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Daniel Quinn, Muse of Discovery Channel Suspect James Lee

Daniel Quinn's series of books apparently inspired James Lee

Last Updated: Sept. 2, 12:20 AM ET

NEW YORK (CBS) James Lee, who was killed by a SWAT team after holding hostages in the Discovery Channel building Wednesday, apparently based his environmental activism on the works of Daniel Quinn, author of several books on the human condition and broad environmental and social issues.

PICTURES: Who is Suspect James Lee?

On his MySpace page, Lee lists his interests as "The Daniel Quinn books Ishmael, My Ishmael, and the Story of B."

"Ishmael" won the $500,000 Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award (an award created by CNN founder Ted Turner, and given only once, to Quinn's book for offering positive solutions to global problems. Among the judges for the award were revered writers Nadine Gordimer, Wallace Stegner, Peter Matthiessen and William Styron.

Publishers Weekly described "Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit" as follows:

Quinn ( Dreamer ) won the Turner Tomorrow Award's half-million-dollar first prize for this fascinating and odd book--not a novel by any conventional definition--which was written 13 years ago but could not find a publisher. The unnamed narrator is a disillusioned modern writer who answers a personal ad ("Teacher seeks pupil. . . . Apply in person.") and thereby meets a wise, learned gorilla named Ishmael that can communicate telepathically. The bulk of the book consists entirely of philosophical dialogues between gorilla and man, on the model of Plato's Republic. Through Ishmael, Quinn offers a wide-ranging if highly general examination of the history of our civilization, illuminating the assumptions and philosophies at the heart of many global problems. Despite some gross oversimplifications, Quinn's ideas are fairly convincing; it's hard not to agree that unrestrained population growth and an obsession with conquest and control of the environment are among the key issues of our times. Quinn also traces these problems back to the agricultural revolution and offers a provocative rereading of the biblical stories of Genesis. Though hardly any plot to speak of lies behind this long dialogue, Quinn's smooth style and his intriguing proposals should hold the attention of readers interested in the daunting dilemmas that beset our planet. 50,000 first printing; major ad/promo.

In his published a list of demands, Lee wrote:

"The Discovery Channel and it's affiliate channels MUST have daily television programs at prime time slots based on Daniel Quinn's "My Ishmael" pages 207-212 where solutions to save the planet would be done in the same way as the Industrial Revolution was done, by people building on each other's inventive ideas. Focus must be given on how people can live WITHOUT giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution. A game show format contest would be in order. Perhaps also forums of leading scientists who understand and agree with the Malthus-Darwin science and the problem of human overpopulation. Do both. Do all until something WORKS and the natural world starts improving and human civilization building STOPS and is reversed! MAKE IT INTERESTING SO PEOPLE WATCH AND APPLY SOLUTION."

Lee took some of the themes in Quinn's works to a fatal extreme.

In an interview Thursday with the Washington Post, Quinn, 75, said the Lee exaggerated what he has written. "I've seen many people take off in odd directions from things they've seen in my books, but nothing so catastrophic as someone arming himself with bombs and guns. . . . I know this will have a big effect on my books themselves. Sales might zoom up, but that doesn't mean approval of it will zoom up. It might zoom down," Quinn said.

In the video below, from 1998 with Alan D. Thornhill, Ph.D., Quinn discusses population issues and how he was surprised at how inflammatory the subject became as a result of his Ishmael series. "Human's lived in the way that worked once upon a time," Quinn said. He advises that populations should be based on the availability of more local resources. He explained mechanisms for population growth rates, such as "when a species food is dropping the individual members don't have us much time for mating as when there was plenty of food....the females of species will not tend to carry young to term as much as when there was plenty of food or have offspring live through the first year."


In a July 2007 interview, EcoGeek asked Quinn, "It does seem we are headed for certain disaster if we keep living the way we do now. What gives you hope for the future?"

Quinn responded:

Only the prospect of worldwide mind-change gives me hope for the future. It has happened before, in the Renaissance. It happened in the Soviet Union, bringing about its collapse. It can happen again, and it must -- or indeed we are doomed. What gives me hope is the fact that the curve of awareness as measured by the number of books published and read on the subject has risen steadily. I (and a relatively small number of others) have AS YET been unable to shake the commonly held Malthusian vision of the relation between population growth and food production. So it continues to be seen that it is completely inevitable that our population must continue to grow to 8 billion, 10 billion, 12 billion. If this happens, I'm afraid I see no hope for our species. The world's biologists now concur that we have entered a period of mass extinction as great as any such period of the past. Sustaining 6.5 billion of us costs the world as many as 75, 100, or 200 species a day (the United Nations recently offered the lowest of these estimates). Eventually, the ecological structures that sustain human life will collapse if this continues. This disastrous trend (which will grow worse as our population grows) is reversible; but only if people in general come to understand that it MUST be reversed, for the sake of our own survival.

  • Dan Farber On Twitter»

    Dan has more than 20 years of journalism experience. He has served as editor in chief of CBSNews.com, CNET News, ZDNet, PC Week, and MacWeek.

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