by Daniel Quinn

Paper Book, 1993


Fantasy. Fiction. Literature. HTML:One of the most beloved and bestselling novels of spiritual adventure ever published, Ishmael has earned a passionate following. This special twenty-fifth anniversary edition features a new foreword and afterword by the author.   â??A thoughtful, fearlessly low-key novel about the role of our species on the planet . . . laid out for us with an originality and a clarity that few would deny.â?ťâ??The New York Times Book Review Teacher Seeks Pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person. It was just a three-line ad in the personals section, but it launched the adventure of a lifetime. So begins an utterly unique and captivating novel. It is the story of a man who embarks on a highly provocative intellectual adventure with a gorillaâ??a journey of the mind and spirit that changes forever the way he sees the world and humankindâ??s place in it.   In Ishmael, which received the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship for the best work of fiction offering positive solutions to global problems, Daniel Quinn parses humanityâ??s origins and its relationship with nature, in search of an answer to this challenging question: How can we save the world from ourselves?   Explore Daniel Quinnâ??s spiritual Ishmael trilogy: ISHMAEL â?˘ MY ISHMAEL â?˘ THE STORY OF B Praise for Ishmael â??As suspenseful, inventive, and socially urgent as any fiction or nonfiction you are likely to read this or any other year.â?ťâ??The Austin Chronicle â??Before weâ??re halfway through this slim book . . . weâ??re in [Daniel Quinnâ??s] grip, we want Ishmael to teach us how to save the planet from ourselves. We want to change our lives.â?ťâ??The Washington Post â??Arthur Koestler, in an essay in which he wondered whether mankind would go the way of the dinosaur, formulated what he called the Dinosaurâ??s Prayer: â??Lord, a little more time!â?? Ishmael does its bit to answer that prayer and may just possibly have bough… (more)



Call number



New York : Bantam/Turner Book, 1993.

User reviews

LibraryThing member polutropos
The old joke says that the world is divided into two kinds of people, the kind that believes that the world is divided into two kinds of people, and the kind that doesn't believe that. The book that brought that to mind is Daniel Quinn's Ishmael. I am told there are Ishmaelites out there who think
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this book is the be-all and end-all. On the cover of my edition, a reviewer divides his reading into pre and post Ishmael. I am sorry to say I am not joining the Ishmaelites. The author presents his ideology, moderately interesting, akin to Coelho's The Alchemist. The Socratic figure in the dialogue is a gorilla. How cute. The world, we are told, is divided into Takers and Leavers. Hmmm, O.K. It would be nice, we are urged, if we all turned into Leavers, from our present stance of Takers. Lovely. Thanks. The next act to audition today, ladies and gentlemen, will be singing an original composition entitled "All we are saying is give peace a chance."
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LibraryThing member Terpsichoreus
Are you the sort of person who hears other people discussing books and finding yourself wondering how they can even form opinions on stories? I mean, either you like it or you don't, right? Well, if that's you, then read this book, The Giver, and Siddhartha (if that sounds like too much, substitute
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Jonathan Livingston Seagull for the latter). Once you've done that, you'll feel all sorts of strange emotions and ideas swirling around inside you and you, too, will be able to talk about how a book made you think.

Then, you should watch Donnie Darko (which will become your favorite movie), and you can talk about how movies make you think, too. Soon, you'll be readin' and thinkin' and talkin' up a storm. It's just like a dog who eats grass so he can understand horses.
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LibraryThing member literarysarah
A friend told me that I had to read this book; that it would change my life. All it did was make me think he was rather naive and impressionable.
LibraryThing member LaurynBlevins
Ishmael is a gorilla. And Ishmael is a teacher who communicates with humans telepathically. On the surface, this hardly seems to be a character who would appear in a serious book; more likely a children's story, a fable, or perhaps a bad science fiction novel. Yet Ishmael is none of these, and
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Ishmael is a strong character, with a powerful intellect and a serious purpose. The character of Ishmael needs to be non-human in order to be effective. Looking in on civilization from the outside gives him a perspective from which to criticize humanity without hypocrisy. To hear the oppressor repent is not nearly so effective as to hear the voice of the oppressed demand freedom and restitution.
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LibraryThing member KidSisyphus
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Behold the majesty of Curious George as he gets all dialogue-y on your ass! Your encounter will leave you changed! You, too, may find yourself flinging poop at civilization along with our simian savior!

