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Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

(Ishmael #1)

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  91,132 ratings  ·  5,641 reviews
Librarian's note: An alternate cover edition can be found here

Must have an earnest desire to
save the world. Apply in person.

It was just a three-line ad in the personals section, but it launched the adventure of a lifetime...

So begins Ishmael, an utterly unique and captivating novel that has earned a large and passionate following among readers and crit
Paperback, 266 pages
Published July 1995 by Bantam (first published 1992)
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Ari I know this is late but in the start of the book, Ishmael's name was originally Goliath. Walter Sokolow (who saved Ishmael and also a Jewish man) came…moreI know this is late but in the start of the book, Ishmael's name was originally Goliath. Walter Sokolow (who saved Ishmael and also a Jewish man) came across a painting of a gorilla named Goliath that seemed to be a "symbol for the Nazi giant that was then engaged in crushing the race of David". Once he realized that Ishmael was not a "bloodthirsty monster", he renamed him to Ishmael. Referring to the Bible, Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham, where his name translates to "God hears." At the start of Ishmael's life story, he talks about how he would question "why" while in the zoo because he felt as though he was "unjustly deprived of some inborn right." In a sense, God heard him and had him reborn as a whole person through the help of Walter. (less)
Saharra George His premise is very contradictory though. He talks about the privilege of the first world, but then insinuates that the developed nations feeding the …moreHis premise is very contradictory though. He talks about the privilege of the first world, but then insinuates that the developed nations feeding the developing nations that have high birth rates should stop because it only encourages more population. Understandably he doesn't have Ishmael spend a lot of time on the idea of starving people out because its not a very nice idea. At any rate, it doesn't matter because its yet another fact Quinn has dead wrong - first world food production does not feed the developing world. To the contrary, countries in Europe are extremely reliant on food imports from other countries. (less)

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J.G. Keely
May 26, 2007 rated it did not like it
Are you the sort of person who hears other people discussing books and finding yourself wondering how they can even form opinions on stories? I mean, either you like it or you don't, right?

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

This telepathic gorilla pontificates on culture, his take on the book of Genes
Mar 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The reason I like Quinn’s style in “Ishmael” is that he doesn’t assume a pedantic perch atop humanity and force-feed a philosophically-driven, A-Z laundry list of “how to make yourself a better human being” and “save the world one person at a time” mantra down the reader’s throat. His style of writing is intimate. Reading “Ishmael” kind of reminds you of sitting in lecture with that one professor in college whose class you earnestly enjoyed and looked forward to attending each week - those lectu ...more
Lessons in Metaphysics for Recovering Idealists

The conventional translation of the name Ishmael from Hebrew is ‘God hears’. But there is an equally plausible alternative: ‘Man is God’.* This could well be Daniel Quinn’s satirical intent. First called Goliath, then renamed Ishmael, but acting like Socrates, Quinn’s central character is a gorilla who teaches his idealistically minded, now middle-aged, seeker that God is precisely what Man is not. And he does this expertly.

The term ‘metaphysics’ in
Apr 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all of mankind
Recommended to Lori by: Joe Cannon
This book was recommended to me from my Ecology teacher on Saturday. I bought it the same day because i really needed a decent read... i having been craving this all the time lately.
I did not put it down until i was done with it two days later.
The premise is a man talking to a gorilla... however simple and idiotic that may seem to you, this story reveals so eloquently what i have always believed to be the reasons for the way we live in modern society. It details the way in which our society ha
Lauren (Shakespeare & Whisky)
The top three reviews on this book are salty 1 star reviews. 0_o

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

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

I found this deeply enjoyable. It is certainly worth your time to take a look even if you don't agree with the philosophy.
Sep 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book was worth reading but many parts bothered me. First Ishmael makes incorrect statements about how nature works, and asserts that humans have violated these rules, which is the source of our discontents. E.g. Ishmael states that other species do not attack competitors. This is false. Species will attack predators whenever there is an adaptive advantage to do so. Ishmael also states that predators never take more than they can eat. This is also false. I read an article about how predators ...more
Esteban del Mal
Mar 18, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Jungians who like it didactic style; the epiphany challenged
Recommended to Esteban by: a karma vampire
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Behold the majesty of Curious George as he gets all dialogue-y on your ass! Your encounter will leave you changed! You, too, may find yourself flinging poop at civilization along with our simian savior!

