Ishmael (1992) is the name of a book by Daniel Quinn that won the Ted Turner Tomorrow Award for a piece of fiction that "produces creative and positive solutions to global problems."

Ishmael is a thinly-disguised dialogue that suggests that Civilization (Western and Eastern, I have been assured by one of my Ishmaelite friends) -- since it took control (from the gods) over its own life and death by adopting agriculture --  is destroying the planet and that this destruction is at the root of our very mythology.  It is an important book, not because it is totally original but because it is simple enough to reach a large audience, and it is doing so.  Parables reach more ears than science.  Such is human nature!

Herewith, for Ishmael fans, is a suggested reading, and doing, list:

A bookish history of Environmental Writings.

  1. Thoreau, Henry David.  Walden (1854).  The book that underlies all environmental thinking.

  2. Muir, John and Burroughs, John.  late 19th-, early 20th-century American naturalists who traveled, walked, wrote and talked extensively about the wild outdoors.  Contributed mightily to this country's early (Teddy Roosevelt's time) environmentalism.

  3. Leopold, Aldo.  Sand County Almanac (1949).  A near-modern classic in American environmental writing.

  4. Carson, Rachel.  Silent Spring (1962).  The first official serious look at (care-less) industrial pollution and poisoning.

  5. Lovelock, James E.  The Ages of Gaia (1988 or 1969).  The first book about Lovelock's "GAIA hypotheses."  The GH suggests that a) the Earth is the super-organism on which all terrestrial life depends, and b) this rock (Earth = GAIA) was prepared for life by life itself.   Important to Ishmaelites because harming a rock (by extracting gas, oil, metallic ores, and leveling mountains) may be easy for a non-Ishmaelite to accept.

  6. Gore, Al (not the fellow who ran for President in 2000, the other one, the one who apparently died before an impersonator ran for President).  Earth in the Balance (1992).  The first American political treatise on the utterly crucial significance of environmental thinking.

Organizations working toward a sustainable future.

There are countless organizations that focus on education.  Theseare willing to do more than collect money and do research.

  1. Green Peace.  Of all environmental organizations (maybe Earth First!), these guys seem most willing to put their asses on the line in defense of the planet and its less verbal species.

  2. Earth First!.  Since I brought it up.  Godfather-to-be of the next great political party.

  3. Earth Island Institute.  The last child of David Brower, the former "arch-Druid" of the American environmental movement, important for insisting that education was not enough; that it was time for activism (in the 1970's!).

For a Fair Economy.

"Who cares?  The planet can survive economic injustice."  Maybe not.  The forces that are destructive of the Earth, in an Ishmaelian sense,  are ALL economic engines of great power.  Leave their short-term decision-making unregulated and in the hands of their corporate leaders and humanity has no chance.  How can this be, why would a rational profit-maker destroy his own markets?  Because what works short-term doesn't work long-term, and GAIAn health and survival is NOT a short-term problem.  And because what is profitable for a CEO is often paid for by everyone else.

  1. United For a Fair Economy.  These guys are a very activist group, determined to get out the message that what is good for the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts is not necessarily good for us or good for a democracy.

  2. Phillips, Kevin.  Wealth and Democracy.  This chart-filled book, written by a former speech-writer for Richard Nixon, is a pretty good source for folk who believe that America has become a democracy for those who pay for it.  Why it bears on Ishmael issues and GAIAn issues is that corporate America and large family wealth America typically invest in short-term wealth accumulation and, as wealth accumulation is partly a zero-sum game, their gain is our loss.  This is also true environmentally as old wealth often grows at the expense of Mother Earth and her children.  (All attempts we make to remain healthy in an unhealthy environment do, after all, contribute to the Gross National Product.  In other words, doing bad is good: we pay for the products that pollute, then we pay to handle the pollution, and then we pay to cure the ills that we suffer as a consequence.)

Compellingly important books in understanding why we do what we do.

  1. Campbell, Joseph.  anything.  A mythic perspective points out clearer than any other that most humans' perspective is very local and only accidentally, and dangerously, so.

  2. Diamond, Jared.  Guns, Germs and Steel.  Diamond makes a compelling case that Eurasian world dominance is not due to some kind of racial superiority but its long and temperate East-West axis.  That is, Diamond suggests that many questions are well-answered by invoking geographical determinism.

  3. Melville, Herman.  Moby Dick.  The great American novel.  The original Ishmael (well, no, the original Ishmael was the first son -- cast out, exiled, orphaned -- of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham on his wife's handmaiden Hagar).  A novel about a sea-captain and his obsessive hatred of a force of nature.  Perhaps a novel about the American or the white Christian character.  Get it or don't.  Not easy but can be life-altering.


  1. Maxis (now Electronic Arts, who no longer distributes it, to their everlasting shame!) and Will Wright.  SimEarth (1991).  Software for PCs and Macs.  A Sim City of the planet.  "Not a game (winners and losers) but a toy (to play with)."  Winning, to the extent that it is meaningful with this toy, consists in surviving in good health long enough to achieve Exodus (leaving the planet to establish off-planet human evolution).