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

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
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's review
Jan 09, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: self-help, literature, philosophy

I read this in one day - it just captivated me and I felt compelled to see where it was going. It's a thinly veiled philosophical treatise, but It's okay because at the same time the talking gorilla does make it more memorable and palatable than if Quinn had just written it as a straightforward call to action.

So the idea is that humanity is on a path toward self-destruction (as we all know) and we need a complete paradigm shift to save us. A shift away from controlling nature (eating from the tree of Good and Evil) and towards being at one with nature (living in the hands of the gods).

My feelings are mixed about the ideas presented in this book. First, the good: I really enjoyed the mythological perspective on our culture and I agree that the ideal of constant progress should not be taken for granted. I, too, sometimes long for an escape from the complexities of modern life, back to a simpler time. And I agree that as long as we attempt to control nature, we destroy it more than we can even know. But I have to wonder what exactly is the solution Ishmael is proposing. He encourages us to think of it not as a step back, but a step forward, but I am having trouble envisioning what that future would be. Woult it be sustainable, grass-based farming as described by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma? Would we all have to be farmers or could some of us still buy stuff at the store? Could we make our buildings self-sustaining and totally green, or do we need to switch to huts? Is it really possible (or even desirable) for our new global culture to be dismantled in favor of more isolation and smaller communities?

See, this book really entranced me, and immediately after reading it I was ready to join the club. But taking a step back from it, I have a problem with the book, coming from my geeky side. I love technology, and I'm endlessly fascinated by the way in which we continue to express our humanity through new media (such as this site). Maybe technology and nature are not as diametrically opposed as Quinn suggests. Perhaps in continuing to innovate to achieve god-like powers (such as growing an ear in a lab), we will actually become closer to nature. After all, learning to harness the power of the sun as well as grass does will help move us away from dependence on fossil fuels. Learning more about how diseases function and how DNA works at the chemical level allows us to understand and replicate nature itself. Perhaps we can have control of nature, and control can lead to harmony.

I understand that the point of Ishmael is to say that human control will always lead to human decisions about life and death, which are worse for life on Earth than nature's decisions. But having eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, having tasted that fruit, I don't see how we can ever turn back.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by mark (new)

mark The movie "Instinct" staring Anthony Hopkins & Cuba Gooding is based on this book. It's a good movie. YOUR questions are terrific!

Rachel Thanks!

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