Ishmael Study Guide

First published in 1992, Daniel Quinn's Ishmael has remained in print since its publication and has been translated into over 25 languages. Mostly a Socratic dialogue exploring the the world's impending disaster and the human responsibility towards the world, Ishmael touches on a variety of ethical topics to ultimately claim that humans are responsible for the world's degradation, but could also prove instrumental in ensuring its recovery.

Ishmael was the first and only recipient of the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award. This award was established to encourage authors “to seek creative and positive solutions to global problems.”

The book's mission certainly aligns with this description. Through the book, Quinn hopes to alert readers that our planet faces several pressing problems that will not solve themselves. Moreover, we must recognize the extent to which our culture is complicit for causing these problems. Our 'conventional wisdom' not only lacks objective foundation, but in fact is the cause of the impending disaster.

Though Quinn denies affiliation with most movements that claim Ishmael as a product of their ideology, the novel has been praised by supporters of the environmental, simplicity, anarchist, deep ecology and anarcho-primitivism movements. Instead of aligning himself with these, Quinn likes to identify Ishmael as a product of his new tribalism philosophy.

Though the novel has generated significant criticism over time because of Quinn's various claims, it remains popular largely because of its bold and uncompromising theses.