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 Study Guide

  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 163)...

    I have read your work, Ishmael, Providence, The Story of B, My Ishmael, After Dachau, The Man Who Grew Youn, and all the rest of Dan's books...but I want to read some of the stuff you read to prepare you to write these novels. Do you have a list of suggested readings?

    ...and the response:

    Here are a few items to get you started. There are lots of others that contributed to the development of the ideas in the novels you mention -- a lifetime's worth. In support of the notion of "going local," we strongly urge readers, whenever possible, to buy recommended books from their LOCAL booksellers...BUT, if you are going to use -- use the links below! (The Ishmael Community website gets a small referral fee that helps offset the cost of running this site.) The hot links below will take you to Bookstore where you can learn more about these books (and lots of others). You will not be asked to buy anything...but you can if you want to.

  • Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming

    It almost always happens, when I speak in telephone conferences with university classes or with larger groups, that someone will ask if I have hope for the future and, if so, why. My answer has always been an intuitive one, the intuition being that in the last fifteen years or so awareness of the perils we face in the immediate future has expanded explosively–and that this in itself provides authentic hope for the future. In Blessed Unrest Paul Hawken, with his extraordinary passion for information, has transformed my mere intuition into a reality. Acting on the same "hunch" as mine, he began to count. . . . "I initially estimated a total of 30,000 environmental organizations around the globe; when I added social justice and indigenous peoples' rights organizations, the number exceeded 100,000. . . . I now believe there are over one–and maybe even two–million organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice."

    He concludes this encyclopedic work with these heartening words: "There is no question that the environmental movement is critical to our survival. Our house is literally burning, and it is only logical that environmentalists expect the social justice movement to get on the environmental bus. But it is the other way around: the only way we are going to put out the fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end, there is only one bus. Armed with that growing realization, we can address all that is harmful externally. What will guide us is a living intelligence that creates miracles every second, carried forth by a movement with no name." Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future - Edited by Melissa K. Nelson

    Original Instructions is a compilation of 33 presentations made at annual meetings of Bioneers, an organization created in 1990 "to disseminate breakthrough solutions . . . needed to change our way of living on earth to avert global environmental catastrophe."

    The presenters are virtually all members of aboriginal peoples, which is what makes the book so uniquely valuable. Fifteen years ago no such book existed–or could have existed. Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Radical Simplicity: Creating an Authentic Life by Dan Price

    This is a book for the many hundreds of young (and not-so-young) people who have written to me asking how to go about "walking away" from the Taker lifestyle. Author and "hobo-artist" Dan Price has done that most successfully, using his ingenuity and determination to build an authentic life, a life “hand made” for himself, rather than one dictated by outside circumstances. Buy it from or, you can buy it from Or you could order from the publisher, Running Press.

  • Being Is Enough : Collective Self-Help for a Sustainable World - by Doug Brown

    Doug Brown continues the excellent work begun in Insatiable Is Not Sustainable, this time focusing on the stress we cause ourselves and the world around us by accepting a "have all you can have" and "be all you can be" culture. Writing with extraordinary simplicity, economics professor Brown brings fresh insights to our situation, and proposes specific reforms needed to democratize our economy. Although these reforms would doubtless be opposed (just as unionization and Social Security were), we can be assured that "Profits are not going to go away" as a result of these reforms. "Neither are management, trade, marketing, accounting, corporations, the IMF and WTO, prices, and money. What needs to happen, and can happen, is that these mechanism of capitalism have to be reshaped and redirected to serve new goals--sustainability and social justice, sufficiency and simplicity, tranquility and equality. The radical reforms will do this--on one condition. A cultural revolution must take place--changed minds. If we can make that happen, the rest will be easy." -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference - by Malcolm Gladwell

    I generally limit my recommendations to books that have little public exposure. Such is not the case for The Tipping Point, which has been a bestseller for four years now. I recommend it because it affirms (in ways I could not have done) the power of incremental change. Realistically speaking, most of us are limited to doing "little things," and many are disheartened by this. This book, however, shows very persuasively "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference." If the world is saved, I believe it will not because some great superman has taken up our cause but because the number of us doing "little things" (like changing the minds of the people around us) has reached "the tipping point." -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica - by Jack Ewing, with a foreword by Daniel Quinn

    If you enjoy having arcane and even possibly useful information (especially about exotic wildlife), then Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate is a must read for you. Meet a large, log-like reptile and wonder whether it's a caiman or a crocodile? Easy: if it's a caiman, it runs away; if it's a crocodile, it eats you. Troubled by bats in the attic that simply can't be kept out? Install a boa constrictor. Jack Ewing's thirty-year adventure in a Costa Rican jungle has produced a book full of infectious love and amazing lore. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Humanity's Environmental Future: Making Sense in a Troubled World; Getting to the Source: Readings on Sustainable Values - by William Ross McCluney The appearance of books like Humanity's Environmental Future--serious but very readable, comprehensive, and ambitious--is a very encouraging sign that more and more people with changed minds are making themselves heard; readers will especially appreciate McCluney's chapter on "Taking Action." -- Buy it from Sorry, this one is not available at

    Getting to the Source brings together important "source" essays from Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, Garrett Hardin, Donella Meadows, Thomas Berry, Daniel Quinn, and many others. -- Buy it from Sorry, this one is not available at

  • Into The Wild - by Jon Krakauer I include this book as recommended reading because I hear from so many youngsters who, like Chris McCandless (the subject of the book), dream of fleeing civilization, of striking out on their own in the wilderness, of "living off the land." Although this is primarily the story of McCandless's failure to recognize the difficulties of such an undertaking, the author includes several similar accounts of individuals taking on "the wild" singlehandedly, with the romantic notion that this is what a capable and resourceful person should be able to do. All victims of the Great Forgetting, they were blissfully (and ultimately tragically) unaware that humans did not evolve as rugged individualists, each taking on the task of survival on his or her own. Our ancestors, who universally lived "in the wild," always faced the task tribally and never took it on singlehandedly. They knew that-even with all their survival wisdom, garnered over countless generations-living in the wild is far too much for any isolated individual to cope with. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Dancing with Mosquitoes: To Liberate the Mind from Humanism--A Way To Green the Mind - by Theo Grutter Running into Theo Grutter's book is like running into Jean Liedloff's Continuum Concept: meeting a mind that has come independently to be in synch with my own. This doesn't mean he's saying things I've said or thought. On the contrary, he continually surprises me with things I haven't said or thought. And he says them well and wittily. Of our frenetic "get ahead" lifestyle that robs our souls to fill our houses with gaudy trinkets: "Is it not the madness of the fool who day after day falls into the same pit, yet is wholly proud to know the trick of how to climb out of it day after day?"
    Of congratulation we award ourselves for our humanitarian greatness in the Third World: "A versatile mind might want to scrutinize with an ecologically-minded eye the greatness of our great white jungle doctors. A truly modern mind that thinks also with a third eye placed generations away might then note that this humanitarian greatness nicely exploding our population there can ultimately cast a great shadow over the flora and fauna of the jungle and stop its people from singing and dancing."
    Composed of very brief essays, this is a book to spend a few minutes with every day, a book for your bedside table. Readers who cherish my work will cherish Dancing with Mosquitoes. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • I include these because so many people have asked about books for their children, though I must do so with limited enthusiasm. Until late in the nineteenth century, children's stories were contrived for the sole purpose of delivering moral lessons. As such, the stories themselves were just "the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down." The Billibonk stories, I'm afraid, belong to the same tradition, being contrived for the sole purpose of delivering systems-thinking lessons. I will say, however, that the lessons are nonetheless admirable ones. The books (and accompanying "Fieldbooks") are available from Pegasus Communications, Inc., One Moody Street, Waltham MA 02453-5339. They can also be ordered on their website, . (Also available through -- just click on the book covers, or Oder through BookSense

  • Nothing is harder to bring to light than that which is hidden in plain sight, and this is what J. Zornado has undertaken to do in this stunning exposé of the insidious systemic mechanisms that perpetuate our demented and tormented culture, generation after generation. I count Inventing the Child among the two or three most eye-opening, illuminating, and important books I've ever read. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Besides being a wise, witty and engrossing thriller, fascinating on every page, Redheads is one of those very rare novels that you put down knowing you've gained a whole new understanding of how things really work in the wild, wicked world out there. If such a thing is imaginable (and I hope it is), this book does for the struggle to save the rain forests of Borneo what Catch 22 did for the struggle to stay alive in World War II. It's an experience that will stay with you, I guarantee it. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Alan Weisman, Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 1998. The record of an extraordinary experiment in sustainable development and appropriate technology, the transformation of a Colombian village so successful that the United Nations has called it a model for the developing world. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Michael H. Shuman, GOING LOCAL: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age, The Free Press, 1998. "Going Local" enables us to drag our feet against the tendency of Taker globalization, which destroys cultural diversity.and reduces us all to cogs in a giant money-making machine. The nearly 70-page appendix of resources makes the book worth owning all by itself. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Janine M. Benyus, BIOMIMICRY: Innovation Inspired by Nature, William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1998. I think reviewers praise this not because they like the book but because they like the subject. I too am fascinated by the subject, but found the book to be an unrevealing look at it. Why put it on my recommended list? Because I haven’t seen anything better and because people ask what I think of it. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Ray C. Anderson, Mid-Course Correction: Towards a Sustainable Enterprise; The INTERFACE Model. Peregrinzilla Press, 1998. Distributed by Chelsea Green Pub. Co. (800-639-4099). -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Michael Maren, The Road To Hell: The Ravaging Effects Of Foreign Aid And International Charity, Simon & Schuster, 1997. If you think your charitable giving is making the Third World a better place, think again. If you think your government is trying to do good, think again. If you think the UN has been intervening in places like Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia for humanitarian reasons, think again. -- DQ -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

    Gita Mehta, Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East, Fawcett Books, 1991. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

    Dietrich Dörner, The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations, Perseus Books, 1996. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

    Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Ronald Wright, Stolen Continents: The Americas Through Indian Eyes Since 1492, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Richard Dawkins,The Selfish Gene; Oxford Univ. Press, 1990. A wonderful introduction to the theory of natural selection and how it leads to evolutionary change. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Peter Farb, Man's Rise to Civilization (as Shown by the Indians of North America from Primeval Times to the Coming of the Industrial State) Penguin , 1991. A different sort of history, exploring issues central to Ishmael. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • John Gowdy, editor. Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment. $27.00 from Island Press, available soon. Comment: For more than 99% of our history, human life has meant hunting-gathering life. If you want to know how this life worked, you can spend two or three years intensively browsing the anthropology shelves of your local library—or you can read Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment. John Gowdy's book is a treasure, and I recommend it without reservation to all who want to know more about this tragically-neglected subject. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, War and Witches, Vintage Books, 1974, and Cannibals and Kings, Vintage Books, 1977. A distinguished anthropologist examines aspects of culture in a highly readable and accessible form. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability, HarperCollins, 1994. An important and influential study of sustainability issues. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost (Classics in Human Development) , Addison/Wesley, 1986. This book, almost a companion piece to Ishmael, shows why Leaver children grow up sane and healthy. Visit the Continuum Concept website! -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Farley Mowat, People of the Deer; Amereon Ltd., 1985. An intimate study of a Leaver people, the Ihalmiut, living in the Great Barrens of Canada. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, Doubleday, 1994. An introduction to systems thinking (of which Ishmael is an example). A fairly demanding book, but the only one of its kind. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Jack Weatherford, Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America, Fawcett, 1992. A treasure house of little known information. -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Marshall Sahlins: Stone Age Economics, Aldine de Gruyter, 1972. The classic study of "The Original Affluent Society." -- Buy it from or, you can buy it from

  • Doug Brown: Insatiable Is Not Sustainable If humans are going to have a future on this planet, a blaze of change has to sweep the earth in the next few decades--a change in the way people think about the world and our place in it. One of the sparks that are going to kindle this blaze is Doug Brown's Insatiable Is Not Sustainable, a book that reaches deep into the mad recesses of our culture (while retaining a sense of humor and remaining delightfully readable). - Buy it from or, you can buy it from


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