I can’t remember exactly when I read Ishmael, but that was my first introduction to Daniel Quinn and his writing style. Because I enjoyed that book so much, someone recommended that I read his follow-up novel, The Story of B. So, I bought the book, but it sat on my shelf (or I carried it around on my trips without ever opening it) for a couple years.
Finally, as I was down to the last book I brought with me to Costa Rica, it was time to open The Story of B and find out what the fuss is all about. What I found is that, indeed, there is certainly something