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Ishmael #2

The Story of B

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An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

Father Jared Osborne has received an extraordinary assignment from his superiors: Investigate an itinerant preacher stirring up deep trouble in central Europe. His followers all him B, but his enemies say he’s something else: the Antichrist. However, the man Osborne tracks across a landscape of bars, cabarets, and seedy meeting halls is no blasphemous monster—though an earlier era would undoubtedly have rushed him to the burning stake. For B claims to be enunciating a gospel written not on any stone or parchment but in our very genes, opening up a spiritual direction for humanity that would have been unimaginable to any of the prophets or saviors of traditional religion. Pressed by his superiors for a judgment, Osborne is driven to penetrate B’s inner circle, where he soon finds himself an anguished collaborator in the dismantling of his own religious foundations. More than a masterful novel of adventure and suspense, The Story of B is a rich source of compelling ideas from an author who challenges us to rethink our most cherished beliefs.

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1996

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About the author

Daniel Quinn

58 books1,516 followers
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, beginning at Science Research Associates (a division of IBM) and ending as Editorial Director of The Society for Vision Education (a division of the Singer Corporation).

In 1977 I walked away from SVE and this very successful career when it became clear that I was not going to able to do there what I really wanted to do...which was not entirely clear. A few months later I set my feet on a path that would change my life completely. It was a path made up of books -- or rather versions of a book that, after twelve years, would turn out to be ISHMAEL.

The first version, written in 1977-78, called MAN AND ALIEN, didn't turn out to be quite what I wanted, so wrote a second, called THE GENESIS TRANSCRIPT. Like the first version, this didn't satisfy me, so I wrote a third with the same title. THE BOOK OF NAHASH, abandoned unfinished, was the fourth version.

When I started writing version five, THE BOOK OF THE DAMNED in 1981, I was sure I'd found the book I was born to write. The versions that came before had been like rainy days with moments of sunshine. THIS was a thunderstorm, and the lines crossed my pages like flashes of lightning. When, after a few thousand words I came to a clear climax, I said, "This MUST be seen," so I put Part One into print. Parts Two and Three followed, and I began searching for the switch that would turn on Part Four... but it just wasn't there. What I'd done was terrific -- and complete in its own way -- but at last I faced the fact that the whole thing just couldn't be done in lightning strikes.

And so, on to versions six and seven (both called ANOTHER STORY TO BE IN). I knew I was close, and version eight was it -- the first and only version to be a novel and the first and only version inhabited by a telepathic gorilla named Ishmael.

ISHMAEL was a life-changing book. It began by winning the Turner Tomorrow Award, the largest prize ever given to a single literary work. It would come to be read in some 25 languages and used in classrooms from mid-school to graduate school in courses as varied as history philosophy, geography, archaeology, religion, biology, zoology, ecology, anthropology, political science, economics, and sociology.

But in 1992, when ISHMAEL was published, I had no idea what I might do next. My readers decided this for me. In letters that arrived by the bushel they demanded to know where this strange book came from, what "made" me write it. To answer these questions I wrote PROVIDENCE: THE STORY OF A FIFTY-YEAR VISION QUEST (1995).

But there were even more urgently important questions to be answered, particularly this one: "With ISHMAEL you've undermined the religious beliefs of a lifetime. What am I supposed to replace them with?" I replied to this with THE STORY OF B (1996).

The questions (and books) kept coming: Why did Ishmael have to die? This gave rise to MY ISHMAEL: A SEQUEL (1997), in which it's revealed that Ishmael was not only far from being dead but far from being finished with his work as a teacher. The question "Where do we go from here?" was the inspiration for BEYOND CIVILIZATION: HUMANITY'S NEXT GREAT ADVENTURE (1999), a very different kind of book.

With these questions answered (and 500 more on my website), I felt I was fundamentally finished with what might be called my teachings and ready to move on.

I had always taken as my guiding principle these words from André Gide: "What another would have done as well as you, do not do it. What another would have said as well as you, do not say it, written as well as you, do not write it.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 603 reviews
Profile Image for Phillip Yost.
1 review4 followers
September 6, 2007
I remember first reading The Story of B by Daniel Quinn when a friend let me borrow a copy when I was sixteen. It disturbed me. It frightened me. It inspired me. I am now twenty-one, and this novel still disturbs, frightens, and inspires me. The novel completely uprooted everything I had come to assume about the world. I remember when I was five years old and my brother bluntly telling me there is no Santa Claus. The feeling of escaping the illusion, learning what I had so adamantly believed to be the truth swept over me. Take that feeling and intensify of that revelation a million times over, and you understand the impact this novel had on me. To those that have ever questioned their place in the world and society, this book will help you understand your place. The vision and concrete foundation of Daniel Quinn’s philosophy in The Story of B is so supported that even if you do not agree with it, you will find it difficult, even impossible to counter the arguments the book suggests. You may agree or disagree with the ideas in The Story of B (I myself do not agree with all of them), but I guarantee you, no matter if you are young or old, religious or not, that you will read it and take away something inspiring from it.
Profile Image for Mattyj.
20 reviews4 followers
January 8, 2009
This is a long and hard book. It is also, probably the most important book I've ever read, not the best, not my favorite, but probably the most important. I can chart my life as before this book and after. I am a better person for having read and understood what Daniel Quinn has trying to say. If you have not read it I implore you to take the time and do so. You will be a better person for it. (Though you need to read Ishmael first.)
Profile Image for Lori.
178 reviews
February 11, 2011
My second Daniel Quinn book that I couldn't put down. Even though the author includes the words "an adventure of mind and spirit" to the novel's name... I wouldn't exactly describe it that way myself. It was more of a "open up your eyes people!" type of novel and I hope it did just that!

What if you had a powerful message that you wanted to get across to the entire world before the entire world falls apart if people do not GET that message? How would you go about doing this without coming across as a preacher or starting a new religion?

Daniel Quinn is able to do this by using a character named 'B' and 'B' does go from place to place (mostly underground) to try to get people to look at the world in a way they never have before. The novel takes you out of your busy workaday world and hopefully makes you realize that there are more things important than your life alone.

Whether you like the message or not... this novel is put together so well, in my opinion, that you do not have to swallow the entire message (that the author and 'B' are trying to get across) for people to start thinking outside the box in the world we live in. That is difficult for many people to do because there are so many people who are "sheeple" and refuse to open their minds to any bit of information that could help them through their personal life journeys.

I am very glad I read the book and, because I did, I will never view the world in the same way ever again. Had I not read the author's previous novel called ISHMAEL and then The Story of B I'm afraid I would still be a sheeple and I shudder at the thought.

I definitely suggest reading ISHMAEL first however.

