Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

  • This novel is about a man, who wishes to make a bigger difference in the world, but is taught by the most unlikeliest teacher: the gorilla Ishmael.
  • Stumbling through the newspaper, the boy comes across an add that says "Teacher seeks pupil, must have an earnest desire to save the world."
  • The man is intrigued by this add and replies by reporting to the address the next morning.
  • The man thought that he would find him self in an ordinary class room with and ordinary professor, but imagine how surprised he was to see a gorilla in a cage with a sign that read "With man gone will there be hope for the gorilla?"
  • At first the man was outraged and thought this whole thing was a joke, but surprisingly the two find out that they could communicate telepathically and the man accepted Ishmael as his teacher.
  • Ishmael asks the man really deep and insightful questions like "how things came to be" and he touches on what it means to be a taker or a leaver. Takers are the more civilized people while the Leavers are primitive. Ishmael also teaches the man other vocabulary like to enact which means to strive to make a story come true and culture which is people enacting a story and a story is a scenario interrelating man, the world, and the gods.
  • As the days go by Ishmael keeps asking insightful questions like "Was the world made for man (takers)?" "Was man sent here to rule the world and to send order to what would have been mass chaos?"
  • Through the man and Ishmael's discussions we realize that no one is perfect and that no one can live a perfect life. Man was supposed to bring about paradise but through the flaws we realize that the secret to life is knowledge beyond our understanding and although we may think that we are helping the world, we are indeed just ruining it.
  • Ishmael goes on to talk about the Laws of the world and how humans think that they are above the law. He uses the example of Adam and Eve and how "man" could eat from every tree in the Garden of Eden but one, and "man" decided to break the law because "man" though that they were above it and banished the world to a life of shame.
  • At the end of the book Ishmael makes a challenge for the man to go out and teach a hundred people what Ishmael had just taught him. He leaves the man with the point "WITH MAN GONE WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR GORILLA?" and "WITH GORILLA GONE WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR MAN?" You decided for yourself.

Main points:

  • Evolution and the Process of Creation: "The world was made for man, and man was made to rule it." Mother Nature plays a large role in our world - "Mother Nature teaches you that this is as it should be...your place is here...she has given you an explanation of how things came to be this way." Basically, this is saying that Earth was created for man, and man creates the change in the world. "Man is the climax of the whole cosmic drama of creation."
  • "The world is a human life-support system, a machine designed to produce and sustain human life." (p. 69)

ManPicture_4.pngHunting Picture_4.pngAgriculture Picture_4.pngSettlement Picture_4.pngLabor Picture_4.pngTechnology Picture_4.pngTrade/CommercePicture_4.pngMathematics/ Literacy/Science

What does the author say?
  • Daniel Quinn says that this novel is a story of hope. "I think we have a much finer and more exciting destiny than conquering and ruling the world. This book shows that we can learn about what that destiny is from the life around us - and in Ishmael it just happens that life speaks with a voice of a lowland gorilla."

How this book relates to Environmental Science:
  • This book really makes the reader think, not only about the environmental harms we as humans are causing to the earth, but also about what we can do to help prevent these disasters from taking place.
  • This book also talks about how the earth came to be both in the spiritual sense and in the evolutionary sense, and the effects that humans had on the earth when we first came to be.
  • One man's desire to save the world, can lead to many future projects to help save, conserve, and make this planet a better place for everyone


"Ishmael Reviews." 15 October 2009.
"Ishmael Cover." 15 October 2009.