Ishmael: A Novel by Daniel QuinnIshmael: A Novel by Daniel Quinn

Ishmael: A Novel

byDaniel Quinn

Paperback | May 1, 1995

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One of the most beloved and bestselling novels of spiritual adventure ever published, Ishmael has earned a passionate following among readers and critics alike. This special twenty-fifth anniversary edition features a new foreword and afterword by the author, as well as an excerpt from My Ishmael.

Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.

It was just a three-line ad in the personals section, but it launched the adventure of a lifetime.

So begins an utterly unique and captivating novel. In Ishmael, which received the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship for the best work of fiction offering positive solutions to global problems, Daniel Quinn parses humanity’s origins and its relationship with nature, in search of an answer to this challenging question: How can we save the world from ourselves?
Praise for Ishmael

“As suspenseful, inventive, and socially urgent as any fiction or nonfiction you are likely to read this or any other year.”The Austin Chronicle

“Before we’re halfway through this slim book . . . we’re in [Daniel Quinn’s] grip, we want Ishmael to teach us how to save the planet from ourselves. We want to change our lives.”The Washington Post

“Arthur Koestler, in an essay in which he wondered whether mankind would go the way of the dinosaur, formulated what he called the Dinosaur’s Prayer: ‘Lord, a little more time!’ Ishmael does its bit to answer that prayer and may just possibly have bought us all a little more time.”Los Angeles Times
Daniel Quinn grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and studied at St. Louis University, the University of Vienna, and Loyola University of Chicago. He worked in Chicago-area publishing for twenty years before beginning work on the book for which he is best known, Ishmael. In 1991, this book was chosen from among some 2,500 international entrants...
Title:Ishmael: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5.16 × 0.82 inPublished:May 1, 1995Publisher:Random House Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0553375407