681 reviews57 followers
February 16, 2023
*I did not read the fictional story, just the 100 pages of his philosophy at the end
*This is one more book on someone's theory about The One And Only Cause of All Modern Problems. This dude thinks it's population.
*Unfortunately, Quinn either made his conclusions from things we believed about hunter gatherers pre 1995 or he ignored lots of information to support his theory

Here are some corrections:
-We used to believe that humans "evolved" from hunter-gatherer societies to farming to towns to cities, etc. We now know that humans never stopped being hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherer societies existed alongside farming societies for thousands of years and in fact, still do today (though we are still trying to wipe out all remnants of hunter-gatherer peoples).
-Most hunter-gatherers farmed in some way, changing their environment with fires or seasonal planting, so even if they moved location 12 times a year, they were still farming in quite a few of those locations--the line between hunter-gatherer and farmer isn't as clearly drawn as we used to believe
-Hunter gatherers did not live in the types of tribes as was formerly believed. In the early 2000's anthropologists mapped the movement of hunter-gathereres in certain geographical regions and showed that it isn't a small band of 20 people that move together throughout the year, but rather, 20 people live in camp A and one day persons 1, 2 and 3 decide to move on to camp B. The following week person 4 decides to move over to camp C and persons 5, 6, 7 and 8 decide to head to camps D and E. Meanwhile, persons 21-40 have moved into camp A. All these camps have somewhere between 10-40 people in them at one time, but there is no rhyme or reason as to why certain people live with each other at one time. Mothers and children stay together until the kids are about 8. After that mothers and daughters live in the same camp about 50% of the time. Dads stay with their children about 50% of the time. Otherwise, there is no known correlation as to why people move to where they move when they do. Hunter gatherer societies are not organized. They are not “bands.” They are thousands of free people doing what they fancy in a certain geographical area who know a common language and have some common customs. For more on this study see The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunter Gatherers
-Unfortunately, the above study just makes the last 50 or so pages of Quinn's arguments where he educates about hunter gatherers really embarrassing for him. Actually, no, he shouldn't be embarrassed--how could he have known? But, since this is the foundation of his entire argument... his whole theory just topples.

Other things:
-I find it interesting that his "law of limited competition" is exactly what Ayn Rand touts in her books on Rational Selfishness.
-Hunter-gatherers did not always live "at peace" with the natural world. They killed animals to extinction just as later peoples did.
-Quinn states that crime is caused by over-population and though I agree that population density plays a role, the use of power of one person to control another is the real cause--this can happen in households or countries.
-Quinn says that laws began when we learned to write... that's really not the case. Common laws existed long before they were written. See The Origins of Political Order.
-Quinn blames our invention of a controlling society (the problem) on population density and limited resources. I agree that a controlling society is one of the main causes of our current malaise but I do not think population density was the single cause. In fact, I have read books on the history of child rearing that would suggest the opposite: hunter gatherers never attempted to control their children and farmers did, that is a fact Quinn gets. But farmers invented rules and religions demanding that their kids obey them and live with them forever (as opposed to the average hunter gatherer child who lives without his parents by the time he is 8 years old or so) not to control resources but because farms need a large number of people to make them work and so... ideas were invented that convinced children to stay with their parents and help them on the farm and form multi-generational living situations. This wasn't necessarily a bad way to live, but it definitely doesn't support Quinn's claims.
-I don't disagree with Quinn's dislike of biblical messages about superiority but I take issue with his argument that Agricultural Man is an evil creature who feels entitled to control the whole world... didn't he HAVE to? Agricultural Man wasn't an evil dude, but he did have to make things grow, care for crops, kill pests, harvest, store, alter his environment by bringing water closer to him since he was sedentary and the like. Humans aren't covered in fur, they MUST create clothing and shelter and this always alters (i.e. requires a certain amount of "conquering" of nature). When I go backpacking I imagine what the pioneers had to deal with trying to create a life out of acres and acres of nature--I totally understand how it may have felt like a war between them and the wild, a war that if they lost would mean their death.
-Quinn says our culture is the enemy of life on this planet and... well, that's just not true. Our culture is the enemy of itself. If we have a nuclear war we could succeed in wiping out the human race, but we could not wipe out life. Life will continue.
-Quinn's final proposal of the solution being food control is pretty scary and fascinating. I researched hunter gatherers and concluded that they were happier first because of their basic physical lives being in line with what our bodies evolved for and second because they lived authentic, uncontrolled lives of high self-esteem and I have since been researching the origins of control. Quinn on the other hand decided that the only problem is population, as if only there were more space people would want to go back to being hunter gatherers rather than living in cities, watching TV and enjoying air conditioning. This makes no sense. Societies (ways of living) are subject to evolution just as animals are: the fittest survive. It saddens me greatly that societies of mass size and control have so easily conquered societies of free peoples in history time and time again and though I do still wonder what part being sedentary has to play in this, it is not the density of a population that CAUSES the problem--it can complicate it for sure, but it is not the root.
-Divorce is not a sign of society deteriorating, hunter gatherers have a "divorce" rate of about 50%
-It drives me crazy how Quinn keeps talking about hunter gatherers as gone. THERE ARE STILL HUNTER GATHERERS IN THE WORLD. ALL OVER THE WORLD! BEING PERSECUTED AND "SOCIALIZED" TO EXTINCTION BY GOVERNMENTS. They will probably be extinct in the next 50 years but right now, all over, hunter gatherer peoples still exist, people who still feel at one with the world, who don't understand any way of life except equality, who don't understand "why they should farm when there are so many nuts in the world."
-hunter gatherers are not ideal people. They have a super high murder rate. They are totalitarian socialists in that they a) murder their best and brightest and b) everyone only had the freedom to be equal with everyone else. No one has the freedom to acquire more goods should he choose to. (And if he tries, he will be murdered.) Read Equality in the Forest
Profile Image for Terri Kempton.
210 reviews35 followers
July 5, 2016
Be wary the book that promises extreme religious power. I encountered this phenomenon in the Life of Pi, which is outstanding fiction, but it never should have promised me a story that "would make me believe in God." That's a whole lot to make good on, right?

Well, the Story of B promises us a message SO dangerous, SO original, SO life-changing that the character "B" deserves to be called the Antichrist. If you're pulling out the big religious guns, you'd better deliver. Don't give me half-warmed over thoughts that have been said before, elsewhere, and more powerfully. Don't show me a character that speaks to tiny crowds of disgruntled people and expect me to believe that they are so dangerous that they, and their message, must be eradicated through an unrealistic chain of spies, explosions, and assassinations.

I won't even comment on the writing except to say that you'd better be able to tolerate an extreme extemporaneous stream of thought. It suffers from the same phenomenon of "telling, not showing" us the supposed power of B's message. Don't tell me the pupil feels his heart pounding and his brain reeling (over and over), SHOW me such ideas, and words, that would make the same happen to me! And for those of us who don't need basic repetition to understand something, the writing style of repeating a sentence while changing a single word each time was maddening.

All that being said, this was a thought-provoking book. I love a good theological/cultural debate, so the fact that it got me all riled up and thinking of ways to cut the theory apart and reconstruct it is more a commentary on my weird brain than on the quality of the story. I did feel like there were some interesting points:

* there is nothing written in the stars or our DNA that insist we live in the social, cultural structure we have created.
* all the major salvation-based religions are really siblings in their thought and development, and are a product of agriculture, food surplus and power imbalances, and the civilization that grew up around it. The connectivity of world religions is a favorite idea of mine, but I had never thought about the rise of "salvation" as a global concept, that we now believe human beings are somehow broken and must either rise above the world after death or through enlightenment.
* humans are part of the world and would do well to have a more humble reaction with other living creatures and the planet. Not a new thought, certainly, but with merit.

Unfortunately, there were also concepts that were either terribly recycled or rather half-baked:
* human beings existed before the "agricultural experiment"... yep, all those classes that talked about hunter/gatherers that survived for hundreds of thousands of years before we started growing crops - they turn out to be true. (gasp! Who would say that but the Anti-Christ? Oh, wait, my third grade teacher.)
* the book advocates scrapping all this agricultural/civilization crap. Let's go back to hunting and gathering and reduce the population to a mere fraction of current levels, which would be more sustainable. Conceptually ok, but of course there's no plan in the book for how to do this - because the death and destruction called upon get there really would be the work of an evil force. Also: who amongst us would give up pain-free dentistry? Medical care? Shelter in the middle of winter? Coffee? An 80-year life expectancy? Airplanes? Google? We've come a long way, and there are amazing aspects to it.
* destroying world religions and returning to animism. I'm not sure you can put Pandora back in the box after opening it up... could we really return to an innocent state of loving our immediate landscape, forgetting the rest of the planet and other people, and turning our gaze away from the stars, away from all the other questions we've been asking?

