Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Ismael” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Ismael (Ishmael #1)

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  64,232 Ratings  ·  4,220 Reviews
The narrator of this extraordinary tale is a man in search for truth. He answers an ad in a local newspaper from a teacher looking for serious pupils, only to find himself alone in an abandoned office with a full-grown gorilla who is nibbling delicately on a slender branch. "You are the teacher?" he asks incredulously. "I am the teacher," the gorilla replies. Ishmael is a ...more
Paperback, 249 pages
Published August 1st 1994 by Goldmann (first published 1992)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Ismael, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Ismael

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
J.G. Keely
Are you the sort of person who hears other people discussing books and finding yourself wondering how they can even form opinions on stories? I mean, either you like it or you don't, right?

Well, if that's you, then read this book, The Giver, and Siddhartha (if that sounds like too much, substitute Jonathan Livingston Seagull for the latter). Once you've done that, you'll feel all sorts of strange emotions and ideas swirling around inside you and you, too, will be able to talk about how a book m
Mar 23, 2008 Anna rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thought
My biggest problem with primitivism as a philosophy is its inherent hypocrisy. Notice how it's always highly educated white dudes insulated from the world who clamor for a return to some idealized "simpler" life? In the case of this book, it's a distinguished professor haughtily preaching about how we should learn some lessons from hunter-gatherer people, channeling his philosophy through a gorilla character who converses with an "everyman" character. Ishmael the gorilla makes a passing derogato ...more
Sherri Scoffield
Mar 18, 2008 Sherri Scoffield rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book gets many 5-star reviews and is touted as “life changing”.
My comment: “GET A LIFE!!!” This could possibly be THE WORST book I have ever read. I have been reading this book forever! I am so glad I am finished!
It’s 200+ pages of torture! (This size of book I would normally devour in 1-2 days.) It’s a sociology lecture --- a cringingly horrible, horrible, didactic book. And to top it off, it’s horribly written.

This telepathic gorilla pontificates on culture, his take on the book of Genes
Mar 12, 2007 kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The reason I like Quinn’s style in “Ishmael” is that he doesn’t assume a pedantic perch atop humanity and force-feed a philosophically-driven, A-Z laundry list of “how to make yourself a better human being” and “save the world one person at a time” mantra down the reader’s throat. His style of writing is intimate. Reading “Ishmael” kind of reminds you of sitting in lecture with that one professor in college whose class you earnestly enjoyed and looked forward to attending each week - those lectu ...more
Apr 17, 2008 Lori rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all of mankind
Recommended to Lori by: Joe Cannon
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 ha
Esteban del Mal
Mar 18, 2010 Esteban del Mal rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jungians who like it didactic style; the epiphany challenged
Recommended to Esteban by: a karma vampire
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Behold the majesty of Curious George as he gets all dialogue-y on your ass! Your encounter will leave you changed! You, too, may find yourself flinging poop at civilization along with our simian savior!

A telepathic gorilla develops something like consciousness, is happily able to flower under the attentive stewardship of a George Soros-type philanthropist and waxes philosophical to a disenchanted idealist. This book stinks of anthropological and ecological p
Max Ostrovsky
Although, purposefully didactic, it was beautiful. It read incredibly fast, but it sits with you for a very long time. Imagine eating something quick and cheap like a taco bell burrito only to discover that once it reached your stomach, it felt like a 7 course meal at a 5 star restaurant. Definitely plenty of intellectual bang for your buck.

