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Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

Ishmael (1992)

by Daniel Quinn

Series: Ishmael (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,666811,015 (3.94)45
  1. 50
    My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (teelgee)
    teelgee: Sequel, every bit as good.
  2. 20
    Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization by Derrick Jensen (owen1218)
  3. 10
    Civilized Man's Eight Deadly Sins by Konrad Lorenz (Lucy_Skywalker)
    Lucy_Skywalker: but without being didactic and irritating
  4. 21
    The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure by James Redfield (amyblue)
  5. 00
    The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs (aneurysm1985)
    aneurysm1985: Both are about similar social-ecological issues. And both are the result of the authors (Quinn and Jacobs) enlightening readers about non-fiction topics through the use of fictional characters and Platonic dialogue. Both novels are written with the overarching purpose of educating their readers about unfamiliar topics.… (more)
  6. 00
    We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (KatyBee)
  7. 00
    Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (weeksj10)
    weeksj10: Their both lecture style novels which use fiction to present a variety of different thoughts and philosophies.
  8. 23
    Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (fyrefly98)
    fyrefly98: Another perspective on the spread of our culture and civilization.

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» See also 45 mentions

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To view an annotated bibliography of this title written for EDLI200, expand the spoiler entry below:

Young Adult
Fantasy Fiction
Realistic Fiction
Didactic Fiction

Estimated age level of interest:
Upper Grades

Estimated reading level:
Grade 6

Brief description:
An unnamed narrator answers an ad from a newspaper that simply reads: “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person”. What he discovers upon arriving at the address provided shocks him and challenges all that he once believed to know about the world.

At least 2 characteristics of this genre and subgenre and how they appear in this book:
While this book does not fit neatly into any one genre, it definitely possesses certain characteristics common to several popular genres out there. For instance, one element of good fantasy fiction is that it establishes certain rules or norms that stray from the rules that govern reality, but remain consistent throughout the story, and does so in such a way so as to produce a suspension of disbelief that allows the reader to “buy into” and enjoy the story. In “Ishmael”, the author sets out to challenge many entrenched ideals that guide how the reader perceives, understands, and interacts with the real world. But the fantastical challenge that Quinn must first address is getting the reader to accept the strange premise that the narrator is able to communicate with a gorilla named Ishmael through mental telepathy. A tall task to be sure, but Quinn does so nicely by directly acknowledging how absurd the idea is. The narrator is, at first, unable to accept what he is experiencing. It offends his sensibilities and causes him to question his sanity. The entire idea is ridiculous to him. In this way, the author does not avoid recognizing the bizarre twist he is throwing at the reader, but instead says to them, “yes, you are right, the idea that one could share their stream of consciousness with a massive gorilla is a pretty tough pill to swallow… but just bear with me for a bit and imagine that such a thing were possible”. Those who are able to get over this initial challenge are then able to accept and appreciate the rest of the story as it unfolds.

I categorize this book simultaneously as fantasy and realistic fiction because, aside from the significant departure from reality presented by the presence a telepathic gorilla, the majority of the story draws from facts and events rooted in reality. It is, at its core, a book of philosophical exploration that references elements of human history and issues of contemporary concern to form a constructive narrative of man’s rise to power and potential undoing. In this way, the book is able to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. As such, it possesses the dualistic characteristics common realistic fiction in being at times lighthearted and at other times dark and serious. The stories that Ishmael tells of his own life are riddled with joy and sorrow, much like the tale he weaves of man’s rise from being a peer among other creatures of the animal kingdom to master of the natural world.

In what ways and how well does the book as a whole serve its intended audience?
While I would hesitate to recommend this book to most young adult readers, I have had several thoughtful, introspective students come to me wanting a serious read that elicited more careful consideration than most general fiction requires. These are the same students to whom I might recommend Malcolm Gladwell, Eckhart Tolle, and other contemporary, philosophical authors. I have found that introducing such students to philosophical literature through “Ishmael”, with it’s notes of levity and fantasy, is a nice way to get them comfortable with books that will challenge their preconceptions and require ongoing, objective thought. For these rare high school students, this book is a great tool for developing the practice of deconstructing and rebuilding one’s understanding of the world and their place within it.

Awards, if any:
Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award 1991

Links to published, professional reviews, if any:
Editorial reviews available through…

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0553375407?ie=UTF8&isInIframe=1&n=28315...

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ishmael-daniel-quinn/1101818677?ean=978055337540...

The book can get a bit pedantic here and there, but overall, I really did enjoy it immensely! ( )
  nphill85 | Oct 12, 2015 |
That's a preachy gorilla.

Bought this in a 2000 person town in California. Seemed like the thing to do. Recasts a lot of given things in society, but also directly conflicts with much of the more scientific knowledge one might have. A good book, yes, and one everybody should read, but lax in narrative structure. I'll stick to Dr. Zaius. ( )
  trilliams | May 30, 2015 |
Ishmael was a look into human cultural history and origin that I have never- and probably would have never- come across. There are numerous "ah-ha" moments that made me rethink my own views. Loved it for it's simple reading but important message(s). ( )
  ReverendMoon | Feb 5, 2015 |
As I read this book, I thought what a wonderful idea it would be for this to be required reading for teenagers and young adults. Then, I thought about it. This book was widely read in the late 1970s when it came out and the environmental issues that it denounced are still here. Things are not much better. Good book with a great message, never the less. Two thumbs up. ( )
  branjohb | Nov 1, 2014 |
I don't care how hoky anyone thinks this book is, it set my brain on fire when I first read it. One of the few books I will be able to always tell you just when and where I read it: in a single day on a rare day off at Camp Togowoods -- holed up by myself in the craft cabin. I was so in love I wrote a letter to the author, and when he wrote book I had it pasted on my wall the rest of my college career.

There was a movie "adaptation" which really had very very little to do with the book.

It's about the history of human civilization, ecology, philosophy. All the big questions. The perfect book to read while you're still young and figuring out the world. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
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The first time I read the ad, I choked and cursed and spat and threw the paper to the floor.
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Five years ago the world was introduced to Ishmael - a gorilla with a revolutionary story to tell, a story no human had ever heard before. A book of resounding truth and hope, and one that is arguably more important now than when it was first published, Ishmael offers readers an entirely new perspective on humanity's relationship to the world. Now, once again, Ishmael is available in hardcover in this very special Fifth Anniversary Edition, containing many revisions and additions to the original. This edition also includes a fascinating preface in which Daniel Quinn offers his own explanation as to why Ishmael has become such a beloved and controversial book.… (more)

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