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Quotation #1

“The reason we’re not civilized enough is that there’s something wrong with us. It’s like there’s a drop of poison in us, and this one drop of poison is all it takes to ruin everything we do...Intelligence is what makes us special, isn’t it? Moths can’t screw up the world. Catfish can’t screw up the world. It takes intelligence to do that.” Pg 34-35

This passage is important because it shows the first major development and finding of the main character; Julie. She understands how humanity portrays themselves as inherently bad, and as there is nothing they can do about it. This gives them a reason or excuse for ruining the world they live in. She starts by explaining what humanities main goal is, determining a way of living similar or identical to (the closer to the better) their current lifestyle without ruining the world: depleting all of the resources, destroying the biodiversity. She finds the excuse they put up: that their inherently flawed. She then explores the reasons why humans are incapable of finding a lifestyle that does not destroy the world. The reason she explores is that humanity is too attached to the agricultural lifestyle that they are in, and it is the lifestyle that is destroying the world. This is a major conclusion in the book, and it was in the prequel: Ishmael.

This inevitably leads to her and Ishmael (the telepathic gorilla) discussing the alternative lifestyles that wouldn’t be destructive. These are centered around a hunter gatherer lifestyle, which is what the ancestors used. She finds that this is the situation the majority of the animals live by, and doing so means following rules like “don’t take what you don’t need,” which is conducive to a long lasting ecosystem. This is what Ishmael and Julie conclude is necessary for humanity to prosper. They figure that all of the other animals follow these rules and because they are not being enforced by an immediately punishing being, they can be broken with only long term consequences. Humanity was able diverge from the pattern of species adhering to this lifestyle because they were intelligent, and the people who started the diversion knew they wouldn’t be alive when the consequences got them.

Quotation #2

“Even more important than all these things are tribal laws, which have only one thing in common: They’re not lists of things that are prohibited but rather procedures for handling problems that inevitably arise in communal life. What do you do when someone is constantly disrupting the peace with his or her bad temper? What do you do when a spouse has been unfaithful? What do you do when someone has injured or killed another tribal member? Unlike the laws you know, Julie, these laws were never formulated by any committee. Rather, they grew up among the tribal members the way strategies for competition grew up -- by a steady winnowing out of what didn’t work, of what didn’t accomplish what people wanted --over tens of thousands of years. In a very real sense, the Ells are the laws of the Ells, or even better, the laws of each tribe represent the will of the tribe. Their laws make utter sense to them in the context of their entire culture. The laws of the Ells wouldn’t make sense to the Emms, but what difference does that make? The Emms have their own laws which make utter sense to them, though they’re clearly very different from those of the Ells or anyone else.”

Pg 90.

This passage is very important because it summarized the entirety of what Ishmael and Julie are talking about for this section of the book. They discuss cultural evolution rather than specific evolution. They show how the laws and rules of the nomadic lifestyle is in fact more productive and better for the entirety of the culture because it the intent of the laws is to fix the wrongdoing rather than punish the wrongdoer’s actions and in that respect people are still afraid of breaking the rules, but the community is fixed by the laws, rather than the individual being hurt. They also touch on the unreason ability of one people enforcing their laws on any other people because their laws are formulated over thousands of years and those laws and customs are formed by what works for that civilization.

Quotation #3

“For hundreds of thousands of years, people as smart as you had had a way of life that worked well for them. The descendants of these people can today still be found here and there, and wherever they’re found in an untouched state, they give every evidence of being perfectly content with their way of life. They’re not at war with each other, generation against generation or class against class. They’re not plagued by anguish, anxiety, depression, self-hatred, crime, madness, alcoholism, and drug addiction. They don’t complain of oppression and injustice. They don’t describe their lives as meaningless and empty. They’re not seething with hatred and rage. They don’t look into the sky, yearning for contact with gods and angels and prophets and alien spacemen and spirits of the dead. And they don’t wish someone would come along and tell them how to live. This is because they already know how to live. But knowing how to live was something the people of your culture had to destroy in order to make themselves the rulers of the the world.” Pg 114.

This passage shows some of the great differences between the two generalized cultures that Ishmael names the Takers and the Leavers. The Takers are those who take the right to their life into their own hands and away from the Gods. In that respect they don’t let their fate be decided by something as trivial and conquerable as they would see it as the weather. Additionally, they kill of their competitors (any organism that is after the same resource as them) and make them extinct. This makes them terrible for the ecosystem and harmful to the environment. The Leavers were the humans that existed before the Takers, and they are tolerable and don’t need to take their life into their own hands. They are fine with their fate being decided by weather, and they respect the ecosystem and find that it is better if they eat in moderation and don’t over hunt their favorite food as to make it extinct. They don’t use agriculture, at least not nearly to the extent the Takers do.