ISBN - 13:9780553375404

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read This novel is a spiritual classic that has been referenced so many times. It opens with an ad in a newspaper that says: "Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person". What follows is a very contemplative narrative that each reader will personalize. I found it to be quit profound.
Date published: 2018-03-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Loved It! I was unsure about this novel when it was recommended but I am so glad that I did. When I read the last page I was sad it was over. It is hard to describe this book. All I have to say that I highly recommend this book.
Date published: 2017-09-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great novel Well written novel. Enjoyable read!
Date published: 2017-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Changed my view on the world These book was reccomended to me and I was skeptical at first , but it really opened up my mind. I've boughten it may times as gifts for people. Definitely a must read!
Date published: 2017-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenal I read it as a "textbook" in university. As another reviewer wrote - it's hard to describe. You must read it for yourself. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2017-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Re-reading a must! I think I could take a new life lesson from this book every time I read it. The best suggestion my uncle ever gave me - and his book recommendations are top notch! Impossible to describe, needs to be experienced.
Date published: 2017-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking This book makes you stop and reflect throughout. More than just a novel, but an evaluation of society.
Date published: 2016-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really makes you think Great book that makes you evaluate the way we live our lives. Loved it!
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Such a wonderful read A life changing book. I couldn't put it down. This story hits you in the soul.
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Remarkable This was an amazing read, dare I say more than just an entertaining read. It is not a very long book and a book this size would usually take me about 2 days to get through. It has taken me over 2 months, but for good reason... The book is exquisitely written. It forces the reader to stop almost every chapter and think about how our world came to be the way it is today. The author writes about a common theme most societies have adopted and the flaws in our idea of what our purpose is in the world. If you are looking for a read that will challenge the way you perceive life, our purpose, and where we fit in the circle of life, you will thoroughly enjoy this!
Date published: 2015-08-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from an okay read Ishmael is an ape, an intellectual ape. This ape proceeds to teach a college professor through telepathy about evolution, the environment and philosophy. While some of the ideas were interesting and worthwhile, some were repetitive to say the least and some were downright condescending. Some of these themes are well-founded and others just plain silly as is a gorilla chewing on a stick and pontificating. I am an average person and would say this is an average book. This book will not dramatically change my life unlike evidently untold others. This book was made for the philosophy and environmental professors of the world. An okay read.
Date published: 2012-04-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ishmael “Ishmael” is a philosophical book that deals with multiple issues such as cultural myths, laws that govern society and how we should live our lives, the extinction of the plant’s species, and man’s numerous stories of creation. Once I finished reading this book I came to the conclusion that I liked it. However, while reading, I wondered many times if it wasn’t a bit too preachy, a bit too “in my face” with the authors thoughts and ideas. The dialogue was simple and to the point, perhaps sometimes too simple: I sat there for a minute, then I said, "I'm trying to figure out what this has to do with saving the world." Ishmael thought for a moment. "Among the people of your culture, which want to destroy the world?" "Which want to destroy it? As far as I know, no one specifically wants to destroy the world.""And yet you do destroy it, each of you. Each of you contributes daily to the destruction of the world." "Yes, that's so." "Why don't you stop?" I shrugged. "Frankly, we don't know how." "You're captives of a civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live." "Yes, that's the way it seems." "So. You are captives - and you have made a captive of the world itself. That's what's at stake, isn't it? - your captivity and the captivity of the world." There are many points in this book that I have thought about during my many years of being on this planet, but they are thoughts that sometimes need a little reminding that they are there. Since finishing this book a few days ago I find myself still thinking about it, and this always a sign for me that I needed to read this book for some personal reason.
Date published: 2012-03-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Novel? More like text book. Well my list of "worst reads" just got a new number one. This book had NO plot and all the way until the end of the book I was wondering when something was going to happen. Not only was there no plot, but the writing was seriously lacking in variety. "I see what you mean", "I do not understand" and "Go on" were used after every sentence. I may as well have just picked up a philosophy text book because the WHOLE book consisted of the author preaching his philosophical views through a gorilla. For what purpose I could not tell you. This book has a lot of praise and rave reviews, yet I am not sure why. If I really wanted to read a book with no plot, as I said before, I would have picked up a text book. I would not recommend this book to anyone, unless maybe your name is Darwin and you are interested in reading someone else's views on "Mother Culture".
Date published: 2011-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gives you a wholly different perspective. The book was compelling and leads you to discover more and more about modern society and its flaws.
Date published: 2011-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WOW!! All I have to say about this book is Wow!!! Read it!
Date published: 2010-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Humanity's Handbook In this book Daniel Quinn puts into words what your soul has been trying to tell you, but could never quite articulate.
