Ishmael: A Critical Analysis of Civilization: It is a general rule that any particular culture can only be understood by someone outside of it - a neutral observer, unaffected by prejudice or indoctrination. This is the reasoning behind Quinn's choice of a gorilla named Ishmael as the main character of this novel, who conducts a series of dialogues analyzing the whole of civilization itself.But what is the civilization that Quinn looks at? Instead of muttering about monumental building and written language, Quinn treats civilization in a method that is becoming increasingly popular: as the result of a critical mass of humanity that makes possible rapid advances in knowledge and science. For this to be possible, intensive agriculture must be used to raise the population density to such a point that civilization occurs.So Quinn uses a gorilla as an outsider looking in and perceiving the reality of civilization - of cultures using intensive agriculture to dominate the world. His conclusions are for the most part negative: he concludes that civilization is not sustainable in the long term (that is, over millions of years).The observations used to come to this conclusion are relatively well-known; that civilization is the greatest disaster to befall earth in the past 65 million years. In terms of pollution, deforestation, extinction, and overall negative impact to the web of life itself, humanity is supreme among all the species. What Quinn does not share with the others who know these facts is a belief that civilization will overcome any difficulties it encounters. Civilization, to Quinn, is the problem, not the solution."Ishmael" is the presentation of these ideas in a Socratic method from a gorilla to a man "with an earnest desire to save the world." There isn't really any plot to this book, nor does Quinn intend there to be. The disappearance of Ishmael at the end of book is the only story-like element in "Ishmael", and it is really an attempt by Quinn to set the reader free - to encourage him/her to think about civilization for himself rather than be told about it by a telepathic gorilla. I've always had the feeling that this should be considered nonfiction, rather than a story.The problem presented by "Ishmael" is simple: civilization is the problem. The solution is both simple and complex: in order to preserve a human niche in the ecosystem, we must go beyond civilization. Working to figure out just what this means is one of the great joys of reading "Ishmael," whether or not you agree with Quinn's assessment of the situation. "Ishmael" is a book that will make you look around and think, and perhaps reach some conclusions that you may find surprising. Highly recommended.