Lately, absurdly leftist books such as the previously reviewed Illuminatus! Trilogy have just pissed me off with their "all we need is to love each other" p
Oct 04, 2007 Jesse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All
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 seeke
Jan 24, 2009 Tatiana rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
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 ...more
Sep 07, 2008 Aaron rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was worth reading but many parts bothered me. First Ishmael makes incorrect statements about how nature works, and asserts that humans have violated these rules, which is the source of our discontents. E.g. Ishmael states that other species do not attack competitors. This is false. Species will attack predators whenever there is an adaptive advantage to do so. Ishmael also states that predators never take more than they can eat. This is also false. I read an article about how predators ...more
Arun Divakar
Mar 17, 2013 Arun Divakar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that foll ...more
Riku Sayuj
Oct 25, 2011 Riku Sayuj rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Rohini Nair
Recommended to Riku by: Trippy
Mystified, inspired, depressed and exhilarated by the same book; it was bound to polarize readers. Definitely the best (philosophical) novel based on the Socratic dialogue method I have ever read - many times better than the pale imitations it spawned. The call to action of the book is the real mystery - Ishmael poses the final question to us in the back of his poster... Hoping to put up a full review soon.
Jun 30, 2007 Lobeck rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who don't know anything and are willing to be treated like idiots
i could crap a better book than this. it's condescending and trying to be profound but very simplistic. if you've already been introduced to basic ideas about we're ruining the earth and need to get our act together, you'll learn nothing new here. and the whole wise teacher/pupil thing is so cliche. so what if he's a gorilla?
Mar 03, 2014 Neja rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: growth, spiritulity
At first I hesitated reading this book, I thought it wasn't my thing. ... But boy oh boy, was I wrong. It blew my mind. It broadened my horizons and it even got me interested in the history and evolution. This book is really interesting and it's a reminder of how badly we treat mother Earth.
May 15, 2008 Ian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: co-op shoppers, liberals, crystal children
Recommended to Ian by: fate
The quintessential hippie college book. Years after college, I found it left on a beach in Hawaii, like so many LaRouche pamplets on university campuses, and read it in a few sittings. To anyone with half a brain and some college education, a lot of this book will seem painfully obvious, as this type of thinking has so permeated public conciousness in recent years. But if you can turn the volume down on your censors even a little, there's much to be appreciated here. I will never look at zoos th ...more
Feb 18, 2009 Jensownzoo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, favorites
Well, this is a sociology/ecology lecture loosely disguised as a novel that makes you sit back and say "why didn't I think of that, it's so obvious to me now!" And it's done in a way that continually builds on the presented ideas so that you understand the concepts from the ground up. Loved it. Think everyone should read it.
Jan 13, 2013 Gary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: delete
I had somewhat of an idea of what this book was about before I ever started it. I am sure this will piss some people off...but if you are more concerned with the corporate "takers", more concerned about you, or your parents investments, care more about being the "haves",and could care less about the "leavers" or the "have nots" you will not "get" this book. You will not like it....

If you care about the leeches in this world robbing us of our environment for business, like the Kochs brothers,for
Feb 20, 2008 Marty rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: intellectuals that are looking for an ass-kicking
At a Borders parking lot back home, it was spray-painted into the pavement "READ ISHMAEL"
That's basically how I first heard about it and read it. Especially since I parked over the spray-painted message time and time again.
Would people really read this book if it was called "Ricardo" or "Paul"...I say no.
So thanks for giving it this name that nobody has except for people obsessed with Moby Dick, which I have not come across.

I think intellectuals like to say that this book changed their mind on t
Lauren (Shakespeare & Whisky)
The top three reviews on this book are salty 1 star reviews. 0_o

Even if you don't agree with the philosophical underpinnings of this novel it is a thought-provoking tale of great power.

The story is allegorical but even the surface story is an emotional and engaging tale.

I found this deeply enjoyable. It is certainly worth your time to take a look even if you don't agree with the philosophy.
April (The Steadfast Reader)
Apr 16, 2009 April (The Steadfast Reader) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kevin, James, Jen, Angela... the hippies. :>
Definitely a hippie book, at first I thought the philosophy behind it was all about saving nature, the rainforests, blah blah.. :> But it's really about something deeper, challenging human 'nature' as we know it. Truly an amazing book.
John Clark
Jan 09, 2010 John Clark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sustainability
We, the people of our culture, are the inheritors and administrators of a grave evil. Strong evidence of this evil is blazed in the destruction of our environment, which is clearly caused by humans. Sadly, we have been taught, and we continue to teach others, that this evil is actually good: not that we should be destroying our environment, but that it is a consequence of an otherwise noble pursuit of our culture. With "Ishmael", Daniel Quinn bravely explores and exposes the destructive conseque ...more
Jan 29, 2009 Kathryn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Don't read this book. It was miserable.
Jan 28, 2008 Lilith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone and their brother.
Recommended to Lilith by: Eve Benjelloun
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 ...more
Jul 18, 2008 Palsay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Palsay by: Hilman
Aku masih memandangi buku yang baru saja selesai kubaca, tiba-tiba gambar disampulnya yang tadinya tidak kuperhatikan kini menjadi begitu berarti.

