Ishmael is a captivating and mind expanding journey that provides a fresh perspective of the relationship between man and the Earth. Through the book, Quinn teaches that the laws that work best are the laws of nature. This is in opposition to our current system which is based on man's laws. It also teaches that it is impossible to fix the world by enacting laws. In order to save the world we must alter the way we think about the planet and our relationships to it.
The story begins as a dialog between the narrator, a middle-aged writer, and a wise gorilla, named Ishmael. The narrator answers a classified ad that reads "Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person." Through a series of meetings with the narrator, Ishmael provides us with proactive insight as to how we came to perceive human history and our culture the way we do.
As Ishmael teaches it, there are two fundamentally different stories being enacted during the lifetime of man: (1) One began to be enacted approximately 2-3 billion years ago by people Ishmael calls Leavers and is still being enacted by them today; (2) The other began 10,000 to 12,000 years ago by people Ishmael calls Takers and is heading toward complete catastrophe.
Ishmael observes that our culture, that of the Takers, teaches us that the world was created for man. Man is the creature for whom all the rest was made. Under this premise, the world is a human life-support system, a machine designed to produce and sustain human life. All other life and creation in this world exists for man. Since the world was made for man, then it belongs to man and we can do what we please with it.