The Leavers as Ishmael states above are not plagued by all of these terrible afflictions, most of which are physiologically induced. This shows that the society of the Takers is far more burdensome and unnecessary than the Leavers. The Taker society leaves most of the culture incredibly impoverished, and a small fraction in incredible riches. In the Leaver society a hierarchy exists, but each position has its benefits, and no one person is doomed to permanent poverty.

Quotation #4

“Equal to any of these is a form of wealth you lack so profoundly that you’re truly pathetic. In a Leaver society, you’re never left to cope with a crushing problem all by yourself. You have an autistic child, a disabled child. This will be perceived as a tribal burden -- but (as always) not for altruistic reason. It simply makes no sense to say to the child’s mother or father, ‘this is entirely your problem. Don’t bother the rest of us with it.’ You have a parent who is becoming senile. The rest of the tribe won’t turn its back on you as you struggle with this problem. They know that a problem shared widely becomes almost no problem at all -- and they know very well that each of them will someday need similar help with one problem or another. I find it truly heartrending to see the people of your world suffering without this wealth. One of a couple in late middle age contracts some horrible disease, their savings are wiped out in a matter of months, former friends shun them, there’s no more money for medication, and suddenly their situation is completely desperate. Again and again the only solution they can find is to die together -- a mercy killing and a suicide. Stories like this are commonplace in your culture by are virtually unheard of in the Leaver societies.” Pg 183.

This passage really shows the difference between the Takers and Leavers, the two societies that the book revolves around. This passage shows that Ishmael really thinks that the Taker state of mind is “everyone for themselves, I won’t help them because I wouldn’t get help if I were in their position.” Although I disagree that the suicide/euthanasia situation is “commonplace” in the Taker society, I can see that it is more often than the Leaver society. Ishmael shows that wealth is an intricate part of the Taker society, and the Leaver society doesn’t care for personal health, but the health of the community all around. It may be that the Leaver society is the closest thing to a practical application of communism, just without being agricultural based.


The book begins with a troubled girl, Julie, who wishes to get away from her alcoholic mother and an all around toxic home environment. Julie is only twelve, and the story is written in past tense with Julie looking for years in the past; she writes it as a 16 year old. Julie finds an ad in the newspaper for a teacher seeking a pupil. She answers the ad and goes to the address to find an enormous gorilla. She is started, but is amazed when the gorilla can talk to her telepathically. The Gorilla’s name is Ishmael, the antagonist, and the character that helps Julie develop throughout the book. It is explained in Ishmael that the gorilla does not posses the correct anatomy to speak english, and out of necessity learned to speak this way. Julie learns all about culture, religion, philosophy, anthropology, evolutionary biology, and much more. She is not being taught facts, but rather the opinion of an observer of humanity: Ishmael. He explains to her the motives of the humans, and how they get away with calling themselves what they are and performing the actions they perform. Ishmael explains the power of traditionalism (indirectly through stories). Ishmael is surprise by Julie’s precociousness, he finds her to be more intuitive and perceptive than is other pupil: Alan. Alan is responsible for writing the first of the books, explaining his adventure with Ishmael. The entire book is communicating an idea, an opinion of Daniel Quinn portrayed in the teachings of Ishmael. This idea is that the Taker lifestyle (the one that the industrialized world and the less industrialized world has to a lesser extend) is responsible for the destruction of the planet. And that the solution is to learn from biological precedent, and follow the teachers of other animals. Take what you need, but nothing more. Don’t kill those who compete with you, it screws up evolution. And don’t become greedy and require your favorite foods all the time.


I would recommend this book to others. Although it is not nearly as well written, clearly communicated, or intuitive as the original Ishmael, it does cover the main points in Ishmael, although I wouldn’t consider it a substitute but a complement. It covers some things that Ishmael did not, however it did go over many of the same concepts in Ishmael only using different examples and approaches to compensate for the differences and character between Alan and Julie. I would recommend it because it certainly brings up a silenced debate of two very different culture. It seems like the world is separated by variations of the Taker culture, and the fights between those are glorified and publicized. But the wars between, or relations between the Taker and Leaver cultures are for the most part colonization which included terrible things such as slavery and genocide. This means that (consider the Taker culture won these wars) the people of the Taker culture (U.S., western europe, the pacific, australia, the majority of south america etc.) have not learned about these wars. The natures of these two cultures are so vastly different that no real compromise can be made without the eventual shifting to one of the other. Therefore, I would recommend this book because it really makes you think. The characters were certainly not idolized in the book, it was really the ideas that they brought forth. I would say that the main themes in this book are the cultural battles, cultural and individual evolution, and Leaver vs Taker contrasts. These themes are seldom though of in practical terms, to some extent a culture is difficult to define. This gives the book uniqueness in that it dares to cover extremely controversial topics, such as (and Daniel Quinn was criticized widely for this) the proposition that given as a populations food supply increase, the population count rises, countries that are providing other countries with food are doing them a disservice for when global struggle occurs, or the provider country goes into famine, they will be unable to provide for their dependent and cause starvation there. For all of these reasons, I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in philosophy, evolution, or culture.