Read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn Free Online
Book Title: Ishmael|
The author of the book: Daniel Quinn
Date of issue: June 1st 1995
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 696 KB
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Reader ratings: 6.8
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Are you the sort of person who hears other people discussing books and finding yourself wondering how they can even form opinions on stories? I mean, either you like it or you don't, right?
Well, if that's you, then read this book, The Giver, and Siddhartha (if that sounds like too much, substitute Jonathan Livingston Seagull for the latter). Once you've done that, you'll feel all sorts of strange emotions and ideas swirling around inside you and you, too, will be able to talk about how a book made you think.
Then, you should watch Donnie Darko (which will become your favorite movie), and you can talk about how movies made you think, too. Soon, you'll be readin' and thinkin' and talkin' up a storm. It's just like a dog who eats grass so he can understand horses.
This book may seem impressive if you don't have much experience with philosophy, history, sociology, or theology, but the ideas in this book are about as complex as what you'd find in a college freshman's paper. And Quinn has an agenda: he wants to convince you, so all of his ideas are simplified and mixed up to support his conclusions. Whether he did this deliberately to convince the reader, or accidentally in the process of trying to convince himself isn't really important--which is really worse?
For example, in his retelling of the Cain and Abel story, he completely conflates Hunter Gatherer societies with Pastoral Nomads, which makes his entire argument murky. It's just another example of the 'Noble Savage in balance with nature' thing, which is terribly naive. Native cultures often transformed the land around them and drove animals to extinction, as evidenced by the way mammoths were hunted until none remained.
One archaeological team on the West Coast of America discovered that the local tribe had been systematically killing and eating all the animals in the area. Looking through the piles of discarded bones, they'd find the tribe hunted and ate one animal until there were none left, then moved on to a different animal. Eventually, the diseases brought by Europeans reached them and their population was greatly reduced, and then the animals began to flourish again.
The whole notion that humans used to be 'in balance' but no longer are is a fuzzy dream, and not useful for anyone trying to look at the world and the problems we face. Humans are not the first animals to cause extinction, we're not even the first to cause worldwide atmospheric change leading to mass extinction. It is a gross oversimplification, like all of the arguments in this book--and one that was already a quarter century out of date among ecologists by the time Quinn was writing.
You might ask 'why is this a problem, isn't any book that gets people to think worthwhile?'--but the problem is that through oversimplification and emotional appeals, this books actually sets out to shut down independent thought in the reader. It isn't asking hard questions as much as it's giving out easy answers. It is trying to tell you how things are, instead of inviting you to question the world for yourself.
Beyond that, the philosophy it presents is a rather insidious one, at its core. The idea that there is some 'great natural order' to things is very comforting, because it makes the world sensible, predictable, and easy to understand. If there is such an order, then we can simply trust in it, give ourselves up to it, and let the rest take care of itself. It becomes a passive attitude--a question of faith in the system.
But the idea of the 'natural order' has been used (and is still being used) by power structures against the people. Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa, wrote on it extensively, using it to set up and maintain apartheid--arguing that since colonial Europeans had conquered large parts of the world, therefore it was their 'natural state' to rule, and that it was natural for native populations to be ignorant and subservient.
Likewise, when the powerhouse thinktank the Club of Rome presented The Limits of Growth in 1972, proposing that the only way to prevent ecological disaster was to maintain things as they are now, indefinitely, protesters pointed out that this policy would support the status quo, keeping the same people and structures in power, instead of trying to improve or change our current system (and of course, the club was made up of the same political leaders, businessmen, bureaucrats, and economists who would have the most to lose if any change were made in the current system).
By the seventies, there was already a sea change taking place in ecology, and it was becoming clear that, far from being in a state of self-correcting balance, the natural world was constantly shifting and changing, that animal and plant populations varied widely from year to year, and decade to decade, even in isolated populations where you would most expect to see equilibrium reached. The problem becomes that anyone who believes that some structure must be there, underlying everything, is going to trust that at a certain point, that structure will balance things out automatically.
