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Common Read

‘Soul of an Octopus’ Selected as UI’s Common Read

Author Sy Montgomery to speak Oct. 3 about her study of sea creatures’ intelligence

The University of Idaho has chosen “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness” by natural history writer Sy Montgomery as its Common Read for 2016-17.

“We are thrilled to give our incoming first-year students a chance to read this remarkable story and to meet the author,” said Kenton Bird, UI’s director of General Education in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, which sponsors the Common Read.

Montgomery will give a keynote address, part of the Runstad Lecture series, at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3, in the International Ballroom of the Bruce M. Pitman Center.

The Common Read is designed to engage the university and community in a unified intellectual activity, Bird said. “It introduces first-year students to academic expectations, respectful discourse and community building,” he explained.

First-year students will be asked to read the book as part of their Integrated Seminar (ISEM) 101 course, part of UI’s innovative General Education program. This book appealed to the Common Read committee because it touches on so many disciplines, including marine biology, ocean ecology, literature, psychology and philosophy, Bird said.

In “The Soul of an Octopus,” Montgomery documents growing scientific appreciation of the intelligence of the octopus and describes her relationship with a series of the creatures at the New England Aquarium in Boston and in oceans around the world.

“If you've ever wanted to read a book that at once informs, enlightens, makes you laugh and provokes you to think about yourself and the world and makes you aware of all the wondrous things you’ve yet to learn about, this is the book for you,” said Sayantani Dasgupta, a member of UI’s Common Read committee, which includes students, faculty, staff and community members.

The Common Read is supported by the Judith Runstad lecture series, which annually sponsors a keynote address by the book’s author or someone closely associated with the book. Last year’s Runstad Lecture brought Boise author Anthony Doerr to Moscow discuss his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “All the Light We Cannot See.”

“The Soul of an Octopus,” a finalist for a National Book Award in 2015, was nominated by Carol Spurling, manager of BookPeople in downtown Moscow and a member of the Common Read committee.

“The book intrigued and provoked me,” Spurling said. “It made me realize how little we know about beings that are different or ‘other’ from us. I hope the book will open readers to the idea that the perspective of ‘others’ — cephalopod or human or a creature we haven't even met yet — is worth our attention and understanding.”

Montgomery is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter and author of 20 acclaimed books of nonfiction for adults and children, including the memoir “The Good Good Pig,” which was a national bestseller. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, Border collie and flock of chickens.

Book cover: The Soul of an Octopus
2016 University of Idaho Common Read, "The Soul of an Octopus."


The Common Read is a program designed to engage the university and Moscow community, its students, staff, faculty and community members, in a unified intellectual activity. For first-year students it introduces them to academic expectations, respectful discourse, and community building. The Common Read is supported by the Judith M. Runstad Lecture Series, which sponsors a keynote address by the author of the Common Read, or someone closely associated with the book. First-year students will be asked to read the book as part of their ISEM 101 Integrated Seminar requirements. The Common Read book is available through the UI VandalStore - Bookstore.

This is a program sponsored through the General Education program, supported by the Office of Student Affairs, and a host of faculty, staff and student members on the Common Read Committee.

General Education

Physical Address:
347C Administration Building

Mailing Address:
College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3154
Moscow, ID 83844-3154

Phone: 208-885-4947


Web: General Education