Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is a story that explains a new paradigm of human history through the eyes of the student of a gorilla. The adventure begins when the pupil responds to Ishmael’s, the gorilla’s, newspaper add seeking a pupil with an earnest desire to save the world. Through a series of discussions, the pupil learns how to do just that.
Daniel Quinn did a fabulous job writing this book. Using a gorilla as the mentor was a great idea; close enough biologically to humans to allow for in-depth conversation and understanding but distant enough to maintain the animal-man divide. This technique further emphasized that humans can, and should, learn about the world through nature, which underscores the premise of this story and that of the Leavers (a group of people designated by Ishmael in the book).
The use of dialogue was another genius technique in telling this story of how the world is, came to be, and should be. Like Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, dialogue is used to counter controversial topics without blame or direct confrontation of personal beliefs. The reader is exposed to the new ideas as a result of a fictional discussion that allows both sides to be presented. The discussion also allows the reader to become one of Ishmael’s pupils, learning from questions that lead to full understanding of the current and saving beliefs. The reader can respond individually to Ishmael’s questions, come to the same conclusions as the character in the book (who could just as easily be anyone, especially since he is nameless), through the same progression of thought, making the conclusion much more meaningful and personal to the reader.
The only criticism I have for this book is that it is fictional, which may degrade its credibility. However, a fictional book is easier and more generally pleasing to the average audience, and allows for the reader to learn through experience, instead of simply being told what is right and what is not based on tables and charts. It is one of those books that I think you can pick and choose pieces of it to take with you, and if something doesn’t sit well, just move on without it. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it truly challenged me. The only regret I have is that I had not read it sooner.
WITH MAN GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR GORILLA? So posits Daniel Quinn's novel that uses Socratic dialog to discuss society, nature, culture, morality, and mythology, an questioning of humanity's relation to nature. The ambiguous meaning of the question perfectly epitomizes the philosophical nature of the novel; is man the destroyer or conservator of nature? Naturally, the answer is a resounding … more
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, … more
A highly recommended book that helps the reader to better understand modern human psychology. The method in which this message is developed is a bit strange at first, but becomes important as the novel goes on. A book that really changed the way I think about the world!
It may be that Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael" is tainted for me because of the context in which I had to read it: an introductory social science class at university. That said, I remember feeling that the idea of an ape sermonizing about the litany of deficiencies and arrogance in the human race to be very heavy-handed and rife with liberal guilt. There are many other, superior texts out there which point out the interconnectedness of the human, animal and … more