I apologize for the long review, but this really was a thought-provoking book, even in my disagreement.
Profile Image for Shaun.
22 reviews4 followers
November 18, 2013
Ishmael He is Not

When I read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael I was given a clear view of the importance of human beings reconnecting with the idea that they are apart of nature and need to find a balance with the world rather than trying to dominate it. It was a well written book with a easy to grasp message. One I happen to agree with. Because of my enjoyment in reading Ishmael I decided to read more of Quinn’s work. I went next to The Story of B: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. What I found in this book was along the same lines, but less clear and at times slightly ridiculous.

This adventure of mind and spirit follows the main character Father Jared Osborne into Germany where he is assigned the task of meeting a man who might be the anti-Christ, B. Jared belongs to a group of Catholics known as the Laurentians and his superior is very concerned with finding the anti-Christ. Jared’s order believes that this public speaker, B, who is spreading his message in German pubs and basements is that anti-Christ. Jared is sent to determine if that is true. He meets B and through many conversations comes to see B’s point as well as why he might be viewed as an anti-Christ of sorts. I won’t give away what happens, I don’t like spoiling books, but Jared does go through quite a bit of a shift in his world view.

I had problems with this work that I didn’t have with Ishmael. The Story of B is written in diary form, like Ishmael was, from the perspective of Jared. However, while Ishmael was a series of interesting conversations, this books ends up somewhat like lecture notes, with ridiculous plot twists in between entires. Jared writes about meeting with B and some of the conversations that they have, but he also talks about attending B’s lectures. Quinn does not have Jared write them down in the chapters though, they are to be found in the back of the book within a section called The Teachings of B. This means that the reader has to choose between interrupting the story to flip to the back of the book and read B’s lecture, or wait until the end of the book and read them together. This is a bad idea, as B maps out his point of view for Jared throughout the story, so reading the back section is redundant.

The ridiculous plot twists I mention do not add to the story. Without giving too much away I can say that people want B dead over what he is saying in the basements of rundown German businesses and they make attempts to achieve that goal. When the reader begins to understand what B’s messages is, which is a little ridiculous itself, it is hard to believe someone would kill over this. B does accuse all of the world’s major religious as being moral corrupt. He says that they have all had a hand in helping to keep people in the dark about their true natural freedoms. This is what makes him the anti-Christ for Jared’s superior. The religious have killed over less, but it still seems a far stretch in this story.

B’s messages, rather Quinn’s message, is not that understandable. Much of what he writes about is the Great Forgetting, which is explained as humans forgetting that they were once hunter-gathers. Ishmael is mentioned in the story as well, it seems B was his student. Take this into account and the message B is communicating is the same as Ishmael was, live in better balance with the planet, or die. However, Quinn talks about the agricultural revolution as being a mistake, as the moment when the Great Forgetting occurred and that led us into becoming a Taker society. Taker meaning, exploiter of the planet. Quinn writes, through B, about the virtues of hunter-gather society, but doesn’t explain clearly what he means for the reader to do with this information. For example, Quinn spends a great deal talking about how humans used to be able to read the land, seeing tracks in the dirt and understanding what had happened there. This can be interpreted as ancient humans having a deeper connection to nature than we do now, but it could also mean Quinn wants us to hunt. The glorifying of hunter-gather culture over agrarian society doesn’t communicate very well how modern people are supposed to live. We can’t go back to picking berries and running down wild pigs.

I found it very hard to lose myself in this book. While Ishmael went by page after fast page, B dragged. Jared was not a very entertaining character and the people he interacted with seemed like new age spiritualists who took their nature worship too seriously. One of the other characters, the second B if you will, is Shirin, a very angry woman who doesn’t like Jared. While some of her life is revealed and therefore her anger makes more sense, she still comes off as an angry Shirley Maclane, who pistol whips defilers of nature with her crystals of wisdom. Quinn’s message is lost in the mud of his characters personalities and the unbelievability of B’s threat to society. I am not sure if Quinn wants me to spend more time outside, sitting in a park, or more time outside hunting and gathering my dinner. Or just more time sitting in dark, filthy basements of German bars. While I still recommend Ishmael, I suggest skipping The Story of B, it is an adventure in futility.
Profile Image for Molly Henderson.
20 reviews1 follower
July 12, 2022
The ideas communicated in The Story of B are nothing new, but the WAY they were communicated was new to me. I loved how B’s message (an incredibly important one) was slowly teased out through a very sympathetic, human, and frequently funny conversation between the narrator Jared (the embodiment of monotheism, patriarchy, anthropocentrism) and B (the embodiment of animism, diversity, ecocentrism). These two opposing worldviews are constantly at war in public discourse but they’re usually communicated in apoplectic tweet threads; to encounter them in a space where they could be explored and respectfully debated at length was so fucking refreshing. B’s message was relayed so carefully and strategically that I felt my understanding of the world and my place in it shatter several times, which is a feeling I haven’t encountered since University. It takes a very special teacher to disrupt patterns and prompt insight and Daniel Quinn / B is exactly that teacher. I absolutely adored this book and would recommend it to anyone feeling disillusioned by their complicity in a system dependent on the continued exploitation of other human beings and the natural world.
Profile Image for Dinah.
214 reviews16 followers
May 21, 2011
Daniel Quinn is apparently the answer to how to get us fiction-averse readers engaged in novels -- while the plot and characters are satisfying and round, respectively, Quinn has essentially mastered the art of making it palatable to read the story of people sharing ideas with each other which are not fictional in the least. Very enjoyable, first book in a while I haven't wanted to put down at the end of a subway ride.
Profile Image for J.
194 reviews98 followers
September 22, 2021
A provocative premise: civilization itself is the problem. Food under lock and key. Quinn is the descendant of the great Rousseau, less poetic but more practical.

What can be done? Nothing. Sit back and watch the dying circus.
Profile Image for Clay Zdobylak.
41 reviews21 followers
March 19, 2018
There is the world i lived in before i read The Story of B and there is the world i lived in after i'd read it.
I much prefer the latter.
Profile Image for Howard.
283 reviews4 followers
March 18, 2022
Quinn tackles the religious aspects of humankind destroying the ecology of the Earth. This is a great book. It makes you really think about how destructive the takers are. I love the connection between the Ishmael series and the book "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This is such a lovely series, I am so glad Helena Roth suggested it to me.
Profile Image for M.
18 reviews
July 8, 2010
In The Story of B, Daniel Quinn couches in a novel what appears to be a contemporary animist worldview. The thin plot has a twist I'll admit took me by surprise. For the purposes of the story, the identity of B is relatively unimportant; what's required is merely a character to give the concepts a voice. Finishing the book, I had an ambivalent sense that people are recognizing as never before the threat represented by our culture that despoils the earth; yet I am not sure how I feel about B's prescription for the ailment or about the tone with which Quinn treats our presumed cultural demise. Civilization, not the preceding three million years of tribal living, produced Rodin's sculptures, Dvorak's New World, and the blood pressure medicines that keep people I love alive.

B proposes that what we call the Agricultural Revolution was not a prelude to an inevitable development of civilization, but that civilization and its horrors are the product of an aberrant group who came to dominate the world. Salvationist religions sprang from the suffering introduced into the human condition by an artificial system of living which, for all its material achievements, does not work. The author offers no solutions as to how we might retain the benefits of civilization yet relinquish the complex social system that has furnished them.

The novel doesn't address the possibility that nature controls man's numbers very effectively and that overpopulation is one of her ways, when others have failed, of wiping out an animal that is evolutionarily unstable. What seems as likely as the scenario presented by B is that, almost from the beginning, nature marked man for extinction and that the Taker culture arose as a means to our extermination. There once were several species of man; now only one species of us left. When we're gone, the earth will heal herself in a blink of geologic time.

