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A Language Older Than Words

4.28  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,046 Ratings  ·  180 Reviews
At once a beautifully poetic memoir and an exploration of the various ways we live in the world, A Language Older Than Words explains violence as a pathology that touches every aspect of our lives, and indeed affects all aspects of life on earth. This chronicle of Derrick Jensen's drive to transcend domestic abuse offers a challenging look at our worldwide sense of communi ...more
Paperback, 399 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Context Books (first published 2000)
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Dec 04, 2008 Anne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: environmentalists
Recommended to Anne by: Cai
This is one of the few books I have consciously decided not to finish in recent years. I agree wholeheartedly with Jensen's basic premise-- that we are rendering the world uninhabitable and committing atrocities against its human and nonhuman residents, and that our ability to do this depends on our denial of reality and our disconnecting from the people around us. I cannot, however, support the belief structure he builds up around this premise. Jensen equates studying science with raping childr ...more
Feb 16, 2008 jeremy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature
it has been said, though i recall not by whom, that we do not find great books, that, in fact, they are the ones that manage to find us. having been found, it took me visiting a now-defunct bookstore in the east village of manhattan before i could see whether this book's promise (the promise, ever present yet rarely fulfilled, of every unopened book) were to be kept.

from the first paragaraph i knew this was to be a book so stunning that i would i confuse the wish to have written it myself with t
Jan 04, 2013 Anthony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book. All of it being good, a few passages stuck out at me. The first was an explanation of where the dinners of he and a friend came from, going from origin to the plate. The second was a good part of the chapter "A Time of Sleeping," which helped me out by providing something to go to to point out why I want nothing to do with the wage economy.

The whole book, more than anything else, also echoes something I've tried to keep in mind for a long time: to overcome the present predicament wil
Apr 04, 2010 Ash rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Every person I know
This book changed how I think. I no longer see nonviolence as a passive state. In our current circumstances, true nonviolence is the active defense of one's landbase.

Reading Jensen for the first time was familiar. Although I had never seen these words in print, I had heard them many times before. If you have used meditation and/or herbal/fungal means to attain a state of consciousness where you have listened to the amplified sound of the earth, you have heard these words before too.

The landbase
Tony duncan
May 07, 2008 Tony duncan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: envirnomental and social psychosis
This is a very disturbing book.
Jensen is a radical environmentalist and "anarcho-primitivst" to use labels on someone who decries label usage- and for good reason.
Jensen's view is that we are going to hell in a handbasket. A handbasket willed with chemicals and shit, and radiation, and human destructiveness.

he pulls no punches, and there is very little I disagree with him about. His ability to write clearly and show the interconnectedness of so many different elements in society and the consequ
May 09, 2009 Don rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The secret about Derrick Jensen is that all of his books are the same: they use the same metaphors and repeat the same points over and over again. Additionally, he has given the same public talk at every speaking event he's done for years (yes, the Star Wars bit is funny the first time). He is a good writer and speaker, but he uses this skill to cover up his lack of analysis and creativity. Yes, logging is bad, killing salmon is bad, the Nazis were bad, child abuse is bad. One would hope that so ...more
Jul 20, 2008 Dana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rarely do I read a book that not only hits so many political punches right in the gut, but also brings it all back home on a personal and spiritual level without coming off as cheesy. This is such a book. Skimming through the criticism of this book, it is understandable that many are turned off by Jensen's sweeping critiques of civilization, and are quick to point out the hypocrisy of him living in a big house, owning his own land, and driving a truck. All fair and good, even though he admits th ...more
Jan 09, 2009 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An unspeakably beautiful, painful book. About what? It’s about interspecies communication, but it’s also about high jumping, and beekeeping, forests and faith, lively writing and dead salmon, sexual abuse and global warming; it’s about Maori tradition and stimulating plant cells; it’s about disease and dis-ease, about the brain and our consciousness; it’s about power and revolution and how revolutions are not; it’s about valuing production over relationships; it’s about community; it’s about our ...more
Mar 17, 2008 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who want to change the world
Recommended to Keith by: Sarah Kate
What to say?
If you've read Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, or just been paying attention to what's been going on in the world for... well, your whole life, you know things are pretty screwed and human activities are pretty well the thing screwing them up... mass extinction, climate change, pollution of... everything, violence between nations and within families... and the list goes on and goes deeper. This 400 or so page book could have been filled with a bullit-pointed list of all the atrocities of hum
Dec 01, 2010 Clodagh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading a book like this, I can always feel a little bit smug in my aboriginal irish womynhood-ness...ah white boy, your kind have ruined the planet, tch tch.
(That's a joke, i don't feel smug.) This book is blowing my mind!
It's desperately sad as Jensen drags you around showing you the nasty-ness that our comfortable western lifestyles are built upon (poisoning the earth, enslavement of people, abuse of animals) but optimistic as he encourages the reader to make a change.
There's philosophy, memo
Linda Robinson
Apr 02, 2010 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There must be a new name for life-changing memoir. Before reading Jensen's book, I thought The Glass Castle was the most revelatory expression of life in an abusive home, but Jeannette Walls' ability to stand back from the experience of it, while powerful in its simplicity, does not deliver the change in consciousness we need to rid the world of violence and abuse. We need to stand in the pain, cry, agonize, and grieve before we can reconnect with a world that is not safe. Beautiful prose from a ...more
May 24, 2012 Kristen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

