Most of the questions in this section have been pulled directly from the hundreds of questions in the Q&A section and include Daniel’s original answers. We did this to provide easy access to some of the most-asked questions. A few have been added or edited by me. – RMQ


The point I’m trying to make in all my work is this: “If we want to survive on this planet, we must listen to what our neighbors in the community of life have to tell us.” So. Who’s in the best position to speak for those neighbors of ours? One of US or one of THEM? Obviously one of THEM. The teacher in Ishmael had to be one of those neighbors — a nonhuman. Among those neighbors none is more impressive and authoritative than a gorilla (which is why I chose to make Ishmael a gorilla rather than, say, a parrot or a salmon or a butterfly).

If you were to ask the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame why he made the bell-ringer a hunchback, he would tell you: “Because I hadn’t made him a hunchback, there would have been no novel.” The same is true of my book. If I hadn’t made Ishmael a gorilla, there would have been no novel, and you wouldn’t be here reading about it.

For anyone interested in studying this question more deeply, I highly recommend the monograph “Apes of the Imagination: A Bibliography” by Marion W. Copeland.

According to our cultural mythology, God lost interest in all other creatures on this planet when humans came along. (Although non-humans came first, our mythology tells us they were not God’s “true” children. Rather, it is humans who are God’s true children.) According to Genesis, this is exactly what happened to Ishmael when Isaac came along: his father Abraham lost interest in him. (Although Ishmael came first, he was not Abraham’s “true” son. Rather it was Isaac who was his true son.) In other words, what Genesis says happened to Ishmael is exactly what our mythology says happened to the non-human community on this planet. This makes “Ishmael” an appropriate name for someone who speaks for this community.

Consider the possible pros and cons involved in names like John, Derek, Aaron, Miguel, Moustafa, Marcello, David, Pete. Names invariably evoke ethnic and social connotations that are inviting to some people and off-putting to others. In addition, not giving the narrator a name reduces his importance as an individual, which better universalizes his role as a narrator. (However, in My Ishmael his name had to be revealed.)

The pupil is on hand to answer for our culture’s destructiveness on this planet (to answer the question posed by Ishmael’s koan). If the pupil has to be one gender or the other, which gender in our culture do you think should be called upon to answer for our destructiveness? Which gender has the greater need to understand the consequences of our destructiveness?

Consider how the novel would change if the dialog in Ishmael were between a pupil much smarter than the narrator or with a pupil much dumber. If the pupil is too smart, average readers will get lost; if the pupil is too dumb, average readers will get bored. 

Ishmael is not an essay written for an academic journal but rather a work of fiction, specifically a novel. In a novel, characters speak in accordance with their individual backgrounds and experiences, not in accordance with some committee’s manifesto. Thus, in a novel, a 12-year-old crack dealer doesn’t talk like a middle-aged librarian, and an ambassador doesn’t talk like a stevedore. In The Story of B, the narrator is a parish priest – someone who is used to being constantly judged by his language – and so, by habit, he’s pretty consistently PC in his language. But when it comes to Ishmael, it would make no better sense for the narrator and his gorilla teacher to speak the language of political correctness than it would for them to speak the language of gangsta rap.

If you learned tomorrow that Einstein was a fictional character, would this have any bearing on the way you perceive his ideas? Is E=mc2 true if said by a real person but not if said by a fictional character?

By far the most frequently asked question I receive is some form of “Yes, but . . . what exactly am I supposed to DO?” There is no single recipe for saving the world (anymore than there is a single recipe for making a cake or building an aircraft). Rather there are six billion recipes, one for each of us, since each of us is uniquely placed in the world, with unique talents, opportunities, and circles of influence.

Humanity is teetering on the edge of extinction, and its future will be decided in the next half century. What is one to do about this? Albert Einstein said, “The world we have created is a product of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

I’ve often likened our situation to the beginning of the Renaissance. People weren’t running around asking themselves, “How do we make this thing work?” The Renaissance didn’t come about because people began to do new things; rather, new things began to be done because people were thinking in a new way. A new synergy developed that transformed European society. This is what must happen again, now, and this is something we can all collaborate on (and must collaborate on).

You ask what the narrator “would have done” following his encounter with Ishmael. That should be obvious. Ishmael told him to “teach a hundred what I’ve taught you and encourage them to teach a hundred.” He did even better than that. He wrote a narrative of his encounter with Ishmael, thus sharing it with hundreds of thousands of readers around the world. That’s not something “everyone” can do, of course. It was just what he could do, which is what everyone must discover for himself or herself (which was true for me as well). (Check under the INSPIRED menu to see what some people have done or are doing.)

In all the years that have passed since its publication, no one (including me) has come up with a satisfactory way of explaining what Ishmael is “about.” Franz Kafka once wrote to a friend that the only books worth reading are those that “wake us up with a blow on the head” and send us reeling out into the street, not knowing who or what we are. According to thousands of readers I’ve heard from, this is exactly what Ishmael does for them. What makes Ishmael important is not what it’s “about” but rather what it DOES to you–and this is what you need to share with your friends. If it’s taken you to a new place in your life (as many people say it has), then tell them that if they want to keep up with you, they’re just going to have read it. Whatever it’s done to you or for you, that’s what will impress your friends, and that’s what you need to convey to them.


B is an itinerant public speaker, the primary character in The Story of B, which goes much deeper into ideas that were begun in Ishmael. Many readers of this second novel in the Ishmael trilogy, identify with B and call themselves B. They’ve taken on the mantle of the fictional B and are focused, as he was, on sharing what they’ve learned. We were told that one reader even had the letter B tattooed on his forehead. There is a Facebook page called The b Following.

I deliberately left this decision up to the reader. Personally, the way I’d like to see the book read, is reading the lectures as you go (but apparently most readers prefer to save them to the end).

Yes! Hundreds of courses and hundreds of schools are using DQ’s work—from middle school on through graduate level. You can find many of them listed under the Study Guides & Teaching. (Contact us if you are aware of schools or courses using Daniel Quinn’s writings — we want to include your school and/or course in the lists!)

All the books except Tales of Adam and Work, Work, Work have been published in paperback editions. All books except Work, Work, Work and The Man Who Grew Young are available as E-books. The Bantam audio version of  Ishmael is still available, and several of the other books can be found through Amazon’s Audible program.

Yes, if you’re on Facebook there are several groups that were started by readers for just this purpose. You’ll find links to all these groups under the Community link.

This is the publishing and sales entity that Daniel and I started in the early days of this website. It was a separate website where shirts, books (pocket-sized Book of the Damned, The Man Who Grew Young), videos (Food Production & Population Growth) and other items we published were sold. It was closed in 2010 and Ishmael’s Annex at CafePress (now defunct and replaced by Zazzle) became the sales arm for print-on-demand products. Unfortunately, we let go of the domain name, and it was picked up by a company that traded on the name and visual aspect of our site for its own purposes. However, we kept the company registered with the state and now it’s been reactivated as the umbrella for this new website and its shop. This means that all income from the shop is used for website expenses and any causes or projects that it undertakes to support (e.g. Cultural Survival and Survival International).