Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

Ishmael is the kind of book that makes you think. It stays with you long after it’s finished, and has you pondering about the way you live your life. It has you questioning the authenticity of your own human perspective, and deliberating on how things came to be as they are. Can they feasibly stay that way and are we right after all?

I happened upon this book quite by accident. It’s one of those little gems you ordinarily wouldn’t look twice at, but over the years, Quinn has established a cult following, and is read, discussed, and debated in both school and academic contexts.

Entirely fictional, it presents us with a rational and utterly plausible view of society and the history of the world. Dividing mankind into two groups – Takers and Leavers – or Us and Primitive Society – the story is told in a teaching setting between a man and a gorilla: the gorilla being Ishmael, and Ishmael being the teacher. The man responded to an ad in the newspaper, which he at first disregarded as preposterous and outrageous, but to which he applied none-the-less:

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

 Quinn’s choice of a gorilla for the main character may, at first, seem odd, especially when the gorilla communicates telepathically with the man, but if Ishmael were to be another man, then the reader could not be as convinced of the message. Ishmael needs to be a gorilla due to his close evolutionary relationship with man, and he needs to be an animal in order to provide the outside perspective of a potential loser in man’s quest to make the world his own. As Ishmael says:










As equally entertaining as it is interesting and enlightening, I recommend this book to anyone with a conscience, and an earnest desire to save the world from themselves.


One thought on “Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

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  1. I read this book when I was in my late teens…so maybe 14 years ago? Like Rosemary said, it stays with you. I remember now that I was confused by the Gorilla Gone…Man Gone statement back then. Now, it seems obvious.

    I’ve recommended it to various people throughout the years with mixed results.

    Thinking about it now has me glad that I spent the time with it.

    Miigwetch, Rosemary!

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