Tag Archives: daniel quinn

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: I picked this up because a friend highly recommended it, saying it was one of her favorite books of all time. Basically, the narrator comes across a classified ad in the newspaper advertising a teacher in search of a student with an interest in saving the world. The narrator, who was too young to join the hippie movement but was nonetheless enchanted by their ideals, looks up this teacher out of curiosity. From then on the book is almost entirely their sessions together, learning about the mythology of the “Taker” and “Leaver” cultures, respectively, and how to “save the world”. I alternated between interest in the story and exasperation at the preaching. The ending was too predictable and too convenient, but I’m not sure how else it could have ended. As for the philosophy, well, it certainly wasn’t a life-changing experience for me. I was left with too many questions. Living in harmony with the planet is certainly a worthy endeavor, but never are issues addressed like, for example, travel. Transportation requires a disruption of the natural order: trees and animal habitats must be swept away to lay roads, runways, and rails. Sure, it’s easier to adapt to your surroundings if you never go anywhere, but such isolation also sows xenophobia and superstition. This is not to say we shouldn’t strive to coexist peacefully with the rest of nature, or that it is our right and duty to reshape the world to suit our purposes. Not at all. I just felt that the arguments presented here were incomplete. They also propose that we who have plenty should not aid those suffering from famine and drought. I understand the idea behind it – it will just lead to overpopulation and more famine in the future – but I am not comfortable with the lack of compassion.

All that said, I must give this book high marks for giving me quite a lot to think about. Its insufficient arguments and somewhat ham-fisted narrative style aside, it made me ponder things I’d never even considered in the past. It instilled in me a desire to research the ideas presented in order to form my own opinions on subjects I never knew were up for debate. I certainly recommend it to anyone in search of a thought-provoking read.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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