Quinn makes us aware that several Leaver peoples tried our way of life and then discarded it because it doesn't work. He doesn't mention archeological evidence that Paleolithic man--Leaver cultures--inflicted serious damage to the earth, burning vast plains, using fire to drive whole herds of animals over cliffs, hunting animals to extinction. The characteristics of ours that for millenia assured our survival yet now threaten it may have defined mankind long before the Agricultural Revolution.

The Story of B seems to advocate an abandonment of Taker culture and a return to the Leaver way of life. That Taker culture developed, however, is proof that the seeds of our destruction are within us, so what would be the point? We can't, ultimately, escape the web of nature from which we arose and into which, through evolution or extinction, we must disappear.

I found Quinn's portrait of the petty Laurentian order convincing, but not his characterization of Father Lulfre. As an intelligent administrator, Lulfre wouldn't have risked headlines such as "Laurentian executive implicated in numerous slayings." Lulfre plays the unenviable role of villainous counterpart to B, the martyr-with-nine-lives of the animist cause.

It's difficult not to feel that Charles Atterley enjoys seeing people wince, and that malice lurks between the lines; that for the sport of it, he is trying to give civilization a nasty spiritual slap, now that the situation seems to be volatile and people are culturally adrift. He's recruiting those who are hot for rebellion, and he's not interested in those who will require the patience of a real teacher.

Shirin's final speech, cloaked at the end in strived-for eloquence, seems to expose a need to lash out, to strike back. Militantly stating that B is the Antichrist, she declares, "The evangelist John . . . was right to warn his followers against those who love the world. We are the ones he was talking about, and this is the final hour--but it's their final hour, not ours. They've had their day . . ." Quinn is careful to leave unclear, however, whether B as the Antichrist is here with the visionary motive of bringing a paradigm shift or with the reactionary motive of destroying the establishment. It isn't clear why an animist, who doesn't subscribe to the notion of original sin and therefore of a necessary savior, considers himself the Antichrist.

B predictably suggests that a new social order is advisable, but the emphasis of the book seems to shift, and the reader finds himself choosing camps among cliquish characters whose motive is more to savor the egotism of being animism's elect than to consider practical ways of delivering the vision to a humanity that desperately needs it. Shirin's teaching that life is all of the same natural source, the same "fire," is a philosophy common among naturalists.

With her quiet, beautiful teachings, Shirin seems the personification of a ruined earth who still sees mankind as her children and wants them to come home. The landscape, scraped by ice ages, scarred by our mammoth machines, is remembered by what is very old in us. In awakening us to the loss of a more gentle vision that once was ours, Daniel Quinn is peddling a potentially authentic, if unavoidably hopeless, restorative.
Profile Image for Sara Modig.
86 reviews2 followers
April 16, 2022
Beautiful thoughts on the essence of god and religion in this one. And at the same time, it’s take on the religions of our culture is limited, and imposes a unnecessarily strong watershed between them and the religion of the leavers.

Later research on the history of agriculture has led to som of the details in the story having become obsolete. The conclusion and overall criticism toward the principles of “totalitarian agriculture” still remains and are maybe more valid than ever.
407 reviews67 followers
September 9, 2012
I first read this about ten years ago, and I count this as one of the books that transformed my thinking. It's the story of a Catholic priest of the Laurentian order who is tasked with tracking down someone named B, who is suspected to be the Antichrist. As the tale progresses, you learn much of the teachings of B. Trust me, it will make you think. It's a very different perspective on our culture than you'll find anywhere else. If you've read Quinn's first book, Ishmael, you'll know this perspective. This book expands on it.

A lot of people misunderstood Daniel Quinn, thinking he was arguing we go back to hunting-and-gathering. No amount of clarification seemed to dispel that myth. The point, which this book spells out more clearly than any of his other books, is that if we think something isn't working, maybe we should study what DOES work. That's what this book does. We know tribalism worked for a very long time. So long, in fact, that our current culture is only a brief experiment by comparison. If that experiment has failed, maybe we should understand what worked so well for so long, and why it worked, if we expect to fix what's wrong with our experiment, or construct a new experiment. When he says tribalism "worked" he doesn't mean it was perfect. He only means it worked, like flocks work for geese and hibernation works for bears: it's evolutionarily stable. It doesn't bring the planet to the brink of disaster after only a few thousand years.

This book only gives a starting point, by exploring that part of our history we know very little about: the transition from tribalism to what we think of as modern history. Quinn proposes this transition was a kind of cultural assimilation, which is only possible if people started living with a conviction that we now take on faith, that there is one right way to live. So the most important thing is to stop living by that conviction. There is no one right way to live. The biggest feature, and the biggest disaster, of this assimilation is the lack of diversity. So we might want to re-think the massive scale of our culture. He also proposes what he knows will not work: "the world will not be saved by old minds with new programs. If the world is saved, it will be saved by new minds, with no programs."

Like most of his books, this is almost more non-fiction than fiction, but it has a much better plot and characters than Ishmael. I found myself wanting to know what happened next. But looking back, I wonder if Quinn had a bit of a heretic complex, thinking people would come after him with pitchforks for making such dangerous arguments. A couple books later (After Dachau) he had a completely different worry: "Nobody cares."
Profile Image for Brady Heyen.
53 reviews1 follower
May 21, 2022
5/5: a must-read

A brain-tickling story that serves as the container for a brain-melting premise. A perfect fusion of fiction and nonfiction. It’s worth the read just for the experience of the format. But if you’re looking for a perspective-widening read, look no further.

I will say I didn’t realize that this is the second book in a three book collection. My understanding is that they’re only loosely connected, but I plan to read the other two books soon!

Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
552 reviews165 followers
June 3, 2017
Father Osborne is a bad priest. Not bad as in wicked, but bad as in not so good at his job. Bad in the way some people say, "Oh, I'm just bad at math." The diary of a wicked-bad priest would probably be more interesting than this little milquetoast's...

1 star out of 5. Not only is this pretty dull, it's overwritten in that 90s style, where the author picks a quirky narrative device and then goes overboard with the thesaurus. But you can't have it both ways; you can't claim this is a diary and then write in the cheesy, dialogue-heavy prose of a romance novel. And y'know how Ayn Rand threw that long-ass monologue in the conclusion of Atlas Shrugged? Well, Daniel Quinn leads with one of his own--several, in fact--a series of slow and repetitive speeches shoehorned into the early text by footnote. And what's maddening is how frustratingly plodding the delivery is, as though we're being patiently spoon-fed ideas long past when we've accepted them and are ready to move on. If you want to read a labored philosophical diatribe nestled within a detective story minus the suspense, then by all means check this one out.

(Read in 2017, the seventeenth book in my Alphabetical Reading Challenge)
Profile Image for Katherine Ripley.
38 reviews4 followers
November 26, 2016
Interesting ideas but I don't think this author has any talent for fiction writing. The dialogue isn't believable: it's rigid, doesn't feel organic, and the characters don't have different voices. On top of that, the narrator basically just says "I don't know" in different ways. Why am I bothering to read that over and over again?

I also wonder why the author seems to think that citing sources is unimportant. How am I supposed to assess the argument when he doesn't tell me where his research is coming from?

