The Winner of the 2016 Orion Book Award: “The Soul of an Octopus,” by Sy Montgomery

soulofanoctopus_bigcoverThe Orion Book Award is presented each year to books that deepen readers’ connection to the natural world through fresh ideas and excellence in writing. This year, we’re very excited to give the top honor to Sy Montgomery, an author we’ve admired for decades and whose latest book represents her writing at its very best.

In The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, Montgomery introduces us to the incredible intelligence and physical capacities of octopuses, an animal whose biology and behavior suggest a kind of alien mind. But the real joy of this book—and of all of Montgomery’s writing—is the author’s ability to build emotional connections between herself, her subject, and her readers. Montgomery writes with such warmth, curiosity, and humanity that our understanding of the cold world of these beautiful animals is utterly transformed.

The Soul of an Octopus is published by Atria Books; learn more about the book, and purchase a copy, here. Congratulations, Sy!

Of course, this year’s winner and finalists represent only a fraction of the terrific books published in 2015 about the connection between nature and culture. Here’s a short list of some of our other favorites, including the finalists for this year’s award:

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, Cynthia Barnett

The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America, Summer Brennan (finalist)

The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History, Thor Hanson

The Tusk That Did the Damage: A Novel, Tania James

The Wake: A Novel, Paul Kingsnorth

H Is for Hawk: A Memoir, Helen MacDonald (finalist)

Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley: Stories, Ann Pancake

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, Lauret Savoy

Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, Simran Sethi

What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice, Wen Stephenson

A River Runs Again: India’s Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka, Meera Subramanian (finalist)

The Jaguar’s Children: A Novel, John Valiant

Far Enough: A Western in Fragments, Joe Wilkins


Learn more about the Orion Book Award, including its past winners and finalists, here. Congratulations to the authors of this year’s top books!


  1. I am (only now in March 2020) reading this book right — and loving it as much as I loved H is For Hawk (which I have re-read multiple times, and which was a finalist). Well done writers! Well-chosen, Orion! Books like these make social distancing feel less distant.

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