Tatiana's Reviews > Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
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Jan 26, 09

bookshelves: fantasy, mostwretchedofalltime
Recommended for: nobody
Read in January, 2009, read count: less than 1

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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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Rob (new) - rated it 1 star

Rob what a great review. i did read the whole thing, gritting my teeth in fury most of the way. i dislike the word "evil", but it's the word that usually comes to mind when i think of this book, because i think it has the power to seduce very intelligent and good-hearted people, if they don't already know enough facts to smell what a bunch of crap is being passed off as truth. i often find myself wondering whether quinn believes any or all of it, since you'd think he must have done some "research". somehow, i suspect he does, as most demagogues seem to believe their own propaganda.

i especially agree about the viewpoint character. i felt degraded and insulted that as reader i was forced to experience the "story" from the perspective of such a empty-headed dolt. "nom, nom, nom, mmm this tripe is delicious!"

you're the best. :)


Tatiana Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. :)


message 3: by Adamradabaugh (new)

Adamradabaugh I disagree, the author doesn't claim that all of humanity is doomed to "multiplying, engulfing, and devouring" as you say in fact I would say its quite the opposite; Quinn suggests that there are plenty of cultures who aren't living at odds with the world and can get along just fine without destroying the planet. Also, the assumption that eventually it'll all work itself out and we'll eventually someday start acting right and taking care of the planet is a dangerous one and frankly just another way of passing the buck to the next generation. And maybe what you don't understand is these 'worthless things' we're turning into 'jewels' like fuel and plastic are the very things that are ruining the planet; from every piece of plastic in every landfill to every cloud of greenhouse gas emitted by the gasoline we use. Naturally this book isn't for everyone and you're certainly entitled to your opinion but I feel that your review could not have missed the point any more than it did.


message 4: by Erin (new) - rated it 1 star

Erin Dang, this is what I was trying to say about this terrible, terrible book, but was too disgusted to articulate. Great review!


Tatiana Thanks, Erin!


Tara Lundrigan The more I read these reviews, the more I realize the haters on the book just don't agree with the views. The haters of the book are the people the book is trying to change. Almost ironic.


message 7: by Erin (last edited Aug 13, 2013 11:28AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Erin You know what I love about these days? That we can just dismiss folks who think differently than we do as 'haters,' no matter how well thought out or cogent or personal their viewpoint may be. It's so much easier than having to entertain or even consider other perspectives. Oh, those hatin' haters!


message 8: by Tatiana (last edited Aug 14, 2013 04:27PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Tatiana The book is like a fetus saying "Danger, danger, this womb is not going to hold me forever! Quick! Quit growing or changing. Go back to first trimester and stay there! That's the only way to be safe."


Tara Lundrigan You are haters because you are hating on a book. It is very clear that anyone who claims this book is terrible is exactly the type of person Daniel Quinn wrote the book about. Everything he states in the book is about how we came to be this way and every single sentence is bang on. You can shout all you want how everything is okay but that doesn't change the FACT that it's not. If we continue on the path we are on as a race it will undoubtedly destroy us - and to deny that just proves how ignorant some people can be. It's not a difference of opinion we are talking about here.


message 10: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Kirk Tara, I hate this book, but not because I disagree with the idea that humans need to change and significantly modify our behavior before we consign our species (and most of the others along with us) to extinction. I hate this book because it is poorly written, didactic, uses incorrect history, and employs fallacious arguments; all while making the reader feel like they have the intelligence of a mosquito and the author is a genius of cosmic proportions.

So not all of us "haters" are the intended audience of this book. Some of us are just people that don't like poorly written books.


message 11: by Johanna (new)

Johanna When I first read this I agreed with many of you. I was turned of by the didacticism and felt like giving the student such an abject character was a cheap an unfair of the author. For the first half or two thirds of the book I enjoyed picking every line of dialog wherein Quinn didn't allow the student a complex enough response, and decrying the author's proselytism. But by the end I had found enough value in the philosophy to let go of my annoyance. I no longer felt the need to continually point out to myself that I was more intelligent than Michael Quinn was making me feel. Many dialogs conform to this structure: the comparatively omniscient and saomewhat manipulative teacher, and a seemingly stupid, narrow minded, servile student.


message 12: by Johanna (new)

Johanna When I first read this I agreed with many of you. I was turned of by the didacticism and felt like giving the student such an abject character was a cheap an unfair of the author. For the first half or two thirds of the book I enjoyed picking every line of dialog wherein Quinn didn't allow the student a complex enough response, and decrying the author's proselytism. But by the end I had found enough value in the philosophy to let go of my annoyance. I no longer felt the need to continually point out to myself that I was more intelligent than Michael Quinn was making me feel. Many dialogs conform to this structure: the comparatively omniscient and saomewhat manipulative teacher, and a seemingly stupid, narrow minded, servile student.


message 13: by Johanna (new)

Johanna It is an earlier literary form than the novel, employed by ancient philosophers, for instance Plato's famous dialogs.

Also I don't think the historical inaccuracies, or the degree of license in interpretations of biblical and religious history is very important. One can appreciate the book even knowing it is not encyclopedic. But it is true one must appreciate it in a different sort of way than one would a traditional novel. If is not about complex character development and complex and quotidian life experiences, like other social novels these days have come to be, it is just a philosophical essay in an unusual ( once usual) form.


message 14: by Johanna (new)

Johanna * Daniel Quinn, sorry


message 15: by Johanna (new)

Johanna * Daniel Quinn, sorry


message 16: by Johanna (new)

Johanna Is it possible to erase reviews? I'm noticing how many typos and extra words I have in mine, and that two of the things I wrote mystically doubled themselves.... But I can't figure out how to delete them


message 17: by Johanna (new)

Johanna Is it possible to erase reviews? I'm noticing how many typos and extra words I have in mine, and that two of the things I wrote mystically doubled themselves.... But I can't figure out how to delete them


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