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Ishmael: An Adventure Of The Mind And Spirit (1995)

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (1995)

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3.95 of 5 Votes: 4
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0553375407 (ISBN13: 9780553375404)

About book Ishmael: An Adventure Of The Mind And Spirit (1995)

This review is divided into "extended" and "brief" analysis of the book in question. The extended version precedes the brief, which can be found by at the bottom of the text. Minors spoilers are found throughout the extended review. In Ishmael Daniel Quinn uses a charming setup to examine how civilization justifies its use (and abuse) of environments. Questions of cultural identity, the anthropology of fiction, sustainable development, and the ethics of consumption are raised. Answers and models for living are pointed towards. And there's a 800lb gorilla who talks telepathically.There are many things to love about Ishmael, and I'll list just a few features that stand out most prominently after my own reading:1. Daniel Quinn is quite good at getting us primed to hear the philosophy he will launch into at the book's center. Though I enjoyed his ideas and the battle of the minds (regrettably only mine and Ishmael's - more on this in the "cons" section), the best portion of the novel was the establishing narrative. Going along with the narrator as he (assuming male due to author) discovers Ishmael and hears the gorilla's story was a lot of fun, with a sort of exotic magical realism to it.2. The process of unveiling Ishmael's worldview and knowledge is well paced, moves logically, and invites the reader to think through the arguments in parallel with the narrator. All of these elements are essential to the form of a successful Socratic work. I'm pleased to say that Mr. Quinn hits his mark in getting the reader on board with the process of grappling with the topics he wants to discuss. 3. Quinn's philosophy is mostly science-compatible. This should be a given, but I find that a lot of these type of books tend to clash with skeptical empiricism. For the most part, Mr. Quinn's thoughts don't run up against the scientific method or violate large bodies of peer-reviewed evidence. In fact, in at least one case, Quinn advocates scientific points that most writers fail to grasp. It was a treat to discover he was grounding Ishmael's revelations in a rejection of the widespread fallacy of "purpose driven" evolution (that is, that life processes on this planet have been working towards the development of "better and better" organisms, culminating in an apex - Homo sapiens sapiens, of course - as opposed to the reality: that evolution "aims" only in producing successive generations suited to survival and propagation in their unique environment. To be sure, Quinn doesn't go in depth into this topic, but the concept doesn't get enough attention by mainstream writers, so Quinn's touching on it earns him a few extra kudos.The flaws of the book are not glaring, but certainly noticeable. For one, Daniel Quinn has made a mistake in his strict adherance to the Socratic dialogue writing model. He has too little faith in the power of fiction to instruct and seems almost naive to the notion that self-discovery of a truth by the reader is a most effective means of making a profound connection with the audience. These are two tools that could have been more readily used in Ishmael. It's rather surprising that Quinn didn't employ them better, since he spends the first few Ishmael sessions deconstructing a myth that civilization has generated and adapted for itself. I would have thought he would invent a new myth over the course of book, using story-telling as a culture jamming device. I mentioned in #1 above that the introduction to the book is well-executed in this way, but the novel abandons this writing style fairly quickly and only returns to it infrequently. It bears noting that had Mr. Quinn kept it up, interspersing Socratic dialogue with playful and inventive fictions that complement the thoughts of the gorilla, I think he would have produced a parable with much more bite and retention factor. Another problem I encountered with the text was the absence of a devil's advocate / cross examiner. In Symposium Plato sets up Socrates not only as the repository of the Logos, but also as a counterpoint to the erroneous theories espoused by just about everyone else at the assembly. There is a needling for each line of thought, such that no statement can be made that does not undergo the scrutiny of both the proposer and its audience, and by this example the reader is encouraged to likewise question arguments. This model is not wholly reproduced in Ishmael. Only in very rare cases does the narrator challenge the ideas being brought to the table, and in cases when he does, he almost immediately abandons prior beliefs once Ishmael has spoken.Bringing me to the realism of the narrator, which is sacrificed for the sake of easy didactic. I know it sounds bizarre to talk about the realism of the narrator when there's a talking gorilla, but I couldn't help observing that there were a plethora of moments when the gorilla's comments were outlandish/vague/unsupported enough to have warranted a little . Add this to the fact that the gorilla often takes a active role in breaking down the narrator's arguments as they are spoken. But the narrator gives them like defense. "Oh, I see" comes out of his mouth far too often, sometimes before I've been convinced he's wrong. Let's put it this way. Had I been the one who became Ishmael's pupil, you can be damn sure that that ape would be on rock solid ground before we made moved from premise #1. Ishmael (and Daniel Quinn probably) seem to be under the impression that evolution ceases the moment humankind goes from the "state of nature" they existed in prior to agriculture (Ishmael would say that these people were "living by the grace of the gods") and begin to advance culturally (Ishmael: people who "live with a knowledge of good and evil"). I take issue with this notion, finding it unsupported by the evidence and in many was countermanded by scientific observation. I'd say that exosomatic evolution (i.e. the transmission and mutation of idea; culture, religion, technology, etc.) is a natural extension of natural selection, and that Daniel Quinn is a living example of this natural process in action. His book, even if it changes only one single thought of one single person, is a component of the evolutionary history. I think he missed this. Daniel Quinn is intelligent but not infallible. The questions he asks in Ishmael are very sound, deserving the attention of all humans who finds themselves running around in this strange thing we call civilization. Most of the logical thinking Ishmael prods us through is very perceptive, even enlightening.In brief, Ishmael is deserving of a read-through. There are many nourishing points made in the book, and the narrative construction utilizes the tried and true Socratic dialogue with great success (though it does not build on it). It is imperfect, hampered mostly by it's unwillingness to play with form and a few weakness in argument. Given the momentous task Quinn is attempting, nothing short of a consciousness shift in the species, I'd say the fruit is worth struggling with the thorns. In very brief: highly recommended.

