Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ishmael — Daniel Quinn

The plot is simple: Teacher seeks man. Man finds teacher. Teacher turns out to be a century-old gorilla (Ishmael), who can not only talk, but has deep and powerful insight into Man's destruction of the world and how change is possible.

To pinpoint each aspect of this book that gave me chills or (as Oprah would say) made my brain go "Aha!" or made me cry or anything else that is usually tied to revelation would be impossible. Quinn tells this story in the simplest fashion: a conversation between the two parties. Yet not for a moment is it boring. On the contrary, not only is the dialogue stirring and, oftentimes, quite humorous, the ideas that are presented literally have the power to change the thought-process of the reader's mind.

Our unknown narrator (we'll call him Daniel, as I assume the author sees himself in the protagonist's role) is quite skeptical, yet eager to learn from Ishmael. Though I did not feel as cynical about what was being said by our Teacher, I was oftentimes just as confused. Ishmael is brilliant in that the questions he asks really get you thinking; you have no choice but to play along... and usually, Daniel's confusion helps make Ishmael all the more inciteful — all the more capable of laying out the History of Man in such a way that turns the tables on our own popular, mythological conception of our "place" on Earth.

The progression of knowledge is slow and steady. It builds, and it does so beautifully. Starting with the story of 'civilized' man (whom Ishmael calls "the Takers"), he leads Daniel through "Mother Culture's" teachings that have led man to believe he was meant to rule the Earth. He attempts to illustrate how things came to be this way. And, later, by incorporating the beliefs of "the Leavers" who have learned to live in unison with the world, all that we have been taught to believe is turned upside down.

It may sound overwhelming, and I won't lie: It is. But it is not hard to understand. The ideas presented will seem familiar. You might say to yourself, "I know this already!" (as Daniel often does), but Ishmael forces us to see these well-known assumptions through an entirely different lens; there is no denying that what he says has the power to change the world.

This is revolutionary writing, and nothing I can say here will make that any clearer. This is a story that EVERYONE should read. This is a book I want to send to Oprah and she should have on her Book Club. This is a book that, were the entire world to read it, you would see positive change overnight. This book is not about writing style, it is not about plot, and it isn't even about character. It is about ideas, and ideas that have resonating power behind them. Not everyone will agree with everything that Quinn asserts here. But it will open people's eyes to a World and system of living that — though foreign and difficult, perhaps — is not entirely out of reach.


1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness!! How happy I am that you have read this book. As I am sure Nick and I have talked about this many a time, we have tried to get people to read this book and Daniel Quinn's writings ever since I first read Ishmael in 2002. If you are interested, I suggest reading EVERYTHING ELSE HE HAS EVER WRITTEN. His ideas are truly groundbreaking and have the power to save our planet. Some other necessary reads are "Beyond Civilization" and "If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways." If you can't find a book, let me know. I own them all. And most of them in multiple copies. ;-)