Published by Bantam Turner Books
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
The narrator of this tale is a man in search for truth. He answers an advert in a local newspaper from a teacher looking for 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 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?
An adventure of the mind and spirit.
There have been hundreds of reviews written about this book, and a lot seem to say that it should be non-fiction. This does not seem to be important, but it is not a story in the usual sense. It is a philosophical parable written in the style of a teacher-student exchange of ideas which has influenced a great deal of readers, hopefully for the good. It is basically conversations with a telepathic gorilla called Ishmael, who tells the story of the history of humans on earth when everything was sustainable before the ‘produce or die’ society emerged, when things then became unsustainable. The modern endeavours of mankind have been very destructive to the earth and he teaches that there are two different types of humans, takers or leavers. There does not seem to be any in between, and as the labels suggest some take from the environment and some give back. Most humans are said to be wantonly destroying the world we live in and need a wake up call to stop the wasteful nature of society and the mindless violence which is disguised as peacekeeping throughout the world.
This is ‘required reading’ on some philosophy courses and will equip the student with a bag of philosophic tools, as a foundation to further study. It is as relevant now as it was when it was published in 1995.
At the lowest level this book is about protecting the environment, but at the higher level of understanding it is about humans being captives of a system which is destructive in order to survive, for example to keep on using oil till it runs out is obviously not the best way forward but the alternatives would need a radical change in thinking, redistribution of power and wealth, and a revolution in the areas of social justice. However we seem compelled at present to keep on destroying the world and going along with atrocities such as the desecration of rain forests until everything falls apart. This book offers the beginnings of alternative ideals for humans. It is profound and, if not life changing, it is at least thought reshaping.