Awful. Couldn't finish it though I tried and tried. I really wanted to be inspired but found the author whiny. I was too irritated with the repetitiveness and obviousness to waste any more time.
This is one of those books that wakes you up and makes you reconsider our world. A mixture of philosophical and biographical, he discusses everything from some of humanity's worst moments to amazing things I never knew, such as Cleve Backster's experiments -- in brief, Backster, on a whim, hooked a houseplant up to a lie detector, thought about burning the plant, and the lie dectector line started going crazy. Backster also used the detector to observe responses in human cells, which responded t ...more
Richard Reese
Mar 23, 2015 Richard Reese rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Derrick Jensen’s book, A Language Older Than Words, is a landmark in environmental writing. A standard formula for eco-books is to describe the evolution of a problem, provide charts, tables, and illustrations to document the extent of the problem, and then present “solutions.” Typically these are theoretical, politically impossible, pie-in-the-sky solutions based on the premise that humankind is fundamentally rational and reasonable — solutions that require minimal adjustments to the machinery ...more
Bish Denham
Dec 20, 2014 Bish Denham rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book, if nothing more, is an eye-opener. More than anything I think Jensen was trying very hard to rip the veil the eyes of the reader. He is yelling into the wind, screaming, trying to be heard above the noise of our self-destructing culture and society. I think his warnings are valid and very disturbing.

I'm not an anthropologist, archaeologist or historian, but I think to place the blame almost exclusively on the shoulders of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic belief system is a bit simplistic.
May 25, 2008 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone on Earth
Recommended to Ben by: Amanda
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 05, 2007 Brimate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: environmentalists, social justice activists, everyone
Shelves: anarchism
This was my first Derrick Jensen book, and it's great. It would have been mindblowing if I had read it 3-5 years ago. I already had a similar perspective to Derrick's, and knew much of the information he gave.

But the book brings everything together well: the totality of everything that's fucked up in this world---caused mainly by western civilization.

A Language Older Than Words is an amazing book, and I recommend it for everyone, especially for people who have critiques of the way things are but
Aug 01, 2009 Dylan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: advocates of an intact, livable world
Shelves: favorites
What I learned from this book:
I learned more than I'd like to about Jensen's abuse as a child and how he dealt with a terrifying inescapable situation, building psychological barriers in the interest of immediate survival. I learned of his personal transformation from voting for Reagan and a future of gainful employment to a rejection of wage slavery and dedication to environmental activism. Most importantly, I learned that ubiquitous atrocity and destruction on all levels will only stop when we
Nov 02, 2007 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was given this book for Christmas. Sort of, anyway: my best friend's ex-girlfriend, with whom I'm still good friends (as is he), sent this to me and asked me to pass it along to him when I came over here to Italy now in March. In fact, the inscription in the front reads: "Dec. 2004 / John -- / Happy winter solstice! / Zach-- / Happy spring solstice!" I'm not sure who ultimately gets to keep it, though the odds favor him.

