on July 4, 2004
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.
on June 23, 2004
Ishmael, if I may put it blatantly, is a phenomenal book. Yes, it preaches; yes, it makes extreme generalizations; yes, it probably isn't a good read for anyone with a closed mind. And yes, it is dangerous. But I feel that many people can take something away with them after reading Ishmael. This is my personal experience with the book. I concede that what happened with me is probably rare and doesn't happen on a regular basis.
I was lent the book by another high school student in my Spanish class. Denise was on a mission to change the world, and she was doing it one book at a time. I read the book once, then read it again. It took a couple times for the stuff to sink in, but when it DID sink in... wow. They were EXPLAINING things that people had never seemed to address, and everything fell into place and it made sense and I became angry and upset with what I was convinced this world had turned into. I wanted to drop out of school after reading My Ishmael, the companion to Ishmael; I wanted to run away and hitch-hike my way out of my life; I wanted to stand outside and scream that everything was a LIE, that there wasn't a point to ANYTHING. I suppose you could liken it to a full-blown adolescent crisis. Eventually my internal din quieted down, however, and I took a serious look at Ishmael.
Doing that was what changed everything. It was the first time I'd ever looked at anything critically, that I'd ever had a reason for critiquing something on my own. I learned how seamless an argument could be. I realized that everything can be seen from a totally different point of view. And there was a bunch of other stuff that would be far too sentimental to post here.
I suppose this makes some readers cringe and want to remove Ishmael from all the libraries and book stores everywhere in a desperate attempt to spare their youth. I understand that people are bound to be concerned if I say that it made me want to drop out of school. It is a dangerous book, but that isn't a reason to deny it to kids, especially teenagers. It's a valuable lesson that we all have to learn, some way or another- that it isn't a good idea to glom onto something and take it as the word of God. To me it seems to be the argumentative equivalent of the Bible- and don't we read the Bible to our children?
What I think Ishmael is, is a book for people who are looking to be enlightened. Not entertained. It's a book that will open your eyes, and it will change you, in more ways than one. The reason that it is dangerous is the same reason that it is so powerful: it has the power to completely change your mind. And whether or not you let it do that is part of the overall lesson.
on March 12, 1999
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.
on 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."
on February 21, 2004
Although I wouldn't categorize this book as "life changing", I also don't agree with many reviewers that _Ishmael_ is a waste of time or poorly written.
Granted, the protagonist of this story is quite dense and the premise of the "Takers" and the "Leavers" is pretty redundant at times... and okay-- the ideas expressed aren't exactly new or original. I'll give the negative reviewers that.
But... this book makes you think. I originally read it for a Sociology project in college and have re-read it 3 or 4 times since. Its simplicity and repetition makes the concepts easy to understand. I don't agree with other reviewers that you have to be stupid to find value in the arguments in this book. They are clear, concise, and well-articulated.
I'm not a theologian or a philosophy scholar but I am interested in making our world a safer place for ALL creatures. This book reaffirmed my beliefs that we--as humans--have overstepped our bounds in regards to our use and destruction of the earth.
Read this book. Make up your own mind. You're not stupid for wanting your arguments to be spelled out concretely.
on 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. If modern civilization is akin to a non flight worthy aircraft what represents the pilot? What represents the controls? Who built the machine? Based on what model? What represents the cliff we jumped off of? Are some cliffs bigger than others? What is the exact force that is propelling us to which analogous ground? What is the amount of energy produced from the collision between our non flight worthy craft and the proverbial ground? What is the proverbial ground? Now maybe your immediate reaction is that I am picking nits. I agree. That is the problem with analogy though. For elucidation great, but you can't base an argument on analogy without embracing the whole analogy. We need more substance. We need more reliable methods of achieving answers. I love every chance to bash cultural myth, but I need more meat than this. Also the book mentions a reference to Zero Sum Economics, fallacy. In economics if I take more it does not mean less for others. Wealth is created not merely existing and redistributed.
