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Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit [Paperback]

Daniel Quinn
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (674 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 1995

The narrator of this extraordinary tale is a man in search for truth. He answers an ad in a local newspaper from a teacher looking for serious pupils, only to find himself alone in an abandoned office with a full-grown gorilla who is nibbling delicately on a slender branch. “You are the teacher?” he asks incredulously. “I am the teacher,” the gorilla replies. Ishmael is a creature of immense wisdom and he has a story to tell, one that no other human being has ever heard. It is a story that extends backward and forward over the lifespan of the earth from the birth of time to a future there is still time to save. Like all great teachers, Ishmael refuses to make the lesson easy; he demands the final illumination to come from within ourselves. Is it man’s destiny to rule the world? Or is it a higher destiny possible for him—one more wonderful than he has ever imagined?

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From Publishers Weekly

Quinn ( Dreamer ) won the Turner Tomorrow Award's half-million-dollar first prize for this fascinating and odd book--not a novel by any conventional definition--which was written 13 years ago but could not find a publisher. The unnamed narrator is a disillusioned modern writer who answers a personal ad ("Teacher seeks pupil. . . . Apply in person.") and thereby meets a wise, learned gorilla named Ishmael that can communicate telepathically. The bulk of the book consists entirely of philosophical dialogues between gorilla and man, on the model of Plato's Republic. Through Ishmael, Quinn offers a wide-ranging if highly general examination of the history of our civilization, illuminating the assumptions and philosophies at the heart of many global problems. Despite some gross oversimplifications, Quinn's ideas are fairly convincing; it's hard not to agree that unrestrained population growth and an obsession with conquest and control of the environment are among the key issues of our times. Quinn also traces these problems back to the agricultural revolution and offers a provocative rereading of the biblical stories of Genesis. Though hardly any plot to speak of lies behind this long dialogue, Quinn's smooth style and his intriguing proposals should hold the attention of readers interested in the daunting dilemmas that beset our planet. 50,000 first printing; major ad/promo.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Winner of the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship, a literary competition intended to foster works of fiction that present positive solutions to global problems, this book offers proof that good ideas do not necessarily equal good literature. Ishmael, a gorilla rescued from a traveling show who has learned to reason and communicate, uses these skills to educate himself in human history and culture. Through a series of philosophical conversations with the unnamed narrator, a disillusioned Sixties idealist, Ishmael lays out a theory of what has gone wrong with human civilization and how to correct it, a theory based on the tenet that humanity belongs to the planet rather than vice versa. While the message is an important one, Quinn rarely goes beyond a didactic exposition of his argument, never quite succeeding in transforming idea into art. Despite this, heavy publicity should create demand. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/91.
- Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stop with the negativity July 4 2004
By Nails
Well, I just finished reading this book for the first time a few days ago. I was presented with an idea that had never been brought fully to my senses. I personally am going through a huge mind change in my everyday life... not all credit goes to this book, but much of it can. Those who say all this hub-bub about the author being a poor writer and being an arrogant SOB therefore his book is not worth reading, (which those who criticize in this way are being arrogant in the first place; ie. contempt and disregard) really does not change my mind about this book having significance. The reason i think arrogance comes across is because of the importance of the issue... i don't think it is because of self-importance as some have suggested. I think the author is just trying to raise awareness about a big problem. With that being the goal lets see if these negative Nelly's who take all the flaws that they have assumed the author has made can get off their high horse of intellectual supremacy and get down to the basic principles being taught here. If you evaluate anything that is said by anyone it is all propaganda (if i understand the words meaning) to each ones own will... so lets stop with those remarks as well. To tell you the truth I just wanted to write this review to keep those darn smart people from discouraging us regular people from reading this book. I'm sure it has things that someone might disagree with and I'm sure some might think that they are much too smart to be fooled in such a dogmatic way, but the objective of this book- which i believe it achieved - is simple..... SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE. And you cannot argue with that.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars False Analogy Part Deux April 30 2002
First off, does the book deserve 1 star? In my humble opinion no it does not. It deserves maybe 3. Why only the one? Shear force of weight. I am simply trying to be somewhat of a counter balance. I approached this book expecting great things or at least substantial things. And let us begin and end there. No substance. Many arguments are arguments of False Analogy, but there are other fallacies in there too. False Dichotomy, Begging the Question, False Cause, Hasty Generalization... Just to name a few. I urge you to look up the definitions of these fallacies and then reread the book. The book appeals to common sense, elucidated via analogy. Unfortunately the analogies themselves are flawed. I want so much to embrace a proverbial smack down on pop culture, but this book does not even begin to give real ammunition to do so. Many things in this book are over simplified. And there is an air of absolutism, but this is somewhat begging the question; what mechanism does one use to discern the absolute nature of what Ishmael is teaching? Do we use the "myth" of "Mother Culture" to absolutely discern the flaws of "Mother Culture"? The same mechanism we used to create this culture is the mechanism we are appealing to to dismiss it. Perhaps the method is flawed. Maybe we weren't asking the right questions. Maybe the sum of our knowledge is incomplete and thus appealing to known laws, like gravity, is incomplete. This book is food for the masses. To question just one simple Ishmael analogy. If building civilization out of accordance with the Natural Law of Competition is parallel to attempting to defy the Law of Gravity, then by following the analogy thus are there corollary Laws in civilization to the Laws of Aerodynamics which allow us to circumvent the Law of Gravity. Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but far from perfect April 29 2002
