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Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

Ishmael (1992)

by Daniel Quinn

Series: Ishmael (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,87385949 (3.94)48
  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. 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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» See also 48 mentions

English (84)  German (1)  All languages (85)
Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
My cousin told me about this book and I'm so glad that I read it. ( )
  Jenny_Baker | Sep 28, 2016 |
Food for thought. Give it a go. My professor of Conservation Biology brought this book up and a few points mentioned. I can understand the criticism but I say read it for the ideas and honestly... forget the characters this isn't really a "story" ( )
  wolfeyluvr | Jun 22, 2016 |
Noble Savage returns, this time as a Happy Leaver.

Ishmael, a genius telepathic gorilla no less, splits humans into two kinds: Takers and Leavers. Leavers good, Takers bad, and we are the Takers. Leavers are those living in hunter-gatherer, or other non-urbanised communities around the world. Happier, healthier and stronger than we are, and we are but victims of a grand deception by Mother Culture that the Leavers' life is misery not even a poorest, most hopeless Taker would want to exchange his fate for.

It's probably true that those called Leavers are on average healthier, stronger and happier than us Takers living in modern Western societies, but there's also the other part to that: those Leavers who weren't healthy and strong enough are dead. The Leavers' world while perhaps not a misery from their point of view, was certainly no idyll of a happy, untroubled life in accordance with Mother Nature. It is a life where more than every other child born alive dies of disease before ten and one labour in ten to fifteen is fatal for the mother.

Now, it's one of the greatest unknowns of humanity: why did the great Leaver-Taker (I'll use the names throughout) split eventually occur around ten thousand years back. If a Leaver's life is no paradise, the more we know about the earliest agricultural and urban communities, the more early Taker's life is plain and simple hell. Worse nutrition, greater exposure to communicable diseases, shorter life span, all of this should have ended this Taker experiment fast, yet it didn't. Cities thrived even though moving into an ancient city was like entering the Darwin Award contest.

So what it was that made people opt for a sedentary life, and this at least several times? We do not know, but it must have been based on a powerful ideology. Some see religion here, but I think it's wrong: non-sedentary people are religious as well, and despite what Quinn claims in the book, their life is guided by religious thought. Again, we do not know, but blaming religion - any religion - is nonsense.

Quinn's (or the gorilla's) anthropological ineptitude notwithstanding, we are where we are. Humankind's ability to destroy the planet seems grossly exaggerated, but our civilisation is certainly harmful to other beings and, above all, to itself. Indeed, unless a real catastrophe like a global nuclear war happens, the human civilisation will be the most significant victim of human civilisation. Yes, it's true that animal populations go extinct every day, but this was happening all the time for millions of years and once human civilisation is removed animal life will be very soon rebuilt.

This means that if we like our civilisation - and despite all its faults I certainly do - we must do something to stabilise the conditions we exist in on the planet. Neither Quinn nor the gorilla have any specific proposal, I did not understand them to have advocated the abandonment of the civilisation and return to the hunter-gatherer living. They'd rather we found a way to Leave as much as we can without losing really important achievements of the Taker civilisation. This I certainly agree with.

Nevertheless, the book's argument is so flawed, so illogical, so absurd that this book should be avoided by anyone except perhaps to demonstrate that left-wing environmentalists can also be pathetic idiots. ( )
  igorterleg | Jan 24, 2016 |
This book had me from the beginning to the end. I read it completely through. It made me thing and grabbed my heart. It is a must read!!!! ( )
  Cshantay | Dec 4, 2015 |
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 |
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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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