on June 5, 2001
The most important aspect of storytelling is the story; a single, unified action of some magnitude, whereby characters' fortunes are reversed and their attributes are revealed. Quinn, apparently concerned only with his ideology, failed to construct any sort of a plot, so Ishmael can not rightly be called a story. It can not be dignified with the title of "philosophical Dialogue" either, since few of his premises are substantiated, and his conclusions are drawn from invalidly constructed arguments. Unlike Socrates' friends, Ishmael's pupil never once examines what he is told for internal contradictions. Socrates continually sought wisdom from those who claimed to possess it, whose arguments he then examined objectively, while also proposing through sound and valid propositions his own arguments. Ishmael, however, is quite content with his view of the world; and as it is to him self-evident and unassailable, he never bothers to anticipate any objections, nor does he offer any proofs of its validity. Despite Quinn's frequent use of the word, this book also contains no parables, since a parable is an allegorical story intended to convey a lesson in morality; and there are no stories told with any intended purpose throughout this book. Contrary also to the claims made on the book's cover, this book is certainly not in the least bit adventurous for the mind or spirit. For something of that nature, read Dante, Plato, Ecclesiastes, or the New Testament, as these are works which tend to a more sublime and ultimately rewarding ideal than the virtues of hunting, gathering, and otherwise subsisting always on the verge of starvation. If the hunting and gathering lifestyle was truly as glorious as Ishmael depicts it, surely Quinn's disciples would be moving to the Kalihari, the outback, or some glacier to live at one with nature and sunder their relationship with our culture, which, according to Ishmael, is inherently evil and suicidal. Ishmael would be brilliant, were it deliberately a satire of predominating modern beliefs; but insofar as it intends a serious end, it is a complete failure. If you want a compelling story and brilliant dialogue, read Shakespeare. If you want rationally constructed philosophy, read Plato and Aristotle. If you want a spiritual experience, read the Divine Comedy. If you want insightful social criticisms(with more useful and practical solutions than completely dismantling modern civilization), read G.K.Chesterton or C.Wright Mills. If you want to find evidence that there is indeed something wrong with current American literature, and with the culture which produces it, read Quinn's book. Only in a complete vaccuum of art and ideas can a book like Ishmael achieve any sort of popularity.
on February 27, 2001
The numerous complaints by readers of Quinn's narrative and/or writing abilities are a bit frivilous. Quinn himself has admitted he's not the world's best writer. This book is a book of ideas, and ideas only. If one approaches it with an open mind, it can potetially be thought-provoking. HOWEVER, I have some serious gripes regarding his main argument. First, the reader has to accept Quinn's basic argument that "modern civilization is bad". If one does NOT agree with this argument, then the rest of Ishmael is basically beating a dead horse.
I do not think modern civilization is inherently evil. I think we as a species face ALOT of problems, and I too would hate to see gorillas and chimpanzees go extinct, but in general "modern civilization" is slowly but surely headed in the right direction.
I agree with other reviewers that Quinn can be a bit hypocritical and self-congragulatory in his writing. Quinn asserts that he is not arguing that the human species itself is bad or evil, only our culture. Yet throughout reading Ishmael, I couldn't help but feel guilty at being a member of "Taker Culture" in which, to paraphrase Quinn, I wake up every morning and begin destroying the world.
And where, in any of Quinn's writings, are there any concrete examples of "walking away" from Mother Culture? Hey let's all go start "Tribal Businesses" like Quinn and his wife!
In summation, an interesting read, but read with a critical mind.
on May 29, 2000
Ishmael won the Turner Tomorrow prize and the five thousand dollars that goes with that award. It is part of a literature I call civilization bashing. Fond tradition pictures the planes and mountains of this planet as a nature untouched by humans, a sort of original realm of the wild, undisturbed and eternal. Abandon that vision because it ain't so. Even if it were so, you wouldn't want to live there. Mankind has always been a major player in the recent history of Earth whether Ishmael the talking gorilla thinks so or not. What a better way for the pop-cult eggheads like Quinn, and the other self appointed satraps to earn their livings than by pointing out for us the early warning signs of the death of civilization and by constructing a fake analysis of evolutionary history and its direction. Man isn't entitled to control this planet because God wills it. Man is entitled to control the planet because he can. This has nothing to do with simplistic dualities of takers and leavers, as Quinn may believe, but with the natural law of struggle for survival, and the survival of the fit. Nevertheless, this book is worth a look, despite its exaggeration and extrapolation, because it encourages us to think about the larger issues that affect our future. For instance, the destruction of acres of rain forest is miniscule compared to the vast destruction wrought by suburban sprawl. Ishmael teaches us that grim lesson and much much more.
on August 23, 1998
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.
4. He says that the agricultural civilizations in North America (Aztec, Inca) abandoned their way of life when they realized it was "against the law." Actually, they were probably wiped out by smallpox and Spanish conquistadors. And they were definitely assimilative; the Aztecs and Incas both subjugated many surrounding tribes.
Of course, an Ishmael devotee would accuse me of being a slave to Mother Culture. This is another problem I see with this book's logic: it is stated in such a way that any logical counter-argument can be dismissed as the product of cultural brainwashing. However, Ishmael apparently didn't realize that many of his ideas are not radically anti-Western, but rather commonplace among environmentalists and postmodernists.
I must admit that this novel is very thought-provoking; for example, Ishmael's interpretation of Cain, Abel, and the Garden of Eden is very interesting. However, it didn't even come close to changing my life as it has apparently changed others, because the logical flaws were just too great.