Anyway, when I read the description of this book, it sounded... a bit "out
This book is Jensen's unravelling of his abusive childhood and how it mirrors our culture. I am in agreement with Frances Moore Lappe's review of A Language Older than Words. She writes, ". . . Jensen has achieved the impossible: a book that is simultaneously horrifying and uplifting, terrifying and beautiful . . . " While painful to read, I found A Language Older than Words to also be soothing - the acknowledgment of the insanity of genocide, ecocide, rape, terror, greed, and torture in the nam ...more
Aaron Urbanski
Feb 16, 2011 Aaron Urbanski rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: deprogramming
Derrick uses a free form style to his writing, it is all over the place! But his message is powerful and is one that I have felt since a little kid. I like all the examples and personal experiences he blends togther to speak. It feels like we are just sitting together having a conversation. He warns that our way of life is unsustainable. Ecological system after system is collapsing around us due to our own greed and ignorance. There is this one sentence i must share from this book: "Any politica ...more
Aaron Brooks
May 14, 2015 Aaron Brooks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a masterpiece. Jensen relates his own past experiences of abuse from his father to the destructive nature of the dominant culture. I highly recommend this book.
Feb 10, 2010 Shelley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly powerful book that shifted myriad perceptions of my connection to all living beings. He does a beautiful job juxtaposing the macro/micro perspectives of human impact and engaging the reader on a personal and spiritual level on the topics of abuse and our communion with others. Jensen is enormously forgiving while still challenging the reader to think critically about his/her impact on mother earth and her inhabitants. He brings you to the emotional edge but leaves you with both hope a ...more
Lumen Natura
Dec 11, 2009 Lumen Natura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indigenous
This is a really big book and it took a while to get through it, but it was definitely worth the read. It got me started thinking about a whole other way to communicate with the world, people, plants and animals and with my own body. Derrick Jensen with no holds barred describes his own personal history and gives us a look at our culture of destruction and greed from a perspective that is completely different than what we are brought up with and indoctrinated with from the time we are very young ...more
I have no idea how this ended up on my Paperback Swap wish list. But when it was offered, I clicked sure, send it to me.

I know *why* it was there though. And the answer is that I really needed to read this.

It is incredibly hard to read, because so much is brutal and awful and the kind of thing that yes we all avoid thinking or talking about. And no, it doesn't have much in the way of concrete answers or actions to take. Those... kind of aren't the point.

It is, I think, a longer version of the
Victoria Haf
Dec 02, 2015 Victoria Haf rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Este es un libro difícil de leer, no por el lenguaje o sintaxis sino por las imágenes, Derrick Jensen es muy crudo y quiere que mires el mundo a los ojos, en toda su violencia y destrucción.
Por momentos me hacía sentir desesperanzada y harta de este mundo, pero en otros me hacía sentir lo maravilloso que es, y lo importante que es para mi recuperar la relación que nunca tuve con el mundo real. Te hace salir de tu burbuja y es difícil y doloroso pero también hace a la vida más completa y compleja
Jun 30, 2015 Josie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is really intense and at times, really difficult to read.

What's lovely about it: the poetic, artful, descriptions about interspecies communication. This idea (which I'm a firm believer in) that humans are part of the ecosystem of the planet, that we have non-obvious ways of communicating with animals, with plants, with nature, and that those things have ways of communicating with us. That our choices affect other beings and that we evolved, not to have power over other species, but to
Dec 09, 2008 Victoria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this book is a romp of ideological and spiritual import. it connects personal narrative to narratives of the land, inter-species communication, and trauma survival. it makes spaces for connection and meaning that weren't there before, and though this languaging is couched in despair and intense resistance, it left me with a sense of hope. if books like this can be written, then there is hope for us yet.
Nicole Mulloy
Mar 10, 2012 Nicole Mulloy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A horribly depressing and whiny book. It was picked for out book club and only one person in the club was able to finish the book. I tried three times and couldn't get past the first hundred pages. The author visits every bad thing that has ever happened since the birth of humanity...and whines about every one of them.
Jan 18, 2012 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-again
Few books have touched me the way this book did. I read it while in Africa and felt the time & place might have altered my interpretation. So, it is on my "read again" book list.
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Derrick Jensen is an American author and environmental activist living in Crescent City, California. He has published several books questioning and critiquing contemporary society and its values, including A Language Older Than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, and Endgame. He holds a B.S. in Mineral Engineering Physics from the Colorado School of Mines and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Eas ...more
More about Derrick Jensen...

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“What if the point of life has nothing to do with the creation of an ever-expanding region of control? What if the point is not to keep at bay all those people, beings, objects and emotions that we so needlessly fear? What if the point instead is to let go of that control? What if the point of life, the primary reason for existence, is to lie naked with your lover in a shady grove of trees? What if the point is to taste each other's sweat and feel the delicate pressure of finger on chest, thigh on thigh, lip on cheek? What if the point is to stop, then, in your slow movements together, and listen to the birdsong, to watch the dragonflies hover, to look at your lover's face, then up at the undersides of leaves moving together in the breeze? What if the point is to invite these others into your movement, to bring trees, wind, grass, dragonflies into your family and in so doing abandon any attempt to control them? What if the point all along has been to get along, to relate, to experience things on their own terms? What if the point is to feel joy when joyous, love when loving, anger when angry, thoughtful when full of thought? What if the point from the beginning has been to simply be?” 93 likes
“Like the layers of an onion, under the first lie is another, and under that another, and they all make you cry.” 39 likes
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