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  • An important exploration of Humanities role

    First, let me acknowledge that I am very late to this game. Daniel Quinn wrote the first version of this novel in 1977, and published the version that I read in 1992. My only excuse is that I was knee-deep in my first job and still becoming accustomed to business travel, marriage, and well, real life. Then came three kids, resulting in my missing about a decade’s worth of music and literature. In all honesty, despite this novel being a NY Times Best Seller, an international phenomenon, and required reading in many High Schools and Universities, I only became aware of it this last year (2017). I have had several people, including Kirkus relate it to my novel, so I felt obliged to read it. The book has an unlikely plot. It begins with a man finding this ad: TEACHER SEEKS PUPIL – must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply In person. This catches the eye of the main character, who does indeed apply in person. The teacher turns out to be a very large gorilla named Ishmael capable of telepathic communication. The rest of the novel largely follows the gorilla teachings and the slow acceptance and understanding of the pupil. The novel caught me right away, both with the improbable storyline, but also with the philosophy from a non-human perspective. It begins with an intriguing thought, that we are so ingrained in our way of thinking, that we only see the world as existing for us to conquer. We cannot see the perspective of the gorilla, that the world exists for all creatures, not simply for man. Quinn also makes an interesting point that man may slow or stop the evolutionary process, both for himself and for others. However, at some point, Quinn lost me. Without spoiling too much of the central theme, Quinn argues that man needs to take a step backward towards our hunter/gather past. I understand his rationale and he makes some fantastic arguments. After all, few people would debate that we are struggling with violence, ecological disasters, and over-population. Where he loses me is that a return to a more primitive time (what he calls Leavers) puts Mother Nature or God back into control, rather than man. If we give up our technology, our industry, and our agriculture, we will return to harmony with the earth. Population gets out of control, no problem, without technology and agriculture, Mother Nature will cull our herds with disease, starvation, and death. Quinn asserts that if we expand our food production, our population with continue to expand and outstrip our production. I get frustrated with the romanization of pure nature, the viewpoint that nature is a gentle, harmonic power that only employs violence when necessary and largely allows all creatures to live in peace. The reality is that nature is a harsh, unforgiving force that regularly dishes out suffering, misery, and death. When we fantasize about a return to nature, we think about a warm summer day, harvesting wild berries and nuts. We tend to forget about freezing winters, drought, and disease. In my opinion, starvation and disease is not an acceptable answer for population control. Quinn never answers the question of how far back do we go? Do we give up modern medicine? If a person contracts polio, is that just nature culling the herd, removing the weak, so that we continue to evolve? Having said this, I still believe this is an excellent and important novel. It makes you think, it makes you look at our civilization differently. It makes you question your ingrained beliefs. And these are questions worth asking. Do I believe we need to stop pollution and destruction of the rain forests – yes. Do I believe we need to find more harmony with nature – yes. Do I believe we need to control our population growth – of course. However, I have more faith in humanity. I think it’s possible to achieve this with education, cooperation, and love. I don’t believe we need a wholesale return to a pre-agricultural existence to save the world. However, I appreciate Quinn’s arguments and questions. We need more literature that gets us out of our way of thinking, that makes us uncomfortable, and forces us to think more deeply about our relationship with our planet and ourselves. I glad I read this and I look forward to reading Quinn’s other novels.

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  • Eye opener

    Do not understand why I haven't come across Ishmael earlier. An eye opener. Just read it.

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  • Food for thought

    A very interesting novel with a point of view that I had not thought about regarding the world we live in; a point of view that I saw solidified when reading "Sapiens" years later. I must re-read this to see if it holds up, but I remember liking it.

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  • Ishmael

    prende a atenção do começo ao fim e nos mostra uma nova perspectiva de olhar o mundo.

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