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Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
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Ishmael (1992)

by Daniel Quinn

Series: Ishmael (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,22597849 (3.94)52
  1. 50
    My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (teelgee, HoudeRat)
    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. 01
    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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Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
First, let me acknowledge that I am very late to this game. Daniel Quinn wrote the first version of this novel in 1977, and published the version that I read in 1992. My only excuse is that I was knee-deep in my first job and still becoming accustomed to business travel, marriage, and well, real life. Then came three kids, resulting in my missing about a decade’s worth of music and literature. In all honesty, despite this novel being a NY Times Best Seller, an international phenomenon, and required reading in many High Schools and Universities, I only became aware of it this last year (2017). I have had several people, including Kirkus relate it to my novel, so I felt obliged to read it.
The book has an unlikely plot. It begins with a man finding this ad:
TEACHER SEEKS PUPIL – must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply In person.

This catches the eye of the main character, who does indeed apply in person. The teacher turns out to be a very large gorilla named Ishmael capable of telepathic communication. The rest of the novel largely follows the gorilla teachings and the slow acceptance and understanding of the pupil. The novel caught me right away, both with the improbable storyline, but also with the philosophy from a non-human perspective. It begins with an intriguing thought, that we are so ingrained in our way of thinking, that we only see the world as existing for us to conquer. We cannot see the perspective of the gorilla, that the world exists for all creatures, not simply for man. Quinn also makes an interesting point that man may slow or stop the evolutionary process, both for himself and for others.

However, at some point, Quinn lost me. Without spoiling too much of the central theme, Quinn argues that man needs to take a step backward towards our hunter/gather past. I understand his rationale and he makes some fantastic arguments. After all, few people would debate that we are struggling with violence, ecological disasters, and over-population. Where he loses me is that a return to a more primitive time (what he calls Leavers) puts Mother Nature or God back into control, rather than man. If we give up our technology, our industry, and our agriculture, we will return to harmony with the earth. Population gets out of control, no problem, without technology and agriculture, Mother Nature will cull our herds with disease, starvation, and death. Quinn asserts that if we expand our food production, our population with continue to expand and outstrip our production.

I get frustrated with the romanticizing of pure nature, the viewpoint that nature is a gentle, harmonic power that only employs violence when necessary and largely allows all creatures to live in peace. The reality is that nature is a harsh, unforgiving force that regularly dishes out suffering, misery, and death. When we fantasize about a return to nature, we think about a warm summer day, harvesting wild berries and nuts. We tend to forget about freezing winters, drought, and disease. In my opinion, starvation and disease is not an acceptable answer for population control. Quinn never answers the question of how far back do we go? Do we give up modern medicine? If a person contracts polio, is that just nature culling the herd, removing the weak, so that we continue to evolve?

Having said this, I still believe this is an excellent and important novel. It makes you think, it makes you look at our civilization differently. It makes you question your ingrained beliefs. And these are questions worth asking. Do I believe we need to stop pollution and destruction of the rain forests – yes. Do I believe we need to find more harmony with nature – yes. Do I believe we need to control our population growth – of course. However, I have more faith in humanity. I think it’s possible to achieve this with education, cooperation, and love. I don’t believe we need a wholesale return to a pre-agricultural existence to save the world. However, I appreciate Quinn’s arguments and questions. We need more literature that gets us out of our way of thinking, that makes us uncomfortable, and forces us to think more deeply about our relationship with our planet and ourselves. I glad I read this and I look forward to reading Quinn’s other novels. ( )
  Kevin_A_Kuhn | Jun 18, 2018 |
I come back to this book over and over. A beautiful story with depth and imagination, as well as questions and a different point of view.

If you question humanity's right to rule this world, find religion disturbing, or just feel that something's wrong with society, this book is for you. ( )
  SoubhiKiewiet | Mar 20, 2018 |
I'd heard so much about this "amazing" and "life-changing" novel!

Alas, I found it to be neither.

It was a lot like reading The Alchemist and The Giver - two other relatively recent books roundly championed as provocative and mind-blowing. Yawn! I think sometimes my age - and the fact that I read so much from a young age - works against me. By the time I got around to these books, I have already contemplated (and sometimes dismissed) the Big Thoughts they seem intent on making me contemplate.

I also have very little patience with authors who try too hard, and in my opinion Daniel Quinn does just that. He writes like a student presented with an assignment to, "Compose a story, employing Socratic Dialogue, to illustrate your philosophical premise; cite your sources in context."

That philosophical premise? Overconsumption Bad. Destruction of Nature Bad. Overpopulation Bad. Mankind Selfish.

** MAYBE...OH, MY STARS....MAYBE WE'RE GOING ABOUT THIS WHOLE CIVILIZATION THING ALL WRONG!!!!!! *** ...Or something like that.

And as for his sources, when I reached the point where a character references The Chalice and the Blade, I admit, I just stopped actually reading and skimmed through to the last chapters. I've read The Chalice and the Blade and think it is a big fat Pot Calling the Kettle Black when it comes to criticisms of traditional anthropology/archeology.) If Daniel Quinn was inspired by books like that one, it's no wonder I'm unimpressed with his critique of modern culture.

Quinn ascribes Judiac/Christian mythology to virtually all of modern humanity, conveniently overlooking Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern religions. Basically, we're on the wrong track because Adam, the concept of dominion, and that damn tree! (Even as a non-Christian I also take issue with the fact that Quinn appears to be relying on Milton's Paradise Lost more so than Genesis.)

So...um, yeah....I didn't really like this book. ( )
  Kim_Sasso | Mar 14, 2018 |
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 | Dec 6, 2017 |
A man sees an ad in the personal section: "Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person." And what follows is something as filled with heartbreak and humor as it is with ideas and magic.

File this under philosophical fiction or environmental fiction or weird fiction, or none of the above, but this is a smart and wonderful book--one of those rare ones which I'd say everyone ought to have read, and passed on to more readers, and perhaps read again. I'm thankful I stumbled upon it, and somewhat heartbroken that I Had to stumble upon it, when really I feel like someone should have thrust it upon me even back when I was in high school, demanding that I sit down and start reading, or perhaps once I got to college, at least. This is the sort of book that helps you see the world and yourself in a slightly different manner, and makes you want to be better, and push others to be better. It's the sort that makes me want to write, and keep writing, and discover whatever comes tomorrow in a more careful and clever manner than I saw today. It's also the sort of book that should simply be read, and absorbed, and appreciated, just so much as possible.

In any case, if you haven't read it by now, you should. Really, you should. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Nov 22, 2017 |
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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