Date published: 2008-07-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Unlike anything I've read before. Normally I'm not a fan of books that espouse specific philosophies. I intensely disliked the Celestine Prophecy and wasn't blown away by The Alchemist either. But this book is different -- it isn't about changing our OWN lives -- the way these first two books are. It is about changing the way we think, and then changing the world we live in. It's hugely relevant to today's social conscience, particularly the sustainable world issues and "green" messages that are become almost trite. This book challenges you to understand how we got to where we are, and what we might do, both individually and as a society, to make change. I will be recommending it, for sure.
Date published: 2008-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Most Important Book Ever Written! This book defies easy explanation. 'Ishmael' a trip through the looking glass that allows you to look back and see your our culture through the eyes of an outsider. Everyone should read this book, but it is not an easy book and it will challenge you. "Teacher seeks Pupil Must have earnest desire to save the world Apply in person" This book is about the teacher who placed this advertisement and the student who answered. The book has virtually no traditional plot, it is instead a teaching course. The book follows the teacher has he coaxes the student to discover his assumptions and reveal the hidden truth about our culture that lies beneath those assumptions and what that truth means about us. The Book is primarily conversation and is tremendously interesting to read, as well as being written in a conversational manner that makes the heavy subject matter a little easier to assimilate. This book is often compared to "The Celestine Prophecy" or "the Alchemist". Both comparisons are inaccurate and do a disservice to "Ishmael" which is a more profound and important book than both other books combined. The book won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship award, for the book most likely to create positive change in the world, and is used as course reading for a diverse range of courses in schools all across North America. This book is designed to teach the reader through the unnamed narrator. And in doing so, the book and its author are trying to do exactly what the advertisement says. They are trying to save the world. And after reading this book, most readers try and do the same thing. As a result, Ishmael has been a mammoth underground success, with most readers hearing about the book by word of mouth with copies of the book being given as gifts or lent to friends. This book has a profound effect upon the lives and ideas of the majority of people who read it. Ishmael said teach at least one person, because that person may be the one who teaches a million. I truly believe that everyone should read this book. And that includes you.
Date published: 2008-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Book Ever Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is the best book I ever read.
Date published: 2008-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic! This book is excellent. It provides a very interesting take on current views of our world. As members of the "Takers", we continue to push our earth to the edge of its limits, and beyond. Perhaps Quinn's ideas can bring about a much needed paradigm shift.
Date published: 2008-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life Changing If I could recommend only one book for the rest of my life, I would recommend this one. This is an amazing work of literature which talks about real issues of our world, in a fiction setting. Brilliant.
Date published: 2007-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Recommended to the entire human population This book is absolutely a must read. Easy to follow, this story will challenge the way you think about mankind's role and history on the planet. A definate must read for anyone and everyone!
Date published: 2006-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic and mind expanding! This novel really makes you re-evaluate your views of humans as the dominant species of the world and what we are doing to stay in this role. Not only does this book make you reflect on today's culture, it also makes you reflect on the lost culture of our people as a whole. Amazing.
Date published: 2006-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from FANTASTIC, EASY READ, BELIEF-CHALLENGING! I couldn't put this one down - my fastest read yet. Fast but not unworthy by any means. This story leaves you with lots to chew on. If everyone tells a hundred people, and each of them tells a hundred people...maybe we really could 'save the world' and take our rightful place among those who continue to evolve. It's not over yet! Thanks Ishmael, you big furry prophet :)
Date published: 2006-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mind-Blowing!! Ever wondered where humankind is headed for in the future? Or questioned creation or evolution? Then you must read this book!! It delves into some popular explanations of how/why life is/came to be and adds striking new concepts. 'Ishmael', by Daniel Quinn, is my top gift for others, be it birthday or any occasion - I simply have to share it with everyone I know!!
Date published: 2006-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! it was a magnificent novel, i enjoyed it thoroughly!!
Date published: 2005-12-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Must Read! Much like the One Book for Waterloo this year, Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer, this book looks at the history of humankind on this planet and all we have done to it. It will challenge the prevailing belief that more and bigger is better. The book begins with an ad in the paper “TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have earnest desire to save the world. Apply in Person.” In the book, the gorilla Ishmael has learned to communicate through thought with humans. He also has a message that we cannot afford not to hear. The book focuses around a series of conversations between Ishmael and his student. It presents a different interpretation of how we went from being a hunter-gather society to an agrarian one. Also how that system is bound to fail. For me the most haunting thing in the book is two quotes. Early on we see a poster that states: “WITH MAN GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR GORILLA?” p.9 and much later, on the back of the first poster, “WITH GORILLA GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR MAN?” p.263. This is a great read especially for a sunny summer afternoon, or two. This is also the first in a trilogy.
Date published: 2005-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Book Quinn does an absolutely fantastic job in conveying his message in Ishmael. This is an easy read; it also makes us think beyond the limited scope of knowledge we have about how we view the world and our interactions with it as well as other species. Kerrie Jaques from Vancouver seems to have missed Quinn's point, or does not fully understand the message, the lesson. Quinn has made us think about how we have instilled into our heads a self-fulfilling prophecy - we are flawed and anything we do will be a failure. He also goes on to talk about how we as a race have this drive to take over, rule, conquer the world. What for? Why must we 'win'? Do we get a new car at the end of this game we've been playing? He pointedly indicates that we make Nature our enemy. We're battling with weeds in the garden, the pests in our food, the inclement weather (ie the 4 major tropical storms in the last few months). Nature goes on about its way and we're trying to find a way to stop it. When battling with Nature, it wins. What Ishmael is teaching is for us to live in better harmony with the world and the other inhabitants, and to change our way of thinking. Maybe if everyone were to read/have this story read to them, then our world would be a better place. Kudos to Quinn.