A telepathic gorilla develops something like consciousness, is happily able to flower under the attentive stewardship of a George Soros-type philanthropist and waxes philosophical to a disenchanted idealist. This book stinks of anthropological and ecological p
Jan 24, 2009 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: nobody
I haven't finished this book yet but I probably won't because it sucks. First of all, it's supposed to be a novel but it's entirely didactic. The author has simply substituted this gorilla to preach at us in the author's voice. The viewpoint character is simple minded and vacuous to the point of not existing. In fact, he's just there as the foil or receptacle for the gorilla's teachings. The central thesis of the gorilla's thoughts, which he presents as unassailable fact, is the supposition that ...more
Max Ostrovsky
Although, purposefully didactic, it was beautiful. It read incredibly fast, but it sits with you for a very long time. Imagine eating something quick and cheap like a taco bell burrito only to discover that once it reached your stomach, it felt like a 7 course meal at a 5 star restaurant. Definitely plenty of intellectual bang for your buck.

Lately, absurdly leftist books such as the previously reviewed Illuminatus! Trilogy have just pissed me off with their "all we need is to love each other" p
Jess the Shelf-Declared Bibliophile
I was really excited to read this but it's just not connecting with me or pulling me in, so sadly I'm making the decision to DNF. Perhaps I'll try again one day. ...more
Riku Sayuj
Oct 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Rohini Nair
Recommended to Riku by: Trippy
Mystified, inspired, depressed and exhilarated by the same book; it was bound to polarize readers. Definitely the best (philosophical) novel based on the Socratic dialogue method I have ever read - many times better than the pale imitations it spawned. The call to action of the book is the real mystery - Ishmael poses the final question to us in the back of his poster... Hoping to put up a full review soon.
Arun Divakar
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that foll ...more
Jun 30, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people who don't know anything and are willing to be treated like idiots
i could crap a better book than this. it's condescending and trying to be profound but very simplistic. if you've already been introduced to basic ideas about we're ruining the earth and need to get our act together, you'll learn nothing new here. and the whole wise teacher/pupil thing is so cliche. so what if he's a gorilla? ...more
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
At first I hesitated reading this book, I thought it wasn't my thing. ... But boy oh boy, was I wrong. It blew my mind. It broadened my horizons and it even got me interested in the history and evolution. This book is really interesting and it's a reminder of how badly we treat mother Earth. ...more
May 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: co-op shoppers, liberals, crystal children
Recommended to Ian by: fate
The quintessential hippie college book. Years after college, I found it left on a beach in Hawaii, like so many LaRouche pamplets on university campuses, and read it in a few sittings. To anyone with half a brain and some college education, a lot of this book will seem painfully obvious, as this type of thinking has so permeated public conciousness in recent years. But if you can turn the volume down on your censors even a little, there's much to be appreciated here. I will never look at zoos th ...more
Feb 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
Well, this is a sociology/ecology lecture loosely disguised as a novel that makes you sit back and say "why didn't I think of that, it's so obvious to me now!" And it's done in a way that continually builds on the presented ideas so that you understand the concepts from the ground up. Loved it. Think everyone should read it. ...more
Jan 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Until Darwin and the paleontologists came along to tack three million years of human life onto your history, it was assumed in your culture that the birth of man and the birth of your culture were simultaneous events."

