I Did Not Learn Anything From a Telepathic Gorilla

Posted on October 31, 2011

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

I, by nature, do not read works of philosophy. Every person has their own way of interpreting our existence. On top of that, I just don’t find it to be interesting reading. Which leads me to ‘Ishmael’ by Daniel Quinn.

The narrator, remaining nameless, reads a newspaper and reads an ad “Teacher seeks pupil, must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” When he gets to the location, he finds that hes is the only one applicant, and that he is actually meeting a gorilla. With which he can communicate telepathically.

He goes on to have a ‘conversation’ with the gorilla in which they discuss the human condition. The gorilla, Ishmael, says that the civilized humans are are captive, just like him. There are 2 different types of people, Takers, civilized people who have been around since the agricultural revolution, and Leavers, other people.

On top of that, he further defines all people as being part of a story. That culture is merely people acting out a story.

Our recent problems stem from the fact that we don’t listen to the rules handed down by gods. Like in the book of Genesis. We would have been JUST FINE but we had to eat that apple.

It goes on like that for a while. And honestly, I was losing interest. But then he redefined Takers and Leavers as people who believe ‘the world belongs to man’ and ‘man belongs to the world,’ respectively. It’s kind of interesting and pretty intuitive.

The book ends with a dead gorilla and a message about how we can save the world. And here’s where it truly lost me. I am inherently skeptical about any single book or person that has ‘the one way’ to save the world. The message is that we have to stop doing what comes naturally to us.

Boom that’s it. No advice for HOW to do that. So basically it’s the Bible but with a telepathic gorilla. Some people have said that this book changed their life and if you are a die-hard environmentalist, you’ll get a lot out of it.

If you’re looking for something that is a factual exploration of a specific topic, then move on. If you’re looking for an ‘epic adventure’ as advertised on the cover, try again. Everybody has an idea about how to change the world and I just don’t have the patience for another theory. I could almost have enjoyed this if it were well written, but ‘Ishmael’ doesn’t even have that going for it.


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