Other Books

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

Quinn, Daniel - Finished Apr 30, 2016

Run-on Sentence Summary

A man seeking seeking a teacher receives a set of philosophical lessons from the caged gorilla Ishmael, which ultimately amount to a bunch of overly simplified and lame anthropology lectures.


The central premise of the book is that societies are divided into “takers” and “givers,” expounded through some dubious biblical interpretations. In it, “takers” are dominant cultures whose goal is to grow unchecked and glorify themselves and “givers” are people from more primitive cultures who live more simply and obey the laws of nature.

As I’ve mentioned, I judge books primarily on their ability to make me think. Perhaps, in this case, I hated this book because I’ve already formed my opinions on the subject. The central thesis of this book could more or less be reduced to the assertion that modernity is evil, rehashing old ideas of Rousseau and romanticism and the noble savage. I don’t want to get in to a rant here about all the ways in which it is wrong.

Well, I’m still going to because I can’t resist: even here in New Zealand, the Aboriginal Maori people deforested huge swaths of the country on their arrival 1000 years ago, devastating the natural environment with fire for agriculture. When white people came in the 1800s they made it worse. People are people, “savage” or not.

I understand the sentiment that the book is trying to imbue. Modern society has some extreme problems, maybe the first of which is how we affect the environment, but the thesis of this book doesn’t add anything to the conversation. My travel buddy Kyle and I have had the same debate dozens of times throughout our trip about the virtue of technology and science. Each time has been interesting and given me a more nuanced outlook, but this book is just the most basic pandering drivel. I hated it.

Final Thoughts

This is harsh, but unless they were in high school I don’t understand how anyone would enjoy this one.

Favorite Quote

“The price you’ve paid is not the price of becoming human. It’s not even the price of having the things you just mentioned. It’s the price of enacting a story that casts mankind as the enemy of the world.”