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Ishmael:A Novel Paperback – May 1, 1995
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From Kirkus Reviews
Here's the novel that, out of 2500 submissions, won the ecological-minded Turner Tomorrow Award--and caused a mutiny among the judges when it was awarded the $500,000 first prize. Is it that good--or bad? No, but it's certainly unusual, even eccentric, enough to place Quinn (the paperback Dreamer, 1988) on the cult literary map.
What's most unusual is that this novel scarcely is one: beneath a thin narrative glaze, it's really a series of Socratic dialogues between man and ape, with the ape as Socrates. The nameless man, who narrates, answers a newspaper ad (``TEACHER seeks pupil...'') that takes him to a shabby office tenanted by a giant gorilla; lo! the ape begins to talk to him telepathically (Quinn's failure to explain this ability is typical of his approach: idea supersedes story). Over several days, the ape, Ishmael, as gruff as his Greek model, drags the man into a new understanding of humanity's place in the world. In a nutshell, Ishmael argues that humanity has evolved two ways of living: There are the ``Leavers,'' or hunter-gatherers (e.g., Bushmen), who live in harmony with the rest of life; and there are the ``Takers'' (our civilization), who arose with the agricultural revolution, aim to conquer the rest of life, and are destroying it in the process. Takers, Ishmael says, have woven a ``story'' to rationalize their conquest; central to this story is the idea that humanity is flawed--e.g., as told in the Bible. But not so, Ishmael proclaims; only the Taker way is flawed: Leavers offer a method for living well in the world ... A washout as a story, with zero emotional punch; but of substantial intellectual appeal as the extensive Q&A passages (despite their wild generalities and smug self-assurance) invariably challenge and provoke: both Socrates and King Kong might be pleased. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
“A thoughtful, fearlessly low-key novel about the role of our species on the planet . . . laid out for us with an originality and a clarity that few would deny.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Quinn entraps] us in the dialogue itself, in the sweet and terrible lucidity of Ishmael’s analysis of the human condition. . . . It was surely for this deep, clear persuasiveness of argument that Ishmael was given its huge prize.”—The Washington Post
“It is as suspenseful, inventive, and socially urgent as any fiction or nonfiction book you are likely to read this or any other year.”—The Austin Chronicle
“Deserves high marks as a serious—and all too rare—effort that is unflinchingly engaged with fundamental life-and-death concerns.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Twice this week I have ordered this to get the 25th Anniversary edition and twice now I am having to process a return. The book deserves all the praise you will read on it. There's nothing knew I can add to why it deserves high praise. That is why 5 stars.
BUT, if you want the new edition with the extra content, you won't get what is advertised here, at least not right now (regardless of what an Amazon agent tells you, as I learned the hard way just now).
The old edition is great, so if you don't mind getting that version, then all is fine.
Amazon had promised on on the first order this was a rare mistake and the new stock was up and that if I ordered again, I would get what is being advertised here. So this is a heads up for those buying another copy of this book to get the new edition. They are not sending the edition you see advertised here. The photo you see is from the second order this week, which was supposed to be a replacement for the first order that sent me the wrong edition and I was told would the error would not repeat if I ordered again.
The most interesting part of the book is it’s reinterpretation of the Adam and Eve story. Instead of spending their lives under the Tree of Life, they sinfully ate from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, making it possible for them to replace the gods in determining the fate of all the rest of the creation. This original sin made it possible for us to have smart phones, TVs, indoor plumbing, and airplanes, but it also has led us into an inauthentic existence full of meaningless, feelings of insufficiency, and constant anxiety. The primordial hunter-gatherers were far happier. They had plenty to eat, worked only a few hours a day, and didn’t worry about tomorrow. Yet we cling to the things that make us miserable as we spend, take more than we need, and decimate the planet.
Honestly, though, the major section on the subversive nature of worldviews is just run into the ground. Then he continues his argument and even supports scientific and religious thoughts but zero citations. I would be enthralled to have this conversation with a friend, and it certainly has left an impression on me, but really my standard is much higher for someone acting like a philosopher leading a complete pradigm shift.
Also, he does not pretend to have a solution to the problem, but I have to deduct points for not giving us a new vision after removing the old.