I haven't finished this book yet but I probably won't because it sucks. First of all, it's supposed to be a novel but it's entirely didactic. The author has simply substituted this gorilla to preach at us in the author's voice. The viewpoint character is simple minded and vacuous to the point of not existing. In fact, he's just there as the foil or receptacle for the gorilla's teachings. The central thesis of the gorilla's thoughts, which he presents as unassailable fact, is the supposition that human population will ALWAYS increase to use all available food supply, something that simply isn't true in any of the developed countries. If it weren't for immigration, of course, the U.S. and most of Western Europe would have falling populations. The author dismisses this massive flaw in his edifice of cards by saying someone somewhere will eat the food or else people would stop growing it. Okay, so he then doesn't notice that if people stop growing food because there's nobody to eat it, then the population is limiting itself and the human species is not doing its job of multiplying, engulfing, and devouring as he claims it always must. It's the same old stuff the Club of Rome said in the 70s and so on and so on from Malthus to the present. It comes about because people don't realize that trends do change in response to changing situations. Women empowered with birth control to choose their family size have less children. Fishers who realize fish stocks are depleted do change their methods and either enact laws limiting catch sizes, or turn to farming, or become conservationists of wild species. The human species has lived off mother earth's bounty for all its childhood and adolescence, but it IS growing up, and will eventually nurture all the world's resources in a realistic way leading to complete sustainability. There's nothing improbable about that. Some of the things the author doesn't realize follow. In space the resources are truly unlimited. We're not in a closed petri dish. We just have to reach out and develop what's there. We make new resources all the time with advances in technology. Worthless sand becomes useful glass, then even more useful microchips. Black sludge becomes a fuel or a plastic container. The more we know the more we see worthless things around us turn into jewels under our hands. Before human stewardship, life on earth was far from safe and cozy. Asteroid impacts destroyed nearly all living things on several different occasions (Cambrian, Permian, Cretaceous, etc.) and could do so again, even more completely, if humans aren't technologically advanced enough to prevent it. The history of life is riddled with catastrophes that weren't caused by humans. There's so much more, I could write a novel. But you get the picture. Please save your efforts for some book that will entertain you or teach you something true. This one is useless for either.

