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A Language Older Than Words

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  1,841 ratings  ·  166 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 a young man's drive to transcend domestic abuse offers a challenging look at our worldwide sense of community a ...more
Paperback, 418 pages
Published March 1st 2004 by Chelsea Green Publishing Company (first published 2000)
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The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le GuinAnarchism and Other Essays by Emma GoldmanOn Anarchism by Noam ChomskyV for Vendetta by Alan MooreHomage to Catalonia by George Orwell
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12th out of 223 books — 159 voters
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Dec 04, 2008 Anne rated it 2 of 5 stars
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
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
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
Tony duncan
May 07, 2008 Tony duncan rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Apr 04, 2010 Ash rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
Mar 17, 2008 Keith rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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
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

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.
May 25, 2008 Ben rated it 5 of 5 stars
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 5 of 5 stars
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 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: advocates of an intact, livable world
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Bish Denham
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.
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.
This book was not what I expected it to be; it turned out to be much more.
Packed full of emotional personal and cultural anecdotes, difficult imagery, and truths that are difficult to accept, this is a memoir by a self-described anarcho-environmentalist about violence, destruction, culture, and what we have lost along with love and cooperation.
Derrick Jensen is not somebody that has necessarily experienced a lot of things or even been at the forefront of environmentalist movements. He asks himse
I will be the first to acknowledge that there are problems with our civilization in general. It is unsustainable. It depends on an ever increasing population. It depends on us depleting non-renewable resources (minerals, fuels, species, etc.) at increasing rates. it depends upon all of us adapting to lifestyles that are contrary to the lifestyles our species are specialized to and that all but the last very few of our previous generations have lived. In short, it depends on impossibilities, and ...more
Michael Riversong
It's like i signed up for a course, and the materials just pop up in my environment as needed. You could call the course "Dynamics of Abuse". So i suffered some abuse as a child -- not seriously horrible, but bad enough -- and it affected me as an adult. Big whoop. Destroyed 2 marriages and lots of other damage too. Never enough to get me involved with the justice system, but bad enough. Somewhere along the line i made a decision to avoid justifying my abusiveness, and see if there's some way in ...more
"As impassioned as Jensen clearly is about these [environmental and political:] enormities, they suffer from a disembodied, abstract quality alongside the terse, intermittent, cumulative details of his father's abuse."
Bloomsbury Review

Definitely agree with this review. This book, at the beginning, sucked me in like a vacuum. (Okay, I know, vacuums don't technically suck, but we'll leave out the scientific authenticity for now...) Jensen's prose about his father's abuse is raw and real. Jensen i
I read this book slowly and am glad that I did. Lots of things inspired some trains of thought that needed to go slowly themselves. Others may want to be prepared to make notes while reading it. I wish I'd made more. I do think it could have been more concise. Still! I want to share it with various people in my life though I think "As the World Burns" is a better introduction to reality for most (it was mine!) because it has pictures.

Some people get frustrated about Jensen because he goes on abo
I like Jensen's ideas and his trajectory, and have a feeling I'll like his subsequent works better. This one, his first, is a memoir that jumps freely from the infinitely personal and subjective to giant theories of everything. One of Jensen's point in the book is that we must trust what we know and what we see, that we have to learn/be taught certain kinds of madness, denial and de-naturing, and that a broad attempt to render us into objects, or objective beings without subjective realities, is ...more
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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...
Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization The Culture of Make Believe Endgame, Vol. 2: Resistance Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial

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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?” 82 likes
“Like the layers of an onion, under the first lie is another, and under that another, and they all make you cry.” 32 likes
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