Ishmael An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

So, I have to confess I owned the book Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit for a while. It sat on my shelf. I looked at it, thought it was a book that I ‘should’ read. Picked it up a few times, put it down. And it sat there. Then one day I picked it up, sat down and started to read it — I was looking for something a bit different. And different it is! It took me a few pages, but, once I got hooked, hooked I was, and I think you will be too.

The author, Daniel Quinn was born in Nebraska in 1935. He spent some time as postulant in the Trappist monastery in Bardstown, KY where Thomas Merton was his spiritual director. Together, Quinn and Merton decided that the cloistered religious life was not for Quinn, and so Quinn left the postulancy for publishing. Eventually Quinn became a freelance writer. In 1977 he began work on Ishmael, which was eventually published as a novel in 1992.

Ishmael is a gorilla. Ishmael is also a teacher. His subject is captivity. The book follows the lectures shared by Ishmael with the narrator as he holds forth on the ‘takers’ and the ‘leavers’, the costs of agriculture, about human supremacy.  Ishmael relates an intriguing reworking of the story of Adam, Eve and Cain and Able to the narrator suggesting that the forbidden fruit was the knowledge of who shall live and who shall die – and the hubris to make such decisions – this rather than the knowledge of good and evil. Indeed, Ishmael highlights the need for humanity to cherish and cultivate wisdom.

The book speaks to the importance of sustainability.

Yes, it is essentially a monologue by Ishmael the gorilla. But it is also so much more than that!

On page 4 of the book is the add Ishmael managed to place in a newspaper: “TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”

The world is still in need of those willing to respond to Ishmael’s call.  If you have an earnest desire to save the world, find a copy of this book and read it. I promise you will be engaged within a few pages.

Sustainabiltiy is a very large issue! Quinn frames it as a conflict between an orientation that seeks to master and control the earth; and a more interdependent collaborative orientation.  What are your thoughts about the ‘proper’ relationship between people and planet? between humans and other living beings?

Daniel Quinn. 1992. Ishmael An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. Bantam Books: New York.


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