Mather, Roland C. Anderson, James B. Wood
Whereas Other Minds is more philosophical and Monarchs is more evolutionary, this book focuses more on the biological here and now of octopuses. It covers topics like: how they are born, their habitat, how they avoid predators, how they court (with a fun anecdote about a cuttlefish single’s bar in Australia) and what their end of like looks like.
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness
by Sy Montgomery
Naturalist Sy Montgomery made a project out of studying octopuses by visiting aquarium tanks and reefs all over the world. Unlike the book noted above, this one isn’t about hard science. It’s more a memoir chronicling Montgomery’s journey of falling in love with these creatures. Her experience with the octopuses in the aquarium motivates her to learn how to dive so that she can experience them in the wild.
“To share such a moment of deep tranquility with another being, especially one as different from us as the octopus, is a humbling privilege.”
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