Like some others in here, I would actually rate this book a 3 or 4, but since when I check out a book one of the first things I read are the negative reviews, I thought I'd throw my $.02 in here. For those who insist that this book "doesn't back up assumptions with facts" or that it's "just another new age diatribe" I'd suggest following up a reading of Ishmael with Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" which not only won a Pulitzer, but backs up nearly everthing Quinn postulates about "how things came to be this way."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If it feels good, write it. March 12 1999
By A Customer
This is an interesting book in that it indicts human civilization for covering up a 'true' cultural history and for being creative rational beings. I wouldn't mind if the author attempted to back up the thesis with solid evidence or at least good analysis, but the author attempts to convince the reader by invoking wishful environmentalist thinking while showing a lack of understanding of biological, ecological and physical processes. I kept wishing that the human questioner would have taken one course in environmental biology and studied just a bit of physics. Then, instead of asking 'Gee Whiz!' style questions of the ape, he could have grilled him. That would have been interesting! Of course, many would argue that the scales haven't fallen from my eyes yet - that just by criticizing it shows that I didn't get it. If you dislike the cold glare of logic, analysis and reason, and are more interested in basking in the warming glow of sociological anthropology and emotion, read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking but ultimately incorrect Aug. 23 1998
By A Customer
I did not give this book three stars because of its plot, characters, etc., because this is less a novel than a logical argument. I gave this book three stars because, although it is very thought provoking, I think the logic is fatally flawed. Here are a few examples:
1) One of Ishmael's basic assumptions is that humans are just like any other animals in the natural environment. Apparently reasoning ability doesn't really count for anything. In my opinion, some kind of cultural expansion is inevitable for a rational species. When you become rational, you realize that food equals survival and that death means permanent absence from this world; therefore, you work to get as much food as possible and prolong your existence as much as possible. And if hyenas could reason, I'm pretty sure they WOULD eradicate their lion competitors to get more food. They're not acting out any unbreakable law of nature; they just haven't figured out that fewer competitors means more food for them.
2. He says that only our current Taker civilization is assimilative and aggressive. What about Chinese culture? They had an agricultural society which assimilated many other cultures in Asia before they even saw an Indo-European (Taker).
3. Apparently he's insinuating that the widespread Leaver agricultural society in ancient Europe was the "correct society" that was advanced but not assimilative. Why was it widespread, then? A culture begins in a certain location and, as he states, other peoples are usually not happy about adopting a new culture. It seems to me that a culture must be assimilative to be widespread, so his argument about this prehistoric culture does not seem compelling.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thuoght-provoking
How often do you read a book that causes you to re-examine the fundamentals assumptions you live by? Read more
Published 4 months ago by Andrew Brown
3.0 out of 5 stars okay read
Ishmael is an ape, an intellectual ape. This ape proceeds to teach a college professor through telepathy about evolution, the environment and philosophy. Read more
Published on April 21 2012 by AceofHearts
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
This is my favourite book of all time. It completely changes the way you look at the world.
Published on Jan. 27 2010 by Chocolate Thunder
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the Worst Books I have ever Read
Simply put, this is a boring useless book. The plot is blatantly contrived, unimaginative, and absurd. The main characters completely wooden, and the plot absurd. Oh... Read more
Published on April 10 2007 by E. Haensel
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not just hype.
I read this book because other reviews and overviews indicated that this book was in line with what I already knew. Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2006 by Casey Wolfe
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!
Much like Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer, this book looks at the history of humankind on this planet and all we have done to it. Read more
Published on May 10 2006 by Steven R. McEvoy
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!
Much like Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer, this book looks at the history of humankind on this planet and all we have done to it. Read more
Published on May 10 2006 by Steven R. McEvoy
I couldn't put this one down - my fastest read yet. Fast but not unworthy by any means. This story leaves you with lots to chew on. Read more
Published on March 13 2006
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I really enjoyed the philosophical ruminations here between man and ape, and the basic belief that if humans are going to assume the role of masters of the Earth, that means we... Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2006 by Nancy F.
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual Must-Read Book!
If you're searching for the next Tom Clancy, John Grisham, or NY Times Bestseller book, move on. Ishmael is not a book for readers who enjoy character development, intricate... Read more
Published on May 8 2005 by Louis Astrella
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