Around the world…

The Voyage Of The Beagle (Illustrated)
by Charles Darwin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I am pretty sure I read this as a teenager, about 40 years ago, and liked it, mainly for the illustrations. I decided to have another look… 

Places Darwin visits with the HMS Beagle:

  1. Chapter I: St. JagoCape de Verde Islands (St. Paul’s RocksFernando Noronha, 20 Feb.., Bahia, or San Salvador, Brazil, 29 Feb..)
  2. Chapter II: Rio de Janeiro
  3. Chapter III: Maldonado
  4. Chapter IV: Río Negro to Bahia Blanca
  5. Chapter V: Bahía Blanca
  6. Chapter VI: Bahia Blanca to Buenos Aires
  7. Chapter VII: Buenos Aires to St. Fe
  8. Chapter VIII: Banda Oriental
  9. Chapter IX: Patagonia
  10. Chapter X: Santa Cruz–Patagonia
  11. Chapter XI: Tierra del Fuego
  12. Chapter XII: The Falkland Islands
  13. Chapter XIII: Strait of Magellan
  14. Chapter XIV: Central Chile
  15. Chapter XV: Chiloe and Chonos Islands
  16. Chapter XVI: Chiloe and Concepcion
  17. Chapter XVII: Passage of Cordillera
  18. Chapter XVIII: Northern Chile and Peru
  19. Chapter XIX: Galapagos Archipelago
  20. Chapter XX: Tahiti and New Zealand
  21. Chapter XXI: Australia (Van Diemen’s Land)
  22. Chapter XXII: Coral Formations (Keeling or Cocos Islands)
  23. Chapter XXIII: Mauritius to England

I read the first few chapters, then skimmed my way roughly to the middle of the book, looking at the illustrations and reading a bit here and there. The writing doesn‘t feel as dry and dated as I feared, but all together this didn‘t grab me enough to properly read it in full. That‘s just me though. I recommend reading the Goodreads review of my buddy Trish…

P.S.: I found a fun website detailing the voyage, with an interactive map.

Not my kind of soul searching

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness
by Sy Montgomery

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Another octopus book! And, confession time, I was more skimming than reading every word properly… so this is a bit of a haphazard review. 

“The sand-dwelling mimic octopus, an Atlantic species, is particularly adept at this. One online video shows the animal altering its body position, color, and skin texture to morph into a flatfish, then several sea snakes, and finally a poisonous lionfish—all in a matter of seconds.“

Oh, I saw that in some nature documentary recently, it looked really cool! Have a look at this: https://youtu.be/Wos8kouz810

Interesting comparison of the different structure and build of the human brain and that of an octopus. 

The beginning of the book is pretty good, if somewhat anecdotal. The rest of the book does not keep up. 

Roughly in the middle of the book the author learns to scuba dive. Goodness, her scuba instructors should loose their license! I am by no means an expert with only 50 logged dives, but that was atrocious.

I am also horrified about the aquarium keeping an octopus in a dark, closed barrel for months. Talk about animal cruelty! No wonder that the octopus was ecstatic to have contact with people, when they opened that lid every day. You would be, too, if you were continuously kept in singular confinement without sensory input!

It also bothered me that these animals were wild catches and nobody seemed to be bothered by that.

I enjoyed parts of this book, some of the animal facts were entertaining. I would have preferred more science. There was less actual information and exploration about octopuses that I had hoped. She spends a lot of time at the aquarium, to touch the octopuses and gush about it, but her musings about the animals is pretty superficial. It‘s very much about her. Not for me.

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith was a much better book. My review of that book is here

First Line Friday, currently reading…

First Line Friday is a meme created by Hoarding Books. Feel free to head over there, have a look around, grab your nearest book and post its first line in the comments there and in your blog.