My final issue with this book is its narrow conception of Christianity. I'm not unwilling to believe the Catholic Church would inflict violence on innocent people, but to reduce all of Christianity to a violent institution I believe is narrow minded and alienating. If you look at what Jesus actually said and taught, I think it's highly compatible with what B teaches, and there are many Christians out there who believe something much closer to Jesus's real message and would be quite accepting of what B has to say.
Profile Image for Andrea.
24 reviews
March 26, 2017
The book is aimed at an audience who wants to gain a different perspective on society than that purveyed by a maintstream fundamentalist-religious perspective (though one that seems outdated). If you've read books like Guns, Germs and Steel, or are a student of science or anthropology, this book will not open too many new doors for you, but for someone who hasn't before given a lot of thought to our species' future through a lens on its past, this will be a very thought-provoking read, and an OK story. Take it with a grain of salt, as the conclusions are limited, making assumptions about religion and scientific knowledge that are very narrow and exclude the wide range of thought and philosophy that really exists.
Profile Image for Chaunceton Bird.
Author 1 book97 followers
August 14, 2015
This is the first Daniel Quinn book I've read, and it certainly won't be the last. A+ philosophy together with an A+ story make this an entertaining, thought-provoking, and inspiring book to read.
Profile Image for Andrew.
58 reviews2 followers
October 6, 2019
Wonderful story. Incredible insights. This will be a gift to many.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
997 reviews97 followers
October 26, 2020
I have read and reread and reread this philosophical novel, and it has changed me every time. My worldview was changing when I read this for the first time, and I wish I can remember when that was.

The story of the book is less important than the idea of opening your mind and eyes to see what it almost completely obscured by history. It may not be exactly as he writes, new theories and discoveries may be more accurate now, but the idea is that we are brainwashed and not necessarily by religion or teachers, but by the series of events that led to us, a culture that overran the planet and extinguished all other cultures so that there is only a few left living undisturbed. But we can still learn from them. We can still save the planet.

Our souls do not need saving, that is a sad myth we still carry around; but the air and the seas and the land of the planet do need saving, and we ultimately will save ourselves from extinction. We are nature, we are part of the community of life, and only by remembering and reimagining that can we sustain our lives on the planet. The author offers no answer on how to do it, his novel just begins the process of opening our minds and our human brilliance can take us to where it needs to go. Despite time enough to become cynical, I still have hope. Read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer to get a glimpse of what we can learn and be.

B stands for Blasphemer and the books ends by naming all the readers as B. I am B. We reject the salvationist religions and ostensibly are the antichrist since we reject and lead people away from the salvationist myths of organized religion.

I organized the quotes around Religion, Vision, and History as the main categories that affect me so powerfully:

I wonder if you’ve ever considered how strange it is that the educational and character shaping structures of our culture expose us but a single time in our lives to the ideas of Socrates, Plato, Euclid, Aristotle, Herodotus….Einstein, but expose us annually, monthly, weekly, and even daily to the ideas of persons like Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, and Buddha. Why is it, do you think, that we need quarterly lectures on charity, while a single lecture on thermodynamics is presumed to last us a lifetime? Why is the meaning of Christmas judged to be so difficult of comprehension that must hear a dozen explications of it…perhaps even more to the point, why do the pious who already know the text they find holy, need to have it repeated to them week after week after week, and even day after day after day?

Anywhere in the world, East or West, you can walk up to a stranger and say, “let me show you how to be saved.” And you’ll be understood. You may not be believed or welcomes when you speak those words, but you will be understood. The fact that you’ll be understood should astonish you, but it doesn’t, because you’ve been prepared from childhood by a hundred thousand voices-a million voices- to understand those words yourself. You know instantly what it means to be “saved” and it doesn’t’ matter in the least whether you believe in the salvation referred to. You also know the methods can be used by everyone and works for everyone.

A complex and profound worldview is implicit in salvationist messages. According to this worldview, the human condition is such that everyone is born in an unsaved state and remains unsaved until the requisite ritual or inner action is performed, and all who die in this state either fail to attain eternal happiness with god, or fail to escape the weary cycle of death and rebirth.

The history of knowledge of good and evil originates in the idea that the gods have a special knowledge that enables them to rule the world: every choice the gods made is good for one creature but bad for another, and can’t be otherwise. If the quail goes out to hunt and the gods sent it a grasshopper, then this is good for the quail but evil for the grasshopper. If the fox goes out to hunt, and the gods withhold the quail, this is good for the quail but evil for the fox. According to totalitarian agriculture, cows may live but wolves must die. Our posture is not just, if a coyote attacks my herd, I will kill it but rather, let’s wipe coyotes off the face of the earth. The observers (Zeugen) of the originators of our totalitarian agriculture culture saw we were deciding who lives and dies, and decided we had eaten at the god’s own tree of wisdom, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The origin and cause of human suffering – and the means of ending it- became the first great intellectual and spiritual preoccupation of our culture, beginning about four thousand years ago. The next three millennia would see the development of all those religions that were destined to be the major religions of our culture- Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam- and each had its own theory about the origin and cause and its own approach to ending it, transcending it, or putting up with it. But they were all united in a single, central vision. Whether its release from the endless rounds of death and rebirth or blissful union with God in heaven, salvation is the highest goal in human life, and each of us is utterly alone in the universe with it. There is not marketplace where you can buy nirvana, merit, grace; no parent, friend, teacher can obtain it for you. And because nothing remotely compares in value, salvation is the one thing about which you may be totally and blamelessly selfish.

All of our salvationist religions have feared the appearance of one who would lead the righteous from the path of salvation. The Antichrist isn’t just the antithesis of Jesus, he’s equally the antithesis of Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, Joseph, Majaraj Ji- of all saviors and purveyors of salvation in the world. He is fact the Antisavior. Accompanying the legend, has been the bizarre and almost laughable notion that his massive global appeal will be his unbridled wickedness. This shows what a low opinion our salvationist religions have of their members. This is how they despise us that they think we yearn for evil and vileness and will slavishly follow anyone who promises those things.

The Alawa are not saying to the Bushmen that their gods are frauds, the true gods are our gods. The Kreen-Akrore are not saying to the Onabasulu, you have no gods, only we have gods. They are saying, Our place is a sacred place, like no other in the world. They would never think of looking elsewhere to find the gods. The gods are to be found among them, living where they live. The god is what animates THEIR place. That is what a god is. A god is that strange force that makes every place a place- a place like no other in the world. A god is the fire that burns in this place and no other- and no place in which the fire burns is devoid of god. The name animism captures a glimmer of those beliefs.

When the gods set out to make the universe, they said to themselves: let us make of it a manifestation of our unending abundance and a sign to be read by those who shall have eyes to read. Let us lavish care without stint on every thing; no less upon the most fragile blade of grass than upon the mightiest of stars, no less upon the gnat that sings for an hour than upon the mountain that stands for a millennium, no less upon a flake of mica than upon a river of gold. Let us make no two leaves the same from one branch to the next, no two branches the same from one tree to the next, no two trees the same from one land to the next, no two lands the same from one world to the next, no two worlds the same from one star to the next. The world is a sacred place and a sacred process, and we are part of it.

John wrote “anyone who loves the world is a stranger to the Father’s love.” If the world is saved, it will be saved by people with changed minds, people with a new vision. It will not be saved by people with old minds and new programs. It will not be saved by people with the old vision but a new program. Recycling is a program. Supporting earth friendly legislation is a program. You don’t need a new vison to engage in either of these programs. Programs are initiated in order to counter or defeat vision.

In our culture at the present moment, the flow of the river is towards catastrophe, and programs are sticks set in the riverbed to impede its flow. My objective is to change the direction of the flow, away from catastrophe. With the river moving in a new direction, the people wouldn’t have to devise programs to impede its flow.

