Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

Get thyself to your local library (or Amazon, if you've got money), and go find a book called Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. Do it now. Seriously. It will change your life.

Ishmael is the story of a man who sees a classified ad in a newspaper that reads, "Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world." The man, being a sort of lapsed hippy who is bitter that the 1960s failed to start a revolution, goes to the address in the advertisement, and finds his teacher.

The teacher is a 700-pound mountain gorilla. A gorilla who has learned to speak after living with a trainer for many years. The gorilla, Ishmael, teaches the man about the history of the human race. They explore mythology and metaphysics, and try to figure out how to stop humanity from destroying the world. It is quite simply, one of the most astonishing books I have ever read. The most profound, amazing part is Ishmael's interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. You see, he believes it was not a story describing how humanity began: It is a story describing the entire history of humanity.

Adam and Eve's are first appearance in the garden, naked and unashamed, represents humanity before the advent of agriculture. When they eat the fruit of knowledge, this represents humans discovering that they can grow their own food, and that if they use land to grow food, they can get rid of any other animals that want to live in their space, and thus multiply. And that belief has led us in an unswerving path of growth and multiplication directly to where we are today: on a course to overflow the Earth and destroy everything on it, including ourselves.

Ishmael is amazing. It is profound. Yes, it is sad. But read it. And if you want to know more, go to to learn about the author's philosophy and see his many, many other books.

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