Despite a mildly frustrating Q&A format, this is a deep and (beneficially) mind-altering work that can re-shape how you think about almost everything. So, why so few reviews for this masterful work over here, when there are over 1000 on Amazon.com?
Quinn synthesises numerous schools of thought - primarily anthropology, history, biology, and theology - in such a way as to paint a truly all-encompassing portrait of how we got here. The basic premise is as accurate as it is appalling: a classic catch-22:
A. Father Culture teaches us to produce more food that we can use.
B. We reproduce in direct correlation with the amount of available food.
C. The more we reproduce, the more food we need.
Yes, it is an over-simplification but it's still truth. This work uncovers our cultural myth that it's OK to keep consuming, destroying the environment, producing more food and multiplying our population at insanely unhealthy levels.
In several later books Quinn takes this further. "My Ishmael" is basically a repeat of "Ishmael" and slightly disappointing because of that but "Story of B" explains that our current focus on agriculture is basically at "war" with nature and only really became that way with patriarchy. Many open-minded archeologists are telling - off the record - of more and more clues that patriarchy suddenly, about 6,000 years ago, came in from nowhere, overwhelmed, and radically changed our direction from, the peaceful lifestyle enjoyed for hundreds of thousands of years previously. Ancient times were by no means brutal and backwards, as we've been brainwashed to believe.
For instance, dating of the "pre-historic" Jomon culture has been regularly pushed back over the last decade and is currently identified as having begun at least 100,000 years ago and having lasted for well over 50,000 years, maybe double that, in an astonishingly stable manner. They enjoyed a comfortably abundant, healthy, and aesthetic lifestyle involving stunning pottery, trading, travel (very possibly global) and communal co-operation - within groups (no "chiefs"), with neighbouring societies (no defensive fortifications), and with nature (such as a regular "harvesting" of fruit and nut orchards but not intensive farming).
We CAN choose a different way from the current "dominate and destroy" culture, a transformation to a world of harmony, diversity and flexibility, in partnership with all living things, not least our earth.("The Heart of Social Change", a pamphlet by Marshall B. Rosenberg PhD - founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, an international nonprofit organization that teaches peacemaking skills across four continents - summarizes in just a few amazing pages how all religions teach us good and bad to enforce punishment and reward and the many ways, from birth, that we are taught to enjoy violence.)
Some complain that Quinn is stating the obvious. For me, it was an exciting new angle on our culture, another veil lifted.
later note: for more on the curse of agriculture, try "Against the Grain". Also, three of the books of an amazing Japanese farmer and philosopher have been translated into English and are worth reading: "The One Straw Revolution", "The Natural Way of Farming" and "Sowing Seeds in the Desert" by Masanobu Fukuoka. He explains why scientific farming practices can never succeed; how our belief that we know better than nature inevitably separates us more and more from from everything, including ourselves and each other; and how to farm at-one with nature (no machinery/ploughing/digging, no prepared fertilizer, no pesticides, very little weeding). Comparatively little-known here, Fukuoka (RIP) is famous in India, where his techniques are being used to revive desert areas.