I am currently reading:

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, #2)
by Arkady Martine

Finally, the sequel to Memory Called Empire

TO think—not language. To not think language. To think, we, and not have a tongue-sound or cry for its crystalline depths. To have discarded tongue-sounds where they are unsuitable.

first lines, Prelude

Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)
by James S.A. Corey

My ongoing Expanse re-read, before the last book of the series, Leviathan Falls (The Expanse, #9),  comes out in October — fingers crossed!

A thousand worlds, Bobbie thought as the tube doors closed. And not just a thousand worlds. A thousand systems. Suns. Gas giants. Asteroid belts. Everything that humanity had spread to, a thousand times over.

first lines, Prologue

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (Kindle Edition)
by Sy Montgomery

Using my current, free Kindle Unlimited trial to read more about octopuses. Octopi? Whatever.

On a rare, warm day in mid-March, when the snow was melting into mud in New Hampshire, I traveled to Boston, where everyone was strolling along the harbor or sitting on benches licking ice cream cones. But I quit the blessed sunlight for the moist, dim sanctuary of the New England Aquarium. I had a date with a giant Pacific octopus.

first lines, Chapter 1

Miss Evolution at work…

Nachrichten aus einem unbekannten Universum: Eine Zeitreise durch die Meere
by Frank Schätzing

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Schätzing usually writes SciFi thrillers, so this non-fiction was a detour, albeit into the realm dealing with the universe at large. There is a speculative element in these „news from an unknown universe“. He takes us on a tour from the Big Bang to the near future. Schätzing calls this „Humans and the oceans, a peculiar relationship, marked by love, hate, ignorance and romanticism.“ He shows us how oceans work and life evolved and where all this water came from in the first place. Why evolution took the route it took. We get a look at the mechanics of the Gulf stream, the movements of tectonic plates, the structure of the world‘s oceans and their inhabitants, to the creation of waves, how our moon came to be, its effects on our planet, to the evolution of bacteria, plankton, bigger fish and whales and ultimately the struggles our seas are facing today. „Miss Evolution“ is the driving force in this book.

I am not a fan of Schätzing‘s flippant tone and his habit of anthropomorphising everything. I understand that he wants to make this entertaining and fun for the reader. But I found it annoying, his assigning of all kinds of human emotions and motives to sponges, fish and whatever appeared on the page, usually with a comical comment at the end of a paragraph or chapter. And Miss Evolution ticked me off.

The book is nicely done, with unusual page layouts and nice illustrations and photos. I struggled a bit with the odd black pages with white print. The contrast was crap and I had a hard time with the small and dense font already anyway.

I didn‘t learn a lot of new things, however this is a nice primer into our evolution, Earth‘s geological history and the development of life in the oceans. So, if you‘re looking for some pop-science with a funny writing style and don‘t mind the anthropomorphising, this might be for you.

As alien as it can get on this Earth

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (Audible Audio)
by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Not what I expected, aka a somewhat amusing popscience piece about octopuses. Instead this started with a fairly thorough account of the Ediacaran era and biota, followed by the Cambrian Explosion. One of these days I might even manage to memorize the timeline! Fairly challenging stuff, when listening to an audiobook.

Then we cover different topics—the arms race between predators and their prey, the evolution of the eye, the question what signifies intelligence, and so on and so forth… The chapter about Inner Speech was fascinating. Making Colours was a very interesting chapter as well. I hadn‘t know that octopuses can‘t see colours the way we do. The last chapter, Octopolis, reminded me very strongly of Children of Ruin (Children of Time #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Who took inspiration from this book, I believe.

As mentioned, this was not what I expected, namely a book strictly talking about the evolution of octopuses. I liked it, but at times it was off on unexpected tangents, instead of concentrating on my reason for reading this. If the scientific or philosophical discourse of the chapter I was in at any given point wasn‘t gripping me, I just bided my time until the main act made an appearance again. Nonetheless, I was entertained. And I learned new things.

The audiobook narration was done well. However, the more complicated parts of this narrative probably escaped me a bit. It would probably be worth getting a print version, to be able to go over parts of it more easily again. And I assume there are photos and illustrations… 

My review of Children of Ruin is here….