A telepathic gorilla develops something like consciousness,
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is happily able to flower under the attentive stewardship of a George Soros-type philanthropist and waxes philosophical to a disenchanted idealist. This book stinks of anthropological and ecological platitudes which I think you would be better served acquiring by taking a few puffs of the wacky weed and watching the Pearl Jam video for Do the Evolution.

And something that seems to be missing from every review of this book I’ve read thus far -- the story’s narrator is barely unnerved by a telepathic gorilla. I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but if I ever tell you that my dog is talking to me, please contact the authorities. I’m sure I’ll thank you for it later. I mean, David Berkowitz does it, and he’s a serial killer; this guy does it, and he wants to roll back civilization to the hunter-gatherer stage. I’m down with Mother Earth and all that jazz, but psychopathology is psychopathology.
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LibraryThing member SquirrelTao
This is one of those books you just have to read. It's not the theme, it's how the unfolding narrative involves you in perceiving the theme. To describe it too much would be to spoil it.
LibraryThing member planetneutral
Far too didactic for me to read the whole thing.
LibraryThing member Molave
While I'm sure there are good ideas in this book that helped it make it to several editions, the writing was just too uneven, the initial scene too contrived, for me to get into it. With so many other works on my to-read list, I didn't find it worth going beyond the first few pages.
LibraryThing member lhuss
“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael is the quintessential novel to learning and understanding the untold quirks of Human Nature, and Human Culture. The narrator finds himself in a small room in a remote building,
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talking to a teacher named Ishmael, who is unlike any teacher anyone has ever had. To begin with, Ishmael is a telepathic Gorilla, a philosophical genius. Through the novel, Ishmael asks questions of the narrator, and tells stories that relate to every man, woman and child on planet Earth, debunking common human myths and ideologies, and deciphering how these myths and beliefs will eventually lead to man’s self-destruction.
What makes Man different from other animals? How do we perceive the world, the galaxy, and the universe? How will man’s thirst for dominance, belief in their own mythology, and disregard for the laws of nature lead to their inevitable downfall? Ishmael teaches the narrator the subtleties of human culture, which, when looked upon, are realized to be outrageously common and all-encompassing. This novel takes the reader through a philosophical journey, at the end of which, it is almost impossible to think the same way about the world again.
Ishmael explains man’s own quest for a Utopia, which will be brought about by the destruction of all competition, and the total dominance over the entire Earth, leaving man in his rightful place, as rulers of the world. He explains that without man, the world would be a Utopia in its own respect. Everything would live according to the laws of nature, with no war, poverty, or crime. Ishmael explains that mankind sees nature as a chaotic structure void of order or reason. In reality however, nature is very organized and lawful. The reason mankind lives differently than animals in nature is because man believes himself to be above the petty laws of natural existence.
This book was incredible in the way that Ishmael was delivering his lesson to the narrator; it makes the reader feel as though they are sitting right next to the narrator figuring everything out right along with him. I highly recommend it to anyone who like philosophy, or who wants to learn about human nature. What it says on the front of the book is absolutely true. After reading this book, you look at the world and everything in it from an entirely different and enlightening perspective.
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LibraryThing member danconsiglio
Blaaahhhhh! Scrawny introduction to stuff you should already know. Quinn wimped out and wrote a plot when he should have just published a five page sociology essay.
LibraryThing member daschaich
Ishmael: A Critical Analysis of Civilization: It is a general rule that any particular culture can only be understood by someone outside of it - a neutral observer, unaffected by prejudice or indoctrination. This is the reasoning behind Quinn's choice of a gorilla named Ishmael as the main
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character of this novel, who conducts a series of dialogues analyzing the whole of civilization itself.

But what is the civilization that Quinn looks at? Instead of muttering about monumental building and written language, Quinn treats civilization in a method that is becoming increasingly popular: as the result of a critical mass of humanity that makes possible rapid advances in knowledge and science. For this to be possible, intensive agriculture must be used to raise the population density to such a point that civilization occurs.

So Quinn uses a gorilla as an outsider looking in and perceiving the reality of civilization - of cultures using intensive agriculture to dominate the world. His conclusions are for the most part negative: he concludes that civilization is not sustainable in the long term (that is, over millions of years).

The observations used to come to this conclusion are relatively well-known; that civilization is the greatest disaster to befall earth in the past 65 million years. In terms of pollution, deforestation, extinction, and overall negative impact to the web of life itself, humanity is supreme among all the species. What Quinn does not share with the others who know these facts is a belief that civilization will overcome any difficulties it encounters. Civilization, to Quinn, is the problem, not the solution.

