Ishmael by Daniel Quinn book review

“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” So began the philosophical novel that is Ishmael, published in 1992. The book was given to me by a fellow server at my job. She’s a fragile, high spirited and optimistic young woman. I was skeptical at first. Right there on the cover of the book, the message: “An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit” caused me to think the book some sort of religious journey. Coupling this, my fellow server told me that the idea of the book is communicated through a gorilla. Nevertheless I insisted that I give the novel a serious undertaking, and I am so glad that I have done so.

The novel is Socratic dialogue between Ishmael, the teacher (who also happens to be a gorilla), and the unnamed main character. The novel goes into the neo-tribalistic (as he terms it) ideas of Daniel Quinn.

The people of the world are categorized into two different sets of people: the Takers and the Leavers. The Takers being the majority of us, those who live among civilized society, no longer in cohort with nature or abiding by its laws.  The Leavers are those few tribes of people who still live among us, living in tandem with nature and only acquiring that

which they NEED and no more.

The dialogue goes into how the Takers are not only destroying the world but are destroying themselves. That if we continue to live in this manner (demolishing rain forests, destroying the ozone, and the like) we will soon be an extinct species. We are like those first aeronauts trying to attain flight, Ishmael states. Falling off of a cliff with our poorly constructed winged contraptions, pedaling away rapidly trying desperately to sustain altitude. The first few hundred feet everything is find and dandy. Only soon do we realize the ground below us is coming fast and our demise is soon upon us.

The books main statement is this: that we, as the takers, must go back to being like the Leavers. That we must, once again, live as a symbiotic cohabitant with nature and the many different species of fauna and flora that live among us. That once agriculture came into place, we no longer were in competition with nature. We pointed a finger at the gods and said, “We no longer need you. We can fend for ourselves!” We produced more than we needed and thus population increased and civilizations became more widespread. Time passed and technology became more advanced and abundant. All of a sudden, 10,000 or so years later, society is as it is today. We are at the midst of our jump off of the cliff and we are slowly realizing that the ground is coming at us FAST!

Of course, the novel goes into far greater detail. It takes a step by step approach to the answering of these problems and how we can attain the solution, not only to help ourselves but to help the Earth which could be a forever providing home for us if we stop taking advantage of it.

I recommend this book for those who want to do their part and understand that we can live in such a way that will support this planet. To live in such a way that one will not fear what kind of world their children or their grand children are being born into. For anyone that wants to look at life with a different vantage. BUT BE WARNED! This new vantage point will cause you to look at society in a completely different way. Once you have read Ishmael, I’m afraid there is no turning back.