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This book was recommended to me from my Ecology teacher on Saturday. I bought it the same day because i really needed a decent read... i having been craving this all the time lately. I did not put it down until i was done with it two days later. The premise is a man talking to a gorilla... however simple and idiotic that may seem to you, this story reveals so eloquently what i have always believed to be the reasons for the way we live in modern society. It details the way in which our society has enslaved us and forced us to enact a story we have been told since the dawning of the agricultural revolution, one which we still are enacting today. Some things just don't sit right with a person, until they are fully spelled out, and then they REALLY don't sit right with you... I couldn't cry for this book, though i should have several times... I could only read on with a greater sense of "Holy shit! This is truth." then i have felt in a very long while. My life will never be the same because of Ishmael. Read it now, and yours won't either. (my goal is to get at least 20 people i know to read this book, you should be one of them)

A little story about Ishmael by Daniel Quinn:I first read this back in the fall of '99 for a college course. It was a time in my life where (for a variety of reasons, including a breakup of a long relationship) I was first began to think for myself, instead of think what others wanted me to think. This book completely wiped away the world view that my parents, friends, and teachers had put into my head for so many years, and then began the formation of my own view. Since then I have been a seeker.Synopsis:Alan Lomax responds to an ad in the paper that says "Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest deisre to save the world. Apply in person." The ad turns out to have been placed by gorilla who then through telepathic conversation basically explains why things are the way they are in the world. I've found the simple message of this book to have a huge impact on my view of the environment and our human relation to it. Other things, such as the book "Collapse" by Jared Diamond, or Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth", have also had effect, but "Ishmael" has been the most life-changing in this respect. This book made me aware of the horrible over-consumption of resources of human beings in everyday life. The world will not be saved by programs such as recycling or forest protection programs, because people are countering these programs everyday in their daily activities. What is needed is a change of view of our place in the world, and that's what Ishmael gave me.

My cousin introduced me to Daniel Quinn while I was visiting her in September, and though I was only getting summaries via print-outs of his various lectures, I fell in love with his ideas. The narrative tale of Ishmael - a telepathic teacher/student relationship between a gorilla and disillusioned youth, respectively - is a thinly veiled attempt on Quinn's part to present his anthropological arguments in a more entertaining way. The weakness in the narrative is almost always negated by Quinn's theory, which makes the book oddly difficult to put down. Quinn takes a very Nietzschian approach to his analysis of human history, refusing to give way to the temptation to analyze human history - pre and post agricultural revolution - through the principals of divinity. He instead crafts the most convincing and urgent argument I have ever been exposed to against that very urge. Upon carefully reading the text, one will find that this is all Quinn does attack - the belief in the right to decide what, en masse, may live and die, and the belief to ownership over the earth. He does not promote the immediate cessation of agriculture, making the point that agriculture existed before the agricultural revolution, but was not spread and forced upon other tribes until that point. His points regarding humanitarian aid to famine-ravaged areas are also difficult to stomach, but they are also valid. It is important to note that most countries in need of such aid are only in such a position because of imperialist conquests for their land and resources, and that the idea of saving everyone goes as much against sacrificing the 'one right way' mentality as the idea of killing them does. Because many, if not all, of the huge problems we as a global society grapple with are cause by the idea of entitlement and divine ownership, and because society shows no signs of reverting back to its old tribal self, one must question the appropriate course of action to take regarding them. Ishmael also left me wondering why, after hundreds of thousands of years, the mentality Quinn attacks just happened to develope. Though Ishmael ultimately asks a few more questions than it answers, it is an eye opening book and reshaped my views on human history, cultural identity, and the condition of modern day society.

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