Date published: 2004-10-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too preachy Yes, Ishmael was a good book (not great, but good), yes it should be required reading for everybody, and yes, it carries a very significant message, but that message is very narrow minded in its scope. To claim that there has only ever been Takers and Leavers is deluded and overly simplistic at best. To claim that man is the first self aware species and that we are paving the path for other species to evolve to the point of their own self awareness is naive. I will whole heartedly admit the message of the book is both relavent and imperative, but I just feel that it could have been delivered in a much better way. There is so much promise in this book that is not realized. The relationship between the two characters could have been so much greater, as that relationship was obviously a paradigm of Ishmael's lessons. Finally, without giving it away, I will say the ending is contrived, and far too obvious for an author with such a level of creativity.
Date published: 2003-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ishmael - A Light on Life This book will now be the closest explanation of what will represent religion in my life and has made me look at the human race in a whole new way!
Date published: 2002-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from smart monkey this book is one that should be taught in schools across Canada. Instead of giving humans a pat on the back for years of "cultural advancement" it provides an insight into the start of where it all went wrong. Daniel Quinn has made me look at the world and everything in it a different way. Ishmael provides not only answers to historical inconsistencies but alse a degree of hope that humans are capable of change. It only requires looking back to understand where we are heading. Who knew a conversation with a Gorilla could be so life changing.
Date published: 2001-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from To Change A World, You Must Change A Mind There is something fundimentally wrong with the world we live in. We are racing down a road littered with human misery, over population, crime, violence, corruption, pollution and lack of job satisfaction. The destination of that road is the extinction of the human species. Is something fundimentally wrong with us? Yes. Can we change it? Yes. Daniel Quinn's book can only be described as a mind opening experience. Once you have read Ishmael, the world will be one step closer to being saved.
Date published: 2001-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Teacher We Wished We Had Ishmael is not just a book you pick up in a waiting room while waiting for your appointment at the dentist officce. This book is a course in critical thinking. It will challange the believe system of most of us raised and educated in the Western culture. It shine a enterily diffrent light on the preception of the world we live in. This book takes you on an intellectual journey that we all should take. Ishmael is not great just for its contest it is also written with humor and wit that make the reading experience joyfull.
Date published: 2001-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Forever valued Everytime I read this book there is more to absorb and understand. It allows for personal growth and understanding of humanity as the novel progresses. Ishmael allows the reader to look deeper into the everyday to the true meanings of life. As well you'll question the important aspects in your life, who you are in relation to everyone else and the ignorance, greed and destruction of everything that comes in the way of human society. It is a spiritual, intreging, inspirational read. As soon as I finish it I'm ready to read it all over again.
Date published: 2000-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You have to read this book! The best book I've read in a long time. I think everyone should read this. I definatly have a new outlook on the world and how we treat it now that I've read this.
Date published: 2000-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "You're mocking me, aren't you?" These words were spoken by our protagonist in response to leading questions posed by Ishmael, the unlikely (yet not so unlikely) instructor in how to "earnestly" save the earth from a fate worth avoiding. At times taking the form of Socratic dialogue, instruction through parable, to moving narrative description, Ishmael leads the reader on a cerebral journey to remove the beguiling perceptual facade that Mother Culture (as opposed to Mother Nature) has lulled man into believing with respect to the reality of life and the fate of civilization. Ishmael (a character of unusual background, whose identity I will not spoil), allows the reader to question, uncover and re-evaluate what is really going on... and more importantly WHY is has persisted and been allowed to exist for so long. The style of the writing is NOT dry Kantian metaphysics, but rather an intelligent, engaging and often humourous foray into the unlikely experience with which the protagonist finds himself. Do I recommend this book? Whole heartedly and "mindedly" (sic) YES!
Date published: 2000-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Everyone MUST read this book! I am 16 years old and have just finished Ishmael. I found out about it through Ed Vedder of Pearl Jam. This book is so spiritual and goes deeper than anything I have ever read. It has totally made me think of mankind's role on earth and what can be done about it. It will help you answer some of the big questions we all ask ourselves but could never give an answer to. A must read for everyone!
Date published: 2000-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ishmael Having read this book and not seen the movie, I have to say I don't know how they could make one of this book. It is inspirational, though, and does make you think of mankind's role here on Earth-how we should interact with nature, our supposed domination, etc. This is an extremely thought-provoking read that pulls at the reader's emotions. Hopefully, Hollywood captured the essence of this novel without destroying the message in its tale.
Date published: 1999-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing This book has got to be the greatest book in all history! Even though it is considered a fictoinal novel, I myself see it as one of the best true philosphy books around
Date published: 1999-04-30

