Ishmael Book

Ishmael by DanielQuinn (ISBN 0553375407 ).

It won the largest prize ever given to a single work of fiction: The TurnerFellowshipAward??, awarded to a work of fiction offering positive solutions to global problems. This doesn't mean that the book is any good, because in fact it felt like pulling teeth as I struggled through it's boring narrative.

Do you like research papers? That is what this book is.


This horrible book completely changed the way I look at the world around me. Much of it took things I had always been troubled with, and explained them in such a clear and rational way that I found myself thinking "I *knew* that!"

This terrible book is written in the form of a novel, which makes it easy to read, but it's actually a set of ideas and teachings. Ishmael is a gorilla, and a teacher (how and why he is able to speak with his unnamed human pupil is unimportant). Everyone who reads the book will get something different out of it, but that's okay. In the end, the idea that our culture has come to believe that humans are a cursed lot is throughly refuted. The difference between the two main cultures in the world (which he called the Takers - our culture, and the Leavers) clearly illustrates that we can live in the world without destroying it.

I haven't met a person yet whose life has not been dramatically affected after reading Ishmael. It's not a preachy book telling you how to live your life. It will cause you to closely examine the life we are all living and think seriously of what should be done to change it.

Author's homepage about the book: http://www.ishmael.org/Origins/Ishmael/


The sequel, MyIshmael, is also very good and I found some parallels to the OpenSource community.

I've just finished reading Ishmael for the first time; the website mentioned in the pages following its conclusion struck me as inadequate for answering my own questions about the book. ishcon.org likewise left me nonplussed. Does anyone know where one could (or would anyone like to) speak about or ask about this novel and the ideas therein?

The websites have been lame for the longest time, and strangely unresponsive.

I suppose my question is, "What's this all about?", but that's hopelessly vague. Ishcon.org seems to suggest it's a sort of cautionary environmentalist tale, but I think that Ishmael is speaking about something much deeper than environmentalism when he speaks about the Leavers. Maybe I'll write something when the ideas have had some time to coalesce.

-- JoeOsborn

Depending on where you live, you might be able to find a group of people to discuss DanielQuinn's books on http://www.meetup.com. --TimLesher


"What's this all about?"

I'm not against vague questions so here are some of my answers:

Is this just a novel or one of those "we can find paradise on earth" type books like The Celistine Prophecies? I'm hoping the former.

It's fiction (apes can't talk, not even telepathically) and it tells a story, but is it a novel? It's certainly novel. It's one of those books you have to read to get.

It has nothing to do with paradise on earth, or obtaining some kind of paradise at all. That is buying into some kind of "Noble Savage" ideal. If anything, it's about averting disaster by challenging the very basic assumptions of our culture.


Some people do not like it, as shown by the following comment (which was deleted, but restored for posterity's sake):

Another take on it: It's a horribly written rambling metaphysical text using a telepathic ape (yes) as a mouthpiece engaging in a socratic dialog with the narrator - in the worst sense of the term "Socratic". Not once are any of the fantastic assertions of the lecturer challenged with even the merest hint of skepticism: only question after question served up by the fawning wonderstruck questioner that serve only to introduce the next assertion. I haven't read such utter dreck since The Celestine Prophecy.

RichardBach's Illusions is similar in some ways - the Master teaching the Acolyte - but it's far more entertaining.

(For the record, the comment isn't mine, but I think dissenting views should be allowed, so I restored it. -- AalbertTorsius)

"This book completely changed the way I look at the world around me." "one of those books you have to read to get" ... not bad, for quotes drawn from just this page.

But because it's talking about a set of principles rather than a platform (I'm tempted to try formulating this in terms of "verbs concerning how things are done rather than nouns specifying what is to be done") it is necessarily vague, that's the self-secrecy of this sort of thing. (Sorry, I really cannot go into that more here.) Much in the same way that enlightenment cannot be commoditized (whatever can be commoditized will not be it; the Tao cannot be described ... what is described is not the Tao), Ishmael's view can't be packaged and handed over ... it has to be internalized and operationalized. My teacher used the metaphor of having a really good photograph of a place, or a very good map of a place, or a really fine guide book about a place, and being there looking at the place itself, experiencing for one's own self.

W. I. Thompson talks about the Mayan calendar and how we're reaching the end of the Age of Civilization; less hierarchy, less centralization, less taking ... more leaving. -- BenTremblay

What the #&!! does the Mayan calendar have to do with anything? Okay, yes, it's about to roll over (or has just rolled over - I forget which), but how is that more relevant than the millennium? If anything, it's less relevant, since no COBOL programs (that I know of) ever used the Mayan calendar.


Apparently, the source material for a schmaltzy movie called "Instinct" with Anthony Hopkins.
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