"Ishmael" is the presentation of these ideas in a Socratic method from a gorilla to a man "with an earnest desire to save the world." There isn't really any plot to this book, nor does Quinn intend there to be. The disappearance of Ishmael at the end of book is the only story-like element in "Ishmael", and it is really an attempt by Quinn to set the reader free - to encourage him/her to think about civilization for himself rather than be told about it by a telepathic gorilla. I've always had the feeling that this should be considered nonfiction, rather than a story.

The problem presented by "Ishmael" is simple: civilization is the problem. The solution is both simple and complex: in order to preserve a human niche in the ecosystem, we must go beyond civilization. Working to figure out just what this means is one of the great joys of reading "Ishmael," whether or not you agree with Quinn's assessment of the situation. "Ishmael" is a book that will make you look around and think, and perhaps reach some conclusions that you may find surprising. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Giglio.Danny
Without seeming overly enthiusiastic, and thus losing reliability, I would like to maturly claim that this is the most useful, didactic, and entertaining book I've ever read. After convincing upwards of twenty people to read this book, I can divide the average reaction into two categories. Firstly,
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and more frequently, readers react in the same way that I have, regarding the book as a life-changing experience rather than "a good read". Secondly, people can feel appauled by reading "Ishmael". I personally believe this is resultant of the fear the book produces in its vivid description of the underpinnings of civilzation.
The book can be summarized (poorly at best) in the following manner: A man is forced to evaluate the emergence of civilization via the Socratic Teaching Method. The book then consists mostly of a transcibed conversation between the protagonist and his teacher, a gorilla named Ishmael. Through the conversation, the man, and simultaneously the reader, reveal the true driving force behind the society in which we all live. The realization of the toxicity of this culture is vivid, and thoroughly explained in the text.
I reccomend this book to even those who disagree with these claims, and therefore embrace our culture, because the book will still inform and educate.
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LibraryThing member bzedan
I can see how reading this book as a teen or early college student would rock one's world. It's lovely to read and brings up great ideas, but I had a teenage life-changing book* and so that part of me just couldn't connect.*Dune, shut up
LibraryThing member teewillis1981
I read this book when I was 19 years old and even now years later, It has become a permanent staple in my way of thinking. I would say that to question the way society is run i.e. politics, education etc is important but to question the very structure of our culture is revolutionary. This book is
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not for the faint of heart and is almost guaranteed to change your worldview. READ IT.
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LibraryThing member Mdshrk1
This book was so interesting that I checked out the next book in the series. This examines the cultural background of Western civilization from the perspective of "Takers," and "Leavers." It reexamines the basis of Judeo-Christian thought.
LibraryThing member JoseArcadio
A simple conversation between a gorilla and man reveals to a profound philosophical look into the problems and fate of civilization as we know it. Quinn speaks through the gorilla Ishmael in order to enlighten readers and provide the beginnings of a solution to many of society's problems. Ishmael
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reveals the ever present influence of Mother Culture and allows the protagonist and the reader to identify and overcome this influence.

The themes of the novel can becom the foundations radical new beliefs for many people or it may just be the confirmation for the need of change in our current society's way. In any case Ishmael is a must read for all people.
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LibraryThing member marfita
If you can just get past the gorilla who speaks telepathically, this is great stuff. It will turn you on your head. Ecology, sociology, psychology - it's all there. Read it and learn something.
LibraryThing member cram27
I read Ishmael after I finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I bought Ishmael from Mr. Hopper's book club. The points addressed concerning the story of Adam and Eve were interesting and original from anything else I have been taught of heard. It had a hint of anti-religion, and a
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strong depiction of humanity acting as a cancer on Earth, which suggested anti-civilization. The book called for a turn back to complete survival of the fittest, which the narrator believes is impossible. I do not agree with the need for that drastic of a change; however, I believe some of the points are note worthy. I have already bought and plan to read the sequel and prequel. Ishmael also sparked an increased interest in Jewish history and religion; although the interest is not really directly related to the text.
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LibraryThing member l_aurore
I had heard so many things about how "life-changing" and "mind-blowing" this book was, so naturally, I had to pick it up. And I loved it -- declared it five-star-worthy and thought-provoking and recommended it to anyone I could, including my book club. So, naturally, I was surprised by its 50/50
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reception when we met about it - criticisms about it being without a major plotline, just about a gorilla talking, and about the subject not being mind-blowing unless you're an undergraduate not yet wise to the world.