Read from the Book

1The first time I read the ad, I choked and cursed and spat and threw the paper to the floor. Since even this didn’t seem to be quite enough, I snatched it up, marched into the kitchen, and shoved it into the trash. While I was there, I made myself a little breakfast and gave myself some time to cool down. I ate and thought about something else entirely. That’s right. Then I dug the paper out of the trash and turned back to the Personals section, just to see if the damn thing was still there and just the way I remembered it. It was.TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.An earnest desire to save the world! Oh, I liked that. That was rich indeed. An earnest desire to save the world–yes, that was splendid. By noon, two hundred mooncalfs, softheads, boobies, ninnyhammers, noodleheads, gawkies, and assorted oafs and thickwits would doubtless be lined up at the address given, ready to turn over all their worldlies for the rare privilege of sitting at the feet of some guru pregnant with the news that all will be well if everyone will just turn around and give his neighbor a big hug.You will wonder: Why is this man so indignant? So bitter? It’s a fair question. In fact, it’s a question I was asking myself.The answer goes back to a time, a couple decades ago, when I’d had the silly notion that the thing I most wanted to do in the world was . . . to find a teacher. That’s right. I imagined I wanted a teacher–needed a teacher. To show me how one goes about doing something that might be called . . . saving the world.Stupid, no? Childish. Naïve. Simple. Callow. Or just fundamentally dumb. In one so manifestly normal in other respects, it needs explaining.It came about in this way.During the children’s revolt of the sixties and seventies, I was just old enough to understand what these kids had in mind–they meant to turn the world upside down–and just young enough to believe they might actually succeed. It’s true. Every morning when I opened my eyes, I expected to see that the new era had begun, that the sky was a brighter blue and the grass a brighter green. I expected to hear laughter in the air and to see people dancing in the streets, and not just kids–everyone! I won’t apologize for my naïveté; you only have to listen to the songs to know that I wasn’t alone.Then one day when I was in my mid-teens, I woke up and realized that the new era was never going to begin. The revolt hadn’t been put down, it had just dwindled away into a fashion statement. Can I have been the only person in the world who was disillusioned by this? Bewildered by this? It seemed so. Everyone else seemed to be able to pass it off with a cynical grin that said, “Well, what did you really expect? There’s never been any more than this and never will be any more than this. Nobody’s out to save the world, because nobody gives a damn about the world, that was just a bunch of goofy kids talking. Get a job, make some money, work till you’re sixty, then move to Florida and die.”I couldn’t shrug it away like this, and in my innocence I thought there had to be someone out there with an unknown wisdom who could dispel my disillusionment and bewilderment: a teacher.Well, of course there wasn’t.I didn’t want a guru or a kung fu master or a spiritual director.I didn’t want to become a sorcerer or learn the zen of archery or meditate or align my chakras or uncover past incarnations. Arts and disciplines of that kind are fundamentally selfish; they’re all designed to benefit the pupil–not the world. I was after something else entirely, but it wasn’t in the Yellow Pages or anywhere else that I could discover.In Hermann Hesse’s The Journey to the East, we never find out what Leo’s awesome wisdom consists of. This is because Hesse couldn’t tell us what he himself didn’t know. He was like me–he just yearned for there to be someone in the world like Leo, someone with a secret knowledge and a wisdom beyond his own. In fact, of course, there is no secret knowledge; no one knows anything that can’t be found on a shelf in the public library. But I didn’t know that then.So I looked. Silly as it sounds now, I looked. By comparison, going after the Grail would have made more sense. I won’t talk about it, it’s too embarrassing. I looked until I wised up. I stopped making a fool of myself, but something died inside of me–something that I’d always sort of liked and admired. In its place grew a scar–a tough spot but also a sore spot.And now, years after I’d given up the search, here was some charlatan advertising in the newspaper for the very same young dreamer that I’d been fifteen years ago.But this still doesn’t explain my outrage, does it?Try this: You’ve been in love with someone for a decade–someone who barely knows you’re alive. You’ve done everything, tried everything to make this person see that you’re a valuable, estimable person, and that your love is worth something. Then one day you open up the paper and glance at the Personals column, and there you see that your loved one has placed an ad . . . seeking someone worthwhile to love and be loved by.Oh, I know it’s not exactly the same. Why should I have expected this unknown teacher to have contacted me instead of advertising for a pupil? Contrariwise, if this teacher was a charlatan, as I assumed, why would I have wanted him to contact me?Let it go, I was being irrational. It happens, it’s allowed.2I had to go down there, of course–had to satisfy myself that it was just another scam. You understand. Thirty seconds would do it, a single look, ten words out of his mouth. Then I’d know. Then I could go home and forget about it.When I got there, I was surprised to find it was a very ordinary sort of office building, full of second-rate flacks, lawyers, dentists, travel agents, a chiropractor, and a private investigator or two. I’d expected something a little more atmospheric–a brownstone with paneled walls, high ceilings, and shuttered windows, perhaps. I was looking for Room 105, and I found it in the back, where a window would overlook the alley. The door was uninformative. I pushed it open and stepped into a large, empty room. This uncommon space had been created by knocking down interior partitions, the marks of which could still be seen on the bare hardwood floor.That was my first impression: emptiness. The second was olfactory; the place reeked of the circus–no, not the circus, the menagerie: unmistakable but not unpleasant. I looked around. The room was not entirely empty. Against the wall at the left stood a small bookcase containing thirty or forty volumes, mainly on history, prehistory, and anthropology. A lone overstuffed chair stood in the middle, facing away, toward the wall at the right, and looking like something the movers had left behind. Doubtless this was reserved for the