I recently read a book entitled Ishmael written by Daniel Quinn. I had never heard of this book before and only learned about it through one of those moments of synchronicity that tend to be sprinkled throughout our lives. One afternoon while watching the TV show Hollywood Treasure (which focuses on finding and auctioning off various Hollywood related item) one of the “hosts” found an animatronic gorilla mask from the movie Instinct starring Anthony Hopkins. I looked it up on Wikipedia and learned that the movie is loosely inspired by the book Ishmael. Naturally I had to find out more about this book.
I read various reviews as well as a summary of the book and it intrigued me. The Twitter synopsis of this book might be “a man seeking to save the world finds a gorilla who plans teach him how”. To flesh it out a bit more – a cynical modern man finds and ad in a newspaper for someone seeking to save the world. He is curious and when he shows up at the address listed finds himself in a room with a glass window and a gorilla on the other side. He eventually realizes the gorilla can communicate with him telepathically. The gorilla tells the man a bit about his own history and then starts to teach him about human history. In the process the gorilla forces the man to realize that if “civilized” society continues on its current trajectory it is doomed to destruction. The gorilla also helps the man realize that there is another, more primitive path that might lead to salvation.
I found this book paradigm-shifting. It helped clarify and coalesce concepts I’ve felt about civilization that I just found difficult to express. One of the most mind-blowing concepts is that once man began to consider himself/herself as something apart from nature and not subject to natural laws, we set ourselves on a path to self-destruction. I have to say I really found this book worth reading. Granted, I was already primed to like this book because I already lean towards sharing the views expressed in this book but I still would recommend it for anyone to read if for no other reason than because I think it could be a catalyst to some amazing conversations.
I’ve read a number of reviews about this book from those that are strongly critical and strongly supportive of it. Many critics claim it is poorly written and point out that it overly simplifies things and pontificates. All of these may be valid criticisms but I find the fact that it arouses such strong emotions in people that read it, whether positive or negative, encouraging. Whether the reader agrees or disagrees with the viewpoints expressed by the author, it forces you to think. I found this was not a passive read type of book. I found myself drawn into the exercises Ishmael assigns the narrator. It made me look at the cultural myths and stories I’ve been fed about the benefits of “civilization” my entire life. I will admit that I don’t see humanity changing from its course without dramatic and forced inspiration to do so but maybe, just maybe some folks will start making changes in their own life. I can always have hope.