Sejak halaman terakhir kukatupkan, aku merasa letupan-letupan yang ada dalam benakku mulai lepas kontrol. Mereka sudah menjadi ledakan yang tak sanggup kukendalikan. Aku meringsut, kembali membuka-buka beberapa halaman yang entah untuk keperluan apa kulipat diujung-ujungnya. Suasana tengah malam sunyi, namun seolah didalam kepalaku ada ratusan suara y
Jul 11, 2007 Jeremy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At its core, Ishmael is a narrative about a grand narrative. It aims high, and its failure to achieve what it sets out to do is ultimately more interesting than its stated premise.

Ishmael, however, is conscious of this failing--indicated by Quinn's allusion to Plato's cave. But unlike other modern works which use the form of the Grand Narrative to critique or subvert it (the first Matrix film being the most widely recognized example, and many of the short stories of Borges being more notable),
John Hawkins
Sep 01, 2015 John Hawkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everybody should read this book.
I'm not impressed with this book at all. As a novel, it fails to entertain. As a manifesto, it is too vague and shallow to enact any meaning. What frustrated me most was Quinn's lack of proof to substantiate his scientific rhetoric and his cut & paste techniques when addressing religion.

What Quinn fails to recognize is that humans need more than just food. "Man cannot live by bread alone." If we returned to "Leaver" status and were fulfilled with natural-growing sustenance, man would still
C.G. Worrell
Sep 23, 2011 C.G. Worrell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Put on your "willing suspension of disbelief" glasses. A giant telepathic gorilla is about to teach a jaded writer what it means to be civilized. I sucked this down in four days for a book club meeting. Using the Socratic method, Ishmael the gorilla leads the protagonist on a journey of cultural re-evaluation. What happened 10,000 years ago that led humans to where we are today: a planet of Takers consuming resources like a plague of locusts?
Ishmael is not a sanctimonious blow-hard, or a proph
Dec 27, 2010 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, in-full, revisit
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 model
May 09, 2012 René rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I see from the other reviews here that ratings on this book are quite polarized: many poor ratings and many rave reviews. If we were to average all that out, we'd get something like a medium novel, but of course the polarization reflects the controversial side of this novel.

And controversial it must be, because it's not much of a novel. There's no plot to speak of, almost no descriptions, the language used is only barely literary, so the reader will be wowed by no grand metaphors or similes.

« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Endgame, Vol. 2: Resistance
  • Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing
  • Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World
  • Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect
  • Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections
  • The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
  • The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late
  • Work: Capitalism. Economics. Resistance
  • The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community
  • Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
  • Caravan of Dreams
  • The Population Bomb
  • The Fifth Sacred Thing (Maya Greenwood, #1)
  • My Name is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization
  • A Brief History of Everything
I had and did the usual things -- childhood, schools, universities (St. Louis, Vienna, Loyola of Chicago), then embarked on a career in publishing in Chicago. Within a few years I was the head of the Biography & Fine Arts Department of the American Peoples Encyclopedia; when that was subsumed by a larger outfit and moved to New York, I stayed behind and moved into educational publishing, begin ...more
More about Daniel Quinn...

Other Books in the Series

Ishmael (3 books)
  • The Story of B: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit
  • My Ishmael

Share This Book

“There is no one right way to live.” 178 likes
“I have amazing news for you. Man is not alone on this planet. He is part of a community, upon which he depends absolutely.” 130 likes
More quotes…