master; his pupils would kneel or crouch on mats arranged in a semicircle at his knee.And where were these pupils, who I had predicted would be present by the hundreds? Had they perhaps come and been led away like the children of Hamelin? A film of dust lay undisturbed on the floor to disprove this fancy.There was something odd about the room, but it took me another look round to figure out what it was. In the wall opposite the door stood two tall casement windows admitting a feeble light from the alley; the wall to the left, common with the office next door, was blank. The wall to the right was pierced by a very large plate-glass window, but this was plainly not a window to the outside world, for it admitted no light at all; it was a window into an adjacent room, even dimmer than the one I occupied. I wondered what object of piety was displayed there, safely beyond the touch of inquisitive hands. Was it some embalmed Yeti or Bigfoot, made of cat fur and papier-mâché? Was it the body of a UFOnaut cut down by a National Guardsman before he could deliver his sublime message from the stars (“We are brothers. Be nice.”)?Because it was backed by darkness, the glass in this window was black–opaque, reflective. I made no attempt to see beyond it as I approached; I was the spectacle under observation. On arrival, I continued to gaze into my own eyes for a moment, then rolled the focus forward beyond the glass–and found myself looking into another pair of eyes.I fell back, startled. Then, recognizing what I’d seen, I fell back again, now a little frightened.The creature on the other side of the glass was a full-grown gorilla.Full-grown says nothing, of course. He was terrifyingly enormous, a boulder, a sarsen of Stonehenge. His sheer mass was alarming in itself, even though he wasn’t using it in any menacing way. On the contrary, he was half-sitting, half-reclining most placidly, nibbling delicately on a slender branch he carried in his left hand like a wand.I did not know what to say. You will be able to judge how unnerved I was by this fact: that it seemed to me I should speak–excuse myself, explain my presence, justify my intrusion, beg the creature’s pardon. I felt it was an affront to gaze into his eyes, but I was paralyzed, helpless. I could look at nothing else in the world but his face, more hideous than any other in the animal kingdom because of its similarity to our own, yet in its way more noble than any Greek ideal of perfection.There was in fact no obstacle between us. The pane of glass would have parted like a tissue had he touched it. But he seemed to have no idea of touching it. He sat and gazed into my eyes and nibbled the end of his branch and waited. No, he wasn’t waiting; he was merely there, had been there before I arrived and would be there when I’d left. I had the feeling I was of no more significance to him when a passing cloud is to a shepherd resting on a hillside.As my fear began to ebb, consciousness of my situation returned. I said to myself that the teacher was plainly not on hand, that there was nothing to keep me there, that I should go home. But I didn’t like to leave with the feeling that I’d accomplished nothing at all. I looked around, thinking I’d leave a note, if I could find something to write on (and with), but there was nothing. Nevertheless, this search, with the thought of written communication in mind, brought to my attention something I’d overlooked in the room that lay beyond the glass; it was a sign or poster hanging on the wall behind the gorilla. It read:WITH MAN GONE,WILL THEREBE HOPEFOR GORILLA?This sign stopped me–or rather, this text stopped me. Words are my profession; I seized these and demanded that they explain themselves, that they cease to be ambiguous. Did they imply that hope for gorillas lay in the extinction of the human race or in its survival? It could be read either way.It was, of course, a koan–meant to be inexplicable. It disgusted me for that reason, and for another reason: because it appeared that this magnificent creature beyond the glass was being held in captivity for no other reason than to serve as a sort of animate illustration for this koan.You really ought to do something about this, I told myself angrily. Then I added: It would be best if you sat down and were still.I listened to the echo of this strange admonishment as if it were a fragment of music I couldn’t quite identify. I looked at the chair and wondered: Would it be best to sit down and be still? And if so, why? The answer came readily enough: Because, if you are still, then you will be better able to hear. Yes, I thought, that is undeniably so.For no conscious reason, I lifted my eyes to those of my beastly companion in the next room. As everyone knows, eyes speak. A pair of strangers can effortlessly reveal their mutual interest and attraction in a single glance. His eyes spoke, and I understood. My legs turned to jelly, and I barely managed to reach the chair without collapsing.“But how?” I said, not daring to speak the words aloud.“What does it matter?” he replied as silently. “It’s so, and nothing more needs to be said.”“But you–” I sputtered. “You are . . .”I found that, having come to the word, and with no other word to put in its place, I could not speak it.After a moment he nodded, as if in acknowledgment of my difficulty. “I am the teacher.”For a time, we gazed into each other’s eyes, and my head felt as empty as a derelict barn.Then he said: “Do you need time to collect yourself?”“Yes!” I cried, speaking aloud for the first time.He turned his massive head to one side to peer at me curiously. “Will it help you to listen to my story?”“Indeed it will,” I said. “But first–if you will–please tell me your name.”He stared at me for a while without replying and (as far as I could tell at that time) without expression. Then he proceeded as if I hadn’t spoken at all.“I was born somewhere in the forests of equatorial West Africa,” he said. “I’ve never made any effort to find out exactly where, and see no reason to do so now. Do you happen to know anything about animal collecting for zoos and circurses?”I looked up, startled. “I know nothing at all about animal collecting.”“At one time, or at least during the thirties, the method commonly used with gorillas was this: On finding a band, collectors would shoot the females and pick up all the infants in sight.”“How terrible,” I said, without thinking.The creature replied with a shrug. “I have no actual memory of the event–though I have memories of still earlier times. In any case, the Johnsons sold me to a zoo in some small northeastern city–I can’t say which, for I had no awareness of such things as yet. There I lived and grew for several years.”He paused and nibbled absentmindedly on his branch for a while, as if gathering his thoughts.

