Years ago, when my 9th grade biology teacher recommended that we read Ishmael over the summer, I was perplexed as to the reason why. Wouldn't a biology teacher recommend we read something like Hawkin's Selfish Gene or Darwin's Origin of Species? It seemed odd to pick up a nonfiction book that had no obvious surface issues related with biology.
Of course, as teachers always do, he had a valid point to his suggestion. Ishmael centers around Ishmael, a philosophizing gorilla teacher and his pupil, a man he finds through a newspaper ad that simply reads: TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.
The man who reads this ad in both disgust at the idea of being able to "save the world" and goes to prove the person who posted this ad wrong. Upon arrival to the location, the man finds himself in a room with only a gorilla present. After asking out loud, not expecting a response, if this gorilla is the teacher, Ishmael telepathically replies, I am the teacher. From here, Ishmael begins his lesson to the student about the big-picture actions of humans since the beginning of time and how their actions have evolved negatively with regards to the other species of the world.
I don't necessarily agree with some people who say this story is supposed to have an environmental tone that shows how humans are destroying the world but rather it is supposed to present a way for humans to understand that the evolutionary process which made us the most intelligent beings should not warrant us free reign of the world but rather an understanding that we still need to work in harmony with the other parts of the world. In a way, it reminds me of a quote I once heard that states "I'm not young enough to know everything."
Utilizing a form of Socratic Dialogue, Ishmael shows his student how to see past the basic assumptions he has internalized and to start to understand the world from a new perspective.
I recommend this book to anyone who even has a tiny bit of curiousity about the theories and ideas between human evolution/psychology and how it has affected the world around us. Although I love the book, I'm not as crazy about it as others who call it the ultimate look into how things need to be changed in the world, but it is a smartly written book that asks many thought-provoking questions. In this day and age of what seems like dwindling intelligence among the "superior" human species, it is a way to get the gears in people's heads turning and maybe revisiting ideas and concepts that we all assume as concrete and immovable.
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