Well, the counter-argument: Ishmael does not highlight this mind-blowing never-been-thought-or-mentioned-before point of being, but it does pull together strands of what critical minds already have heard and thought, add an interesting point of view, and weave it together in a way that I hadn't experienced before. It will mean different things to different age groups, depending on where the reader is in their world view and thought process - but really, I think it can be valuable at any stage. And although the plot was minimal (it really is a gigantic conversation in the form of a novel, in socratic questioning format), I was still engaged with how it developed. I cared about Ishmael and what happened to him.

In short, I love the way Ishmael makes you pull together various thoughts about civilization and think about it all in context. I much preferred The Story of B. because of the deepening of the philosophy and the greater storyline, but Ishmael is essential to beginning the journey with David Quinn, and if you realize that it will be more of a conversation than an exciting novel with massive plot-twists and respect it for what it is, you will enjoy it as much as I did.
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LibraryThing member 1morechapter
It all begins when a man answers this ad:

Must have an earnest desire to
save the world. Apply in person.

Who (or what) he finds there and the conversation they have about how to save the world follows. This book is written in a conversational style that reminded me of The
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Alchemist. It’s an easy read about Daniel Quinn’s real-life philosophies having to do with population control and food production. Although I didn’t agree with most of his ideas, he had a few valid points worth considering. Overall, though, I don’t think the world will be accepting his solution.
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LibraryThing member kwalsh14
Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

When you begin Ishmael it will not be what you expect. The story opens with a strange ad: "Teacher seeks pupil, must have an earnest desire to save the world". This intrigues the reader and brings you into the book. The teacher who is seeking this
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student turns out to be someone totally different then you ever would have expected. When Alan the main character arrives to the place where he is to meet his teacher he discovers an empty room, however he is soon to find that there is something in there that will change his view of the world. Coming into this book the reader must know that it is mostly conversations, two people talking and discussing issues of the world and how they can improve it.
Ishmael and Alan discuss issues of society and the world. They talk through many stages of the world, both governments and people that have worked and those that have not worked. Ishmael tries to show the world to Alan through the eyes of an animal he address that fact that keeping animals in cages and feeling superior to them is similar Nazi Germany, and the German’s feeling superior to the Jews and other minorities. Ishmael and Alan discuss that human nature is try and create a utopia. However, he also states that this is impossible because there is no right way to live and therefore you can’t achieve that perfect world.
This book opens your mind and gives you new ideas! At first it was a little hard to get into because I felt the premise was strange and that made it hard to commit to the book. However, once you do it really shows you how animals must feel when you overpower them and it shows how another being in the world like animals view humans. I would recommend this book to anyone age 15 and up sometimes it is hard to understand so kids a lot younger then that might have trouble. I think that there is something to be gained from this book no matter what your age is.
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LibraryThing member sburton
The setting of Ishmael is an odd one. It is not often that you see a gorilla and a human being in the same room to each other. If that is not enough, these two characters discuss intricate topics such as culture, philosophy, and the world that combines them. Ishmael
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(gorilla) teaches his pupil about the traditions of his culture, and points out (or, makes his pupil out) what is wrong with them, and how we, as a culture, should fix them.
Because the unnamed character is digesting new material about his culture, it is forcing him to rethink the way he lived his life, which enacts his search for self. In his search, the unnamed character battles tradition with fact, but which will overcome?
I enjoyed reading this book because Ishmael takes historical stories, and puts a twist on them, making the reader rethink the story in a way never seen before. However, there is minimal plot in this book, seeing is that it is mostly two creatures sitting in a room discussing life. Because of this, the ending is predictable, leaving the reader a bit disappointed. However, the reader will walk away with a new sense of how their culture enacts their story, possibly troubling them. The question is: Is this a good thing?
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LibraryThing member jbuono
The novel really was about a gorilla talking. He talks so much because he tries to teach a human to think differently, to save the world. He tells me things I have never even came close to thinking about before. This book strongly moves me with his knowledge and makes me not want to be “Takers”
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as all us humans are- except the few “Leavers” (Indians and Natives) left.