It's like walking a tightrope and just assuming there must be a net below you that will catch you when you fall--a dangerous assumption to make, especially when we know it's not true. Taking action to stabilize our world on our end, but just trusting that 'natural balance' will take care of things on the other end is the height of irresponsibility, and bound to throw things even more out of whack. A more in-depth look at the progression of ecological theory can be found in part 2 of the BBC documentary All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace .
In the end, mixed in with wrong-headed assumptions and out of date theories, Quinn gives us nothing more than the most simplistic, basic conclusions about the world. Should people be nice to each other? Yes. Should we destroy the things that keep us alive? No. We all know that. We don't need Quinn to tell us. And we all know that solving problems is harder than saying that things could be better. I just went as deep as this book goes, and I didn't even need to give you lectures from a magical talking monkey.
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Read information about the authorI had and did the usual things -- childhood, schools, universities (St. Louis, Vienna, Loyola of Chicago), then embarked on a career in publishing in Chicago. Within a few years I was the head of the Biography & Fine Arts Department of the American Peoples Encyclopedia; when that was subsumed by a larger outfit and moved to New York, I stayed behind and moved into educational publishing, beginning at Science Research Associates (a division of IBM) and ending as Editorial Director of The Society for Vision Education (a division of the Singer Corporation).
In 1977 I walked away from SVE and this very successful career when it became clear that I was not going to able to do there what I really wanted to do...which was not entirely clear. A few months later I set my feet on a path that would change my life completely. It was a path made up of books -- or rather versions of a book that, after twelve years, would turn out to be ISHMAEL.
The first version, written in 1977-78, called MAN AND ALIEN, didn't turn out to be quite what I wanted, so wrote a second, called THE GENESIS TRANSCRIPT. Like the first version, this didn't satisfy me, so I wrote a third with the same title. THE BOOK OF NAHASH, abandoned unfinished, was the fourth version.
When I started writing version five, THE BOOK OF THE DAMNED in 1981, I was sure I'd found the book I was born to write. The versions that came before had been like rainy days with moments of sunshine. THIS was a thunderstorm, and the lines crossed my pages like flashes of lightning. When, after a few thousand words I came to a clear climax, I said, "This MUST be seen," so I put Part One into print. Parts Two and Three followed, and I began searching for the switch that would turn on Part Four... but it just wasn't there. What I'd done was terrific -- and complete in its own way -- but at last I faced the fact that the whole thing just couldn't be done in lightning strikes.
And so, on to versions six and seven (both called ANOTHER STORY TO BE IN). I knew I was close, and version eight was it -- the first and only version to be a novel and the first and only version inhabited by a telepathic gorilla named Ishmael.
ISHMAEL was a life-changing book. It began by winning the Turner Tomorrow Award, the largest prize ever given to a single literary work. It would come to be read in some 25 languages and used in classrooms from mid-school to graduate school in courses as varied as history philosophy, geography, archaeology, religion, biology, zoology, ecology, anthropology, political science, economics, and sociology.
But in 1992, when ISHMAEL was published, I had no idea what I might do next. My readers decided this for me. In letters that arrived by the bushel they demanded to know where this strange book came from, what "made" me write it. To answer these questions I wrote PROVIDENCE: THE STORY OF A FIFTY-YEAR VISION QUEST (1995).
But there were even more urgently important questions to be answered, particularly this one: "With ISHMAEL you've undermined the religious beliefs of a lifetime. What am I supposed to replace them with?" I replied to this with THE STORY OF B (1996).
The questions (and books) kept coming: Why did Ishmael have to die? This gave rise to MY ISHMAEL: A SEQUEL (1997), in which it's revealed that Ishmael was not only far from being dead but far from being finished with his work as a teacher. The question "Where do we go from here?" was the inspiration for BEYOND CIVILIZATION: HUMANITY'S NEXT GREAT ADVENTURE (1999), a very different kind of book.
With these questions answered (and 500 more on my website), I felt I was fundamentally finished with what might be called my teachings and ready to move on.
I had always taken as my guiding principle these words from André Gide: "What another would have done as well as you, do not do it. What another would have said as well as you, do not say it, written as well as you, do not write it. Be faithful to that which e
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