Book Review: The Holy by Daniel Quinn

It’s like Charles de Lint meets Ishmael. I love it

Howard is a private investigator in Chicago. He’s practical, pragmatic, Jewish, so normal it’s painful. Some rich Jewish guy pays him a bunch of money to investigate a question he has: after Yahweh saved the Jews, they adopted Pagan gods and worshiped them for hundreds of years before they were practically forced to return to their jealous God. Why? What was so attractive about those gods, when Yahweh had just saved them? And where were those gods today?

At the same time, a few hours south of Chicago, a man is tired of being a sheeple.. He can’t stand it anymore, so he says goodbye to his wife, quits his job, and apologizes to his son. Then he drives away.

Soon Howard is investigating all sorts of mysticism, our recovering sheople is picking up hitchhiking gods and getting lost in the hills, and his son is lost in Chicago. Throughout the book, an overriding theme is independence: being true to yourself, your personal mythology, and choosing your destiny. All of these people grapple with the destinies they’re offered and the ones they can make, coming together and apart, trying to choose happiness in the face of mystery.

In the end we learn that these are gods of place. Animist gods, if you will. They take the forms offered them by those who imagine them, playing trickster, lover, and adversary. Now, however, the world is on the brink of death, and they are calling on people to stop the destruction. Some die, some lose their minds, some choose the mundane, and one chooses to follow the gods.

(I know I’ve been on kind of a Daniel Quinn spree lately… but there’s a reason! Read this stuff!)


  1. I was surprised by how much I liked The Holy. Quinn tells a great story. Of course I loved Ishmael, My Ishmael and Story of B, but my favorite Quinn is After Dachau.

  2. You haven’t steered me wrong book-wise yet, which means I have entirely too many new books I have to read. This could take awhile….

  3. T,

    Have you read “Beyond Civilization”? One of Quinn’s theses is that a person needs to identify/create/join a tribe of individuals united by common work. He uses the circus as the prime image of such tribes.

    Do you have any thoughts on moving toward this form of association, either personally or conceptually? And how do you see these tribes manifesting themselves, speaking as a nomad in a society that increasingly needs a culture of loved and cared-for places?

    Thanks for your thoughts and work.

    Best wishes,


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