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Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit…
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Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (original 1992; edition 1995)

by Daniel Quinn

Series: Ishmael (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,253971,224 (3.93)52
Member:mashiox
Title:Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit
Authors:Daniel Quinn
Info:Bantam (1995), Edition: Reissue, Paperback, 263 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

Work details

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (1992)

  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. 11
    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 52 mentions

English (96)  German (1)  All languages (97)
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
It is a decent book about philosophy of evolution than evolution itself, but the second half is a torture.
The ideas about primitivism, humanity, ecology, survival and philosophy is dealt very well in the book. There are interesting and debatable ideas about the mistakes of humans and their understanding of life. The concept of life and culture is explained through Takers and Leavers. One of my favorite Quotes from the book is

“The premise of the Taker story is 'the world belongs to man'. … The premise of the Leaver story is 'man belongs to the world'.”


However, the narration itself is one sided. It is over 200 pages of monologue!Ishmael does all the talking, while the student is just dumbstruck in the whole story. There is No "No-easy-going-Gorilla teacher" or "a student who is dedicated enough to learn". The Student appears plain Dumb and incapable of comprehending.
3 Stars for the idea conveyed. I might have given an additional star if religion and divinity were not highlighted as much as they were in the story. The book mentions only about one story of human existence-Genesis, Adam and Eve and Abel and Cain. All western beliefs. The book would have made justice if the symbolism was generic- with no religion involved, or included few more citations of such books from other parts of the world and then summarized it. This could have been an essay instead a story. ( )
  deepa_nanjundaswamy | Aug 3, 2018 |
It is a decent book about philosophy of evolution than evolution itself, but the second half is a torture.
The ideas about primitivism, humanity, ecology, survival and philosophy is dealt very well in the book. There are interesting and debatable ideas about the mistakes of humans and their understanding of life. The concept of life and culture is explained through Takers and Leavers. One of my favorite Quotes from the book is

“The premise of the Taker story is 'the world belongs to man'. … The premise of the Leaver story is 'man belongs to the world'.”


However, the narration itself is one sided. It is over 200 pages of monologue!Ishmael does all the talking, while the student is just dumbstruck in the whole story. There is No "No-easy-going-Gorilla teacher" or "a student who is dedicated enough to learn". The Student appears plain Dumb and incapable of comprehending.
3 Stars for the idea conveyed. I might have given an additional star if religion and divinity were not highlighted as much as they were in the story. The book mentions only about one story of human existence-Genesis, Adam and Eve and Abel and Cain. All western beliefs. The book would have made justice if the symbolism was generic- with no religion involved, or included few more citations of such books from other parts of the world and then summarized it. This could have been an essay instead a story. ( )
  deepahn | Aug 3, 2018 |
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 |
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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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