In a word, I love this book. I was enthralled by Quinn's thesis, presented in less than 300 pages in the fictional framework of an intelligent, lowland gorilla teaching a disillusioned writer about the great turning point in Neolithic human history that explains "why things are the way they are." The book grabbed me with it's format of speculative fiction storytelling and socratic dialogue method of teaching an insight hidden in plain sight in historical and mythological texts.
Back home, I read the book a second time, making notes in the margins as I compared it to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Both books are enlightening and together make a good study for understanding the background for why humanity is presently in the fix it is in. And it is in quite a fix, my friends; a real mess. One that is inevitable, and easily predictable when seen in the context of an unbiased study of history. Ishmael is a good place to start that study.
Four concepts in Ishmael really grabbed me:
1. The idea that intelligence develops as a function of awareness or concentration. This is not a major theme in the book, but it is there and supports my own belief that a person's development intellectually, spiritually, and in all ways is heavily dependent on their ability to concentrate. That's why meditation is such a useful tool.
2. The explanation of the spread of civilization in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Quinn expresses this concept in Ishmael's interpretation of the story and it is the only interpretation of it that has ever made sense to me.
3. Civilization, as we know it, did not evolve from "tribal" or "hunter-gather" societies, but grew in parallel to them and supplanted them (in fact, is still supplanting them, since there are still some around).
4. We are all living by a "a story." As individuals and as societies, we're following a script that we think is the right way, indeed the only way, to live. Living in the Bible Belt, I see this every day.
I could greatly expand upon each of these concepts, and maybe I will in future journal entries. For now, I offer them to you as teasers to follow in your own studies, if you're so inclined.
Ishmael is a novel that tells of a teacher who places an ad for a student with the stipulation that he or she "Must have an earnest desire to save the world." While I identify with the student that applies in many ways, that is one point where I don't. Ishmael's student had a great desire to save the world in the Sixties, but he became disillusioned. I was disillusioned before I ever saw any hope for change. I'm pessimistic about the world's future and feel like efforts to change things for the better (though I admire the Occupy movement) are futile.
Maybe I'll change my mind eventually. I hope so.
See my review of Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in GoodReads at: www.goodreads.com/review/show/363992525.