Part allegory, part parable and part exemplum. I can't say that Ishmael was a life altering experience for me, but it masterfully articulated notions that I have long believed were true. Quinn's use of fiction to promote positive real-life change is nothing short of brilliant. Rea
Kevin Kuhn
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
First, let me acknowledge that I am very late to this game. Daniel Quinn wrote the first version of this novel in 1977, and published the version that I read in 1992. My only excuse is that I was knee-deep in my first job and still becoming accustomed to business travel, marriage, and well, real life. Then came three kids, resulting in my missing about a decade’s worth of music and literature. In all honesty, despite this novel being a NY Times Best Seller, an international phenomenon, and requi ...more
John Clark
Jan 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sustainability
We, the people of our culture, are the inheritors and administrators of a grave evil. Strong evidence of this evil is blazed in the destruction of our environment, which is clearly caused by humans. Sadly, we have been taught, and we continue to teach others, that this evil is actually good: not that we should be destroying our environment, but that it is a consequence of an otherwise noble pursuit of our culture. With "Ishmael", Daniel Quinn bravely explores and exposes the destructive conseque ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: delete
I had somewhat of an idea of what this book was about before I ever started it. I am sure this will piss some people off...but if you are more concerned with the corporate "takers", more concerned about you, or your parents investments, care more about being the "haves",and could care less about the "leavers" or the "have nots" you will not "get" this book. You will not like it....

If you care about the leeches in this world robbing us of our environment for business, like the Kochs brothers,for
April (The Steadfast Reader)
Apr 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Kevin, James, Jen, Angela... the hippies. :>
Definitely a hippie book, at first I thought the philosophy behind it was all about saving nature, the rainforests, blah blah.. :> But it's really about something deeper, challenging human 'nature' as we know it. Truly an amazing book. ...more
Feb 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: intellectuals that are looking for an ass-kicking
At a Borders parking lot back home, it was spray-painted into the pavement "READ ISHMAEL"
That's basically how I first heard about it and read it. Especially since I parked over the spray-painted message time and time again.
Would people really read this book if it was called "Ricardo" or "Paul"...I say no.
So thanks for giving it this name that nobody has except for people obsessed with Moby Dick, which I have not come across.

I think intellectuals like to say that this book changed their mind on t
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Intriguing story of a man and his gorilla teacher. Slow beginning but definitely picks up in interest. A challenge to our ordinary values and thinking. It speaks to the need for a new way of seeing: well, our old way is clearly not working! I haven't read the other books in the series but would like to. A creative way of exploring different possibilities of being in the world. ...more
Jan 29, 2009 rated it did not like it
Don't read this book. It was miserable. ...more
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone and their brother.
Recommended to Lilith by: Eve Benjelloun
My cousin introduced me to Daniel Quinn while I was visiting her in September, and though I was only getting summaries via print-outs of his various lectures, I fell in love with his ideas. The narrative tale of Ishmael - a telepathic teacher/student relationship between a gorilla and disillusioned youth, respectively - is a thinly veiled attempt on Quinn's part to present his anthropological arguments in a more entertaining way. The weakness in the narrative is almost always negated by Quinn's ...more
May 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I see from the other reviews here that ratings on this book are quite polarized: many poor ratings and many rave reviews. If we were to average all that out, we'd get something like a medium novel, but of course the polarization reflects the controversial side of this novel.

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

Aug 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
I'm not impressed with this book at all. As a novel, it fails to entertain. As a manifesto, it is too vague and shallow to enact any meaning. What frustrated me most was Quinn's lack of proof to substantiate his scientific rhetoric and his cut & paste techniques when addressing religion.

What Quinn fails to recognize is that humans need more than just food. "Man cannot live by bread alone." If we returned to "Leaver" status and were fulfilled with natural-growing sustenance, man would still be r
Jul 11, 2007 rated it liked it
At its core, Ishmael is a narrative about a grand narrative. It aims high, and its failure to achieve what it sets out to do is ultimately more interesting than its stated premise.

Ishmael, however, is conscious of this failing--indicated by Quinn's allusion to Plato's cave. But unlike other modern works which use the form of the Grand Narrative to critique or subvert it (the first Matrix film being the most widely recognized example, and many of the short stories of Borges being more notable),
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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 ...more

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Ishmael (3 books)
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