Ishmael talking to the human (who was never named nor gendered) was like in real life. The author tried to put a human touch on the book in that the human asked many questions and Ishmael changed locations due to his owners. The human had the regular responses to some things Ishmael said, for Ishmael was a very intelligent ape. He taught me about the environment and the history of man. He also teaches me what he believes is the reason for many questions humans have and wonder about, and at the same time don’t wonder about. For instance how did man become man? Ishmael spoke with no one religion; he just spoke of the “gods.” Christians speak in the sense that God made man but that is not what Ishmael meant, he meant how we became in power over all and a deeper meaning. Everything Ishmael said had a deeper meaning and it blew my mind.
Ishmael teaches the human about why the earth is not a utopia. The Takers utopia is a world they control. However we control the world now and it is not happy. While the Leavers lived in happiness and the world worked for them but their utopia was lost when the Takers took control. Through speaking about the environment Ishmael tells us how the author pictures his utopia in that we are all equal including among creatures. Humans are only making the path on how to live and we should help creatures and others along the way.
I thought this novel was very good. Although it was confusing and boring at times within the next chapters I began to understand what Ishmael was saying. To get the point across Ishmael would talk for pages when I could have understood it the first page. It just gave extra thought. Plus there was no mystery or action in it which are my favorite kinds of books but educationally it was awesome. However I cannot stress how differently it changed my thoughts and made me realize how all us humans do think the same in some sense. It opened my eyes in how much destruction humans cause and how change is needed.
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LibraryThing member Jwizzle
In a world where things are dismal at best- waging wars, environmental blunder, homelessness, starvation, overpopulation, etc., Ishmael offers a bit of insight and a lot of hope. In Daniel Quinn’s novel, he has chosen someone so different, yet enough the same, to enlighten one of our very own. He
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has chosen Ishmael, a gorilla that has lived a long, intricate life, and placed him in an office building with a human. Ishmael, from his long and intricate life, has made many astute observations of human societies and has developed taste for sharing. Realizing no matter how sage he may be that he is still a coarse haired, 400 pound mammal, he seeks someone who may learn from his observations and hopefully save the world from its downward spiral. He places an ad in the personal column.

“Teacher seeks pupil
. Must have an earnest desire to save the world.
Apply in person.”

Ishmael does more than point out the obvious, in fact he does just the opposite once his ad is answered. He and his pupil, the 5th of four failures, take a journey together as they examine the past, present and future. Ishmael uses his knowledge of ancient maps and text, including the globally interpreted Bible, to support his conclusions. However, he doesn’t allow his knowledge to boil over, spilling over onto his overwhelmed student; he and his student have deep conversations while Ishmael skillfully leads him to the truth. That’s not to say that the pupil automatically knows every answer to Ishmael’s well thought out inquiries, its actually quite the contrary. That’s what makes this novel so effective- the way that it’s written. Once you get to the end, it seems so clear, so blatantly obvious what people need to do in order to fix the world, but it truly takes the 263 pages to get there. Quinn slowly but surely allows you to develop your thoughts alongside Ishmael’s pupil. Quinn allows him to ask the questions that you yourself would surely ask, as if you were there with him. By the end you are invigorated with truth, and with an earnest desire to save the world.
I 100% percent recommend that everyone reads this book. Ishmael (it’s much more fun to give props to a gorilla than a man named Quinn) doesn’t present you with any sort of new knowledge, it’s all stuff we’ve seen or heard before. He just shows us us, but from a different perspective, and that’s pretty awesome. By the end you are invigorated with truth, and with an earnest desire to save the world. The only reason I hesitated to give this book 5 stars is because it got a little too heavy for me at times. There are so many gargantuan things to note at once that sometimes it gets a little overwhelming, but there are some breaks from learning peppered in the beginning and end of the book as we learn more about Ishmael.
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LibraryThing member tundranocaps
I love this book. Even if the story itself is not engrossing, it is not meant as anything other than a tool to carry the author's opinions.Be advised, this is an ideology book, and if you find the ideology* disagreeable, you will find the book disagreeable.I liked the way he makes his arguments, I
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do not know if they will stand to scrutiny right now, but at the time of reading, it worked. The "mentor" character asks the protagonist questions, which are hard to think of answers for (at least within 5 minutes), and the answers he gives are convincing, or seem that way.Even if you dislike the ideology, I find his reading on the origin of the Cain and Abel story simply fascinating.* The ideology is about preserving Earth and mankind's nature and place as an animal.
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Original publication date



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