From Our Editors

Now available in paperback for the first time, Ishmael is the winner of the Turner Tomorrow Award--a prize for fiction that offers solutions to global problems. When a man in search of truth answers an ad in a local newspaper from a teacher looking for serious students, he finds himself alone in an abandoned office with a gorilla named Ishmael

Editorial Reviews

“A thoughtful, fearlessly low-key novel about the role of our species on the planet . . . laid out for us with an originality and a clarity that few would deny.”—The New York Times Book Review“[Quinn entraps] us in the dialogue itself, in the sweet and terrible lucidity of Ishmael’s analysis of the human condition. . . . It was surely for this deep, clear persuasiveness of argument that Ishmael was given its huge prize.”—The Washington Post“It is as suspenseful, inventive, and socially urgent as any fiction or nonfiction book you are likely to read this or any other year.”—The Austin Chronicle“Deserves high marks as a serious—and all too rare—effort that is unflinchingly engaged with fundamental life-and-death concerns.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Employee Review

Ishmael's story sets the world up as a dismal degrading cesspool, and then diagnoses a solution which has been around for more than two-thousand years. The book sets up as a dialogue between a gorilla named Ishmael and his student, who has an idealist's desire to save the world. Most of the story is taken out of Genesis, and the solution to the world's problem is to go against the very nature of human beings. This was a long and boring book, with few redeeming insights to the old testament.