The contract and the vision was “the world was made for Man and Man was made to conquer and rule it.” This is what we’d been about from the beginning, conquering and ruling, taking the world as if it has been fashioned for our exclusive use…this was not wicked work, this was holy work! This was what God created us to do! And it was not something we learned from Genesis, where God told Adam to fill the earth and subdue it. This is something we knew before Jerusalem, before Babylon…this isn’t something the authors of Genesis taught us, it is something, we, our culture, taught them. This was not the human vision, not the vision that born in us when we became Homo habilis or when Homo habilis became Homo erectus, ec. This is the vision when our particular culture was born, ten thousand years ago. This was the manifesto of our revolution, to be carried to every corner of the earth.

“The earth was made for Man and Man was made to conquer and rule it” was not doubted by the builders of the ziggurats of Ur or the pyramids of Egypt. It wasn’t doubted by the hundreds of thousands who labored to wall of China from the rest of the world…scribes of the Hittites, Darius of Persia, Alexander the Great…Confucious or Aristotle. It wasn’t doubted by the architects of the United Nations...."

But that manifesto is doubted now, almost everywhere in our culture, in all walks of life, among the young and old, for whom the dream of a glittering future in which life will become even sweeter and sweeter has been exploded and is meaningless. Your children know better. Only our politicians still insist that the world was made for Man, and Man was made to conquer and rule it.
We are straying from the path of salvation, exactly as religious leaders feared we might but not for sin or corruption, as they imagined we might. We are straying from the path of salvation because we remember that we once belonged to the world and were content in the belonging. We’re straying from the path of salvation -but not for the love of vice and wickedness as you contemptuously imagined we might. We’re straying from the path of salvation for love of the world, as you never once dreamed in a thousand years of dreaming.

The theories that are advanced to explain the increase of aberrant and addictive unhealthy behaviors are for the most part commonplace generalities, truisms, and platitudes. They are the received wisdom of the ages. You hear that the human race is fatally and irremediably flawed. You hear the human race is a planetary disease Gaia will shake off. You hear that insatiable capitalist greed is to blame or that technology is to blame. Most of these have been deduced from the remedies that are proposed to correct them. All we have to do is ….something. I am proposing a new theory to explain what’s gone wrong, not just a minor variation.

If I say the bad news, I can win applause over the planet: Man is the scourge of the planet, and he was born a scourge, just a few thousand years ago. But the news I am bringing is much different:

Man was NOT born a few thousand years ago and he was NOT born a scourge.
For this news I am condemned.

Man was born MILLIONS of years ago, and he was not more a scourge than lions and hawaks or squids. He lived AT PEACE with the world…for MILLIONS of years.
That doesn’t mean he was a saint. That doesn’t mean he walked the earth like a buddha. It means he lived as harmlessly as a hyena or a shark or a rattlesnake.

It is not MAN who is the scourge of the world. It’s a single culture. One culture out of hundreds of thousands of cultures. OUR culture. We don’t have to change HUMANKIND in order to survive. We only have to change a single culture. It is not an easy task, but it is not an impossible one.

Here is my good news: WE ARE NOT HUMANITY. Can you feel the liberation in these words? I’m sure they seem bizarre, whisper them to yourself. I want you to understand what these four words are. They are a summary of all that was forgotten during the Great Forgetting. I mean that quite literally. At the end of the Great Forgetting, when the people of our culture began to build civilization in earnest, those four words were unthinkable. We forgot that we are a single culture and came to think of ourselves as humanity itself.

It staggers the imagination to wonder what the foundation thinkers of our culture would have written if they’d known that humans has lived perfectly well on this planet for millions of years without agriculture and civilization, if they’d known that agriculture and civilization are not remotely innated to humans….but here is one of the most amazing occurrences in all of human history. When the thinkers of he 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries were finally compelled to admit that the entire structure of thought in our culture had been built on a profoundly important error, absolutely nothing happened. It’s hard to notice nothing happening. Everyone knows that. Readers of Sherlock Homes will remember that the remarkable thing the dog did in the night was…nothing. And this is the remarkable thing that these thinkers did: nothing. Obviously they didn’t care to do anything. They didn’t care to go back to all the foundation thinkers of our culture and ask how their work would have changed if they knew the truth about our origins.

During the Great Forgetting, it came to be understood among the people of our culture that life in “the wild” was governed by a single, cruel law known as the Law of the Jungle, or kill or be killed. In recent decades, by the process of looking (instead of merely assuming), ethologists have discovered this “kill or be killed” law is a fiction. In fact, a system of laws-universally observed- preserves the tranquility of the jungle, protects species and even individuals and promotes the well being of the community as a whole. The system has been called, the peacekeeping law, the law of limited competition, and animal ethics. Briefly, the law of limited competition is this: . In other words, you can compete but you may not wage war on your competitors.
Profile Image for Sean.
96 reviews1 follower
August 9, 2022
It seems weird to rate a book whose point I pretty much agree with so lowly, but good lord Daniel Quinn finds a way to make all this an insufferable slog.

First off, let me say that had I read this book when I were younger, I'd probably be among those singing its wholehearted praise. This book would have been mind-shattering to 18 year old me. Now, every "mind-blowing" revelation from B elicits a yawn. Of course, that doesn't mean the book can't have value for others who haven't gone through a process of disillusionment, I just don't personally care for the way Quinn goes about it.

For one, carried over from Ishmael, Quinn's choice to have B/Ishmael use the Socratic method to make their points is ridiculous. I guess it works for some people, but to me this is incredibly annoying and, more importantly, serves no purpose in writing. I'm willing to accept it can be useful in an actual teaching setting, where you are trying to keep (usually) children engaged. Here, I shouldn't have to repeatedly read B goading the protagonist to "think, think"!

Related to the above, I also found it incredibly patronizing that the protagonist (who is a stand-in for the reader, at least while he is actively being taught by B), A) consistently has a hard time grasping what B is trying to impart ("I don't see the point you're trying to make" pops up a lot), B) on a few occasions has Victorian fainting spells after being imparted some particularly Dangerous piece of Knowledge, and C) is actually quite intelligent and well-read as Quinn is sure to drop in tidbits showing Jared's comprehensive, if general, knowledge of Important Authors and Subjects. These tendencies combined give the notion that Quinn is Extremely Impressed with himself and his Difficult ideas. You want the truth? You can't handle the truth! Dude, get over yourself. You could have just presented your ideas straightforwardly, instead it has to be dressed up in this Socratic dialogue between the preternaturally insightful B and Puny Automaton, Jared, who is positively GOBSMACKED at what he is being told! Like you, the reader, should be! Please don't tell me how to react to your book, Daniel. Quinn even seems to recognize this tendency is annoying: Shirin specifically talks about how she's not going to try to "lead" Jared to the point she's trying to make. She mostly still does the Socratic thing though.

Then, there is the plot itself. Ishmael was sort of a "self-contained" story, in that it involved basically only the protagonist and Ishmael, a super-intelligent, telepathic gorilla. Ishmael does talk about his backstory, but this is tangential to the book, which is primarily about the ideas the two characters are discussing and not so much any events that take place within the book's universe. I wish Quinn would have stuck with this approach here - instead, we get a narrative about an imaginary order of the Catholic church dispatching a random boozehound priest for a bit of 007-ing! Honestly, this was so bizarre. Again, I cannot help but interpret this as more self-aggrandizement by Quinn, who imagines his ideas are so mind-bendingly Profound and Threatening that the Catholic Church would dispatch Agents to suppress their dispersion. The actual image of B we are given simply doesn't match up with the story. When Jared goes looking for B, he can't even find him initially - nobody has heard of him. When he is found, it's in the stuffy basement of some German bar. The %#&!@*$ doorwoman is discouraging people from entering, for chrissakes! Hardly the stuff of a serious threat to the established order. How the hell would Fr. Lulfre have even heard of this guy in America when people IN THE CITY HE'S SPEAKING IN have never heard of him? Then there's the fact of Lulfre already having an actual professional agent assigned to B (Reichmann, who plays an important role in the story, later), so why would Jared be sent at all? Nothing really adds up because the entire mechanism is simply a way for Quinn to insinuate that his ideas are like, SO profound. For real. Like, people say I'm the freakin' ANTICHRIST when I talk about this stuff, man.

Then, of course, there is Quinn's fixation on human population and totalitarian agriculture as wedded prime factor(s)/cause(s) of the ongoing collapse. I don't think Quinn is necessarily wrong here, but I do think that a singular focus on population is well, problematic, for what should be obvious reasons. In fact, I was interested to learn a bit about the story of James Lee, who took hostages at the Discovery Channel HQ in 2010 in an effort to broadcast his environmentalist message. First on Lee's list of 11 demands is that "The Discovery Channel and it's affiliate channels MUST have daily television programs at prime time slots based on Daniel Quinn's "My Ishmael" pages 207-212". Quinn is mentioned numerous times on Lee's website. Some other excerpts from his demand letter:

- "stop encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants"
- "programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility must be pushed"
- "find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that"
- "That means stopping the human race from breeding any more disgusting human babies!"
- "Humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what's left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture."

Where the heck did he get those ideas?! Quinn himself recognizes he's making a Malthusian point and tries to head it off:

"[B is describing hypothetical experiments with mouse populations, specifically here he is talking about reducing food supply after it had been steadily increased for a period] After a thousand days only 250 kilos of food are going into the cage - and guess what? There are no longer 64,000 mice in the cage. There are only 32,000. Not a miracle - just a demonstration of the laws of ecology. A decline in food availability has been answered by a decline in population. As always. Nothing to do with riots. Nothing to do with famine."

B/Quinn is not specifically advocating intentionally decreasing the food supply in this passage, but it's the closest thing I can find to a solution that Quinn presents. At times, Quinn seems to insinuate that if enough people just read his books, then a sea change would happen after people picked their flippin' jaws off the ground (though, at another point in the book he rightly ridicules this notion as wishful thinking)! Quinn actually does seem to believe that if we just froze food production at current levels, the population would level out with "no riots, no mice starving". I would like a condescending B to explain to Quinn how adorable this idea is. Even assuming Quinn is correct that freezing food supply would lead to a decline in population, and assuming some mechanism for actually accomplishing this, and assuming the humans who are no longer able to be supported by the reduced food supply (before population "levels out") just quietly go to permanent sleep (not death, no!), all the same problems of our "Taker" culture remain; presumably, the planets' resources would continue to be pillaged for the benefit of an extreme minority, at a slower rate. Quinn doesn't really present a solution because, again, the logical conclusion of B's teachings is that the human population must be reduced. Quinn writes in several places (in fact the entire debunking of "salvationist" religions makes this point) that humans are not irredeemably flawed or intrinsically evil. But in a world where the Taker culture is for all intents and purposes monolithic, humans can only be enacting destruction on the planet. It seems Quinn is not really willing to be honest about where his ideas lead. He makes a half-hearted effort to demonstrate that no, really, reducing the food supply would just be a simple knob-turn and whammo, you got yerself a riot- and famine-free reduction in population, bucko! He ultimately focuses more on new "visions" - not "plans" - being able to usurp the Taker mentality. I mean, he's right, it just seems to me he thinks it will be some magical "aha!" moment.

Ultimately there is not a whole lot in Quinn's message that I specifically disagree with. I like how he correctly points out that agriculture existed well before the "agricultural revolution", and that there are non-destructive forms of agriculture which mimic and work with, not against, nature. I like how he points out the myth of the noble savage, although, I think his glasses still have a bit of rose tint when he talks about Leaver societies. Quinn's single-minded focus on population and agriculture as the genesis of our cultural collapse is too narrow.

Finally, a nitpick re: Ishmael, the telepathic, Confucius-level-wisdom-dropping gorilla. Ishmael is of course the focus of this novel's predecessor, but he gets a few mentions here when B talks about his colleague's ideas (usually of the Leaver/Taker dichotomy). In Ishmael, this improbable enlightening stretched the limits of believability and Quinn's need to fill in details of Ishmael's story make it even more so. Why not just have the protagonist encounter Ishmael in a zoo and avoid the entire rigmarole about his history, which added nothing to Quinn's point? In Ishmael I could just suspend disbelief, but in "B" another level of ridiculousness is added - B, a man whose singular purpose is Blowing Your Freaking Mind, fails to mention that his one time colleague happens to be a gorilla who'd make the average Mensa member look like Barney Fife. Oh, and he's telepathic. Nah, just gonna leave that detail out. Like, wouldn't you lead with that? "Folks, the planet is crying out for help. This is the story of how a fucking telepathic gorilla... now now! quiet down! ...convinced me the world is dying!"

Ultimately it's difficult to take someone seriously when they essentially dismiss political economy as a contributing factor: "You hear that insatiable capitalist greed is to blame or that technology is to blame". Perhaps a critique of the capitalist mode of production is an extremely valid topic in discussing our current cultural collapse in addition to "totalitarian agriculture = more food = big population = bad".

TL;DR - self-important, much?
Profile Image for David.
311 reviews5 followers
June 29, 2022

lol wtf is this?

It's like New Tribalism for Morons or something, or Oversimplified Ecology for Dummies maybe?

This is the second Quinn book I've read, and Ishmael at least had a *little* bit of a plot. But this? This just says, over and over and over again, how bad modern life is because we're Takers and not Leavers. Fine, okay. So what's the plan? What would you actually like us to do? Oh, there are no solutions proposed here, other than "modern society is bad, we're destroying the ecosystem, and our species is unsustainable." Yes, fine. I agree. So what do you propose? Cut off the world's food supply to reduce the population like the mice in your ecology model? Start murdering excess population? What?

No, all he does is repeat himself far too many times that tribal societies were better than modern ones. I hate to break it to anyone who thinks this is somehow a revolutionary idea, that you would most definitely *not* like living in a pre-industrial hunter-gatherer society that Quinn so breathlessly worships.

My main point in my review of Ishmael is that modern medicine makes life so much better than the insane risks in prehistorical societies. Imagine dying from an infected wound, or a piece of bad meat. No refrigeration, no stable structures to live in. Constantly hungry and needing to forage for food, and risk death almost daily. But hey, the air would be cleaner! But this was just awful, particularly the last third where B goes on and on over the same points ad nauseam. I was rolling my eyes so much that I wanted to just stop before reaching the end. I have zero interest in reading his third book after this drivel.

No solutions proposed, just romanticizing the Mayan culture as an example to live by. Riiiight - look up what daily life was like for the Maya and tell me if that's the kind of society you'd like to live in. Human life was cheap in those days.
Profile Image for Jorge Criado.
Author 40 books48 followers
July 4, 2017
¿Por dónde empezar?
- Diálogos pueriles, puestos ahí para que el enorme monólogo que es este libro dé la apariencia de que se trata de una novela.
- Protagonista ridículo. Nada menos que un sacerdote supuestamente inteligente que a la primera de cambio se queda maravillado por el "mensaje" que transmite el tal B y pierde la fe porque le resulta increíblemente iluminador. Un mensaje que no tiene nada de impresionante, que cuenta con varias falacias, que no tiene nada que pueda asustar ni hacer temblar la civilización. Mucho menos a la Iglesia. Pero claro, había que meter todo tipo de tópico por muy irreal que fuera. Incluyendo, por supuesto, a la Iglesia dispuesta a eliminar a un supuesto anticristo que no llega más que a charlatán. Da la sensación de que el proceso mental del autor ha sido algo como esto:
"-Necesito que este discurso ecológico-animista parezca una novela.
-Ponle un protagonista que hable de vez en cuando.
-¿Qué tal un sacerdote?
-¿Sabes algo de teología, de historia de la Iglesia, de relación fe-razón, de la vida normal de la Iglesia?
-En absoluto, pero tengo un montón de tópicos que a la gente le gustan, poner a la Iglesia como el saco de las tortas siempre vende y un sacerdote que pierde la fe da morbo.
Es decir, lo típico pero peor aún porque ni siquiera entretiene. Todo está al servicio del discurso.
Profile Image for Sarah.
898 reviews12 followers
September 4, 2017
This book really caused me to think and evaluate my life. I found it to be a book I thought about as I read and that connected to other aspects of my life. I found it reaching all parts and making me rethink assumptions. I appreciated the way it was written. I want concrete ideas and answers but I understand that this book profoundly changed my views and rethink many ideas.
Profile Image for João Garbers.
7 reviews2 followers
June 13, 2023
Leitura obrigatória (principalmente para meus amigos biólogos e cientistas da natureza), livro incrivel! com certeza está nos meus top 5, junto com Ishmael! Fiquei fascinado com a capacidade de escrita do Daniel Quinn, nunca li nem ouvi de ninguem as ideias incrivelmente desafiadoras que ele expos nessas duas obras dele.

"O mundo não vai ser salvo por mentes antigas com novos programas. Se ele for salvo, vai ser por mentes mudadas, sem programas."
Profile Image for Giordano Margaglio.
90 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2021
Do you know that feeling of having someone crack your skull wide open, inject in it a fundamentally new idea and close it back?

Read "Ishmael", then read this book.

You'll know what I'm taking about.
Profile Image for Will Gorman.
17 reviews2 followers
July 5, 2023
A thought provoking book, but not as good as the original and at times too preachy
Profile Image for Randall Wallace.
543 reviews417 followers
August 12, 2020
The Taker way began 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and introduced the notion of work and a much harder lifestyle. It created huge food surpluses that required armed force to protect. One of its tenets: “Anything we eat may live, but anything that eats our food (B means pests and insects) must die”. The new viral world view began dominating nature by assuming it was now the God, and great decider. In the end, the world’s Taker religions never surpassed a child’s Golden Rule. Animism is not a religion – it was our universal religion and our universal past. [I love that notion – that’s what I used to think as a kid. How great to have to return to what we thought as kids.] Before “The Great Forgetting” ten thousand years ago, was a healthy vision “that was embraced by hundreds of thousands of cultures for hundreds of thousands of years”. At one point in this book a character says, “you remain a captive of the Great Forgetting”. Tribal warfare did not involve exterminating the opponent, that form was the achievement of Western Civilization. The tribal way continues to this day because it alone worked sustainably. In Leaver cultures, X would not exterminate, or annex culture Y, nor destroy the identity of Z. Tribal cultures protected “cultural diversity”. Cultural diversity is what made tribalism work for hundreds of thousands of years. If one culture goes mad, it is only one of thousands. If a monoculture goes mad… well that’s what you have now with Western Civilization after the birth of agriculture. We don’t have to change the world, we just have to change a single culture. We the readers are now supposed to become B and carry on his/her work which is to educate people everywhere about the Great Forgetting. According to B, we are supposed to act as literary “chain mail” we tell 10 people who tell 10 people, and everyone becomes educated the story of how agriculture and civilization are not innate to mankind, etc. B gets miffed about people calling this period of time “pre-history” but makes no mention that most experts in the field instead, like James C. Scott, call this period more accurately “pre-state”.

B equates Leavers with aboriginals. “our agricultural revolution signaled a mind change.” The choosing of a lifestyle where you had to work much harder. The Aztecs weren’t Takers because after they conquered you they didn’t try to turn you into Aztecs. Gunpowder has three needed ingredients: Potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur. Taker culture is dominated by two ingredients: enforcing “the one right way”, and enforcing “totalitarian agriculture”, through the threat of state violence. This book is about trying to remember: what great lessons were lost by humanity from the time of “The Great Forgetting”? And what did people have in mind before the Great Forgetting?

Tribal cultures today get it because they lived it. But our culture went through the Great Forgetting and we are not supposed to think or venture to look on the other historical side of time for what was forgotten, what was lost? Man lived with the world, lived at peace with the world, then came “totalitarian agriculture” which meant growing as much as possible and store the surplus. That wouldn’t stop famines: Bengal 1769 (10,000,000) Ireland and Russia 1845 1846 (2,000,000) China and India 1876-1879 (15,000,000), etc. What is needed is cultural collapse of the dominant culture. In 1948, the guy who invented DDT got a Nobel Prize for it even though everyone knew it was a deadly poison. This culture believes it must rule, dominate, and conquer nature. What a strange sociopathic mindset when contrasted with the tribal mindset. To B and Daniel, the world hasn’t looked back since the Great Forgetting. But those woke, now know better. The Matrix has shattered. God cannot be on our side against the both the planet and all of nature. It’s the notion that everyone should live the way we live. Could you imagine if you woke up one morning and decided it was YOUR job to proselytize your neighbors to one way? That is what this culture keeps doing. Tribal people don’t do that and didn’t do that. It’s a topsy-turvy culture: today’s most dedicated earth and animal activists dedicated to saving the world and animals are derided as the “Antichrist” in Taker culture boardrooms.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,575 reviews5 followers
January 11, 2013
Having read and enjoyed (and learned from) the author's first novel Ishamel, I suspected I would like this one as well, and I did. The story centers around a Catholic priest who is sent by the head of his order to investigate a man who may or may not be the antichrist. Rather than teaching and preaching Satanism or black magic, the speaker--a man known only as B--is teaching something much more dangerous to the Church: animism!

Yes, animism. Over the course of several long talks, B tells the priest (and a few others) the true story of human beings, which is the story of 'the Takers.' The Takers are human cultures (or really one culture) that practice what the author calls 'totalitarian agriculture.' By growing food instead of gathering it, Takers have amassed power to spread their ideas to other tribes and cultures. Takers then subsume other tribes, forcing them to be like they are. Populations grow from tribes to villages, from villages to towns, from towns to cities, from cities to kingdoms, and from kingdoms to empires, all because growing food instead of foraging for it allows for high population growth. Unfortunately, Taker culture is antithetical to the Law of Life, and slowly mankind--monocultural, for the most part, constantly starving, and way, way overpopulous-- is sick, violent, and convinced that there is something wrong with human beings.

What then is necessary? Salvation religions. The belief that mankind is inherently evil gives rise to saviors--Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha, Rama, whoever. And: belief that the world is for mankind to dominate and subdue instead of live as an organic part of the whole gives rise to all of the pollution, resource depletion, and other horrors of the modern world. This is how the world has always been, the Takers believe. This is how it always will be.

The Leavers, however, are a different story. The Leavers are what human beings were for the first 190,000 years of our existence (Takers, and agriculture, date back only 10,000 years). Leavers seen no difference between themselves and the leaves of the forest, the fruit of the vine, or the animals of the wild. All is one. All are one. Leavers don't exist in harmony with nature; they are nature themselves. So the antichrist is teaching people that gods are in pieces of land, not in heaven above. And for this...well, read the book to see what happens.

I am describing the philosophical, anthropological, and spiritual dimensions of the book poorly. The Story of Bis smart, insightful, and paradigm shifting (to say the least!) I had come to some of the conclusions that B makes on my own, which is a bit troubling since now I have to take the seriously. I think that author probably romanticizes what life was like for pre-agricultural man. He also ignores our species desire to know, to explore, to understand the universe around us. Leavers don't build telescopes, in other words. Leavers die by the time they are 30 of abscessed teeth and birth complications. With that said...there is much to think about here. A truly great book.
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