Ishmael is a novel by Daniel Quinn. It presents an alternative view of human history and proposes a different program for human lifestyle change. Ishmael was awarded the $500,000 Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award.
The story begins with a newspaper ad: "Teacher seeks pupil, must have an earnest desire to save the world". A nameless character (who is identified in a later book as Alan Lomax) responds to the ad out of nostalgia. He seeks the teacher and finds himself in a room with a gorilla.
To the man's surprise he finds that the gorilla can communicate telepathically. At first baffled by this the man quickly learns the story of how the gorilla came to be this way and he accepts the gorilla, Ishmael, as his teacher. The novel continues from this point as a socratic dialogue between the man and Ishmael as they hash out what Ishmael refers to as "how things came to be this way" for mankind and the environment.
Ishmael begins by telling the man that his life, which began in the wild, was spent mostly in a zoo and a menagerie, and since had been spent in the gazebo of the man that extricated him from physical captivity. He tells his student that it was at the menagerie that he learned about human language and culture and began to think about things that he never would have pondered in the wild. Subsequently, Ishmael tells the man that his subject for this learning experience will be captivity, primarily the captivity of man under a civilizational system that forces him to exploit and destroy the world in order to live.
The narrator has a vague notion that he is living in some sort of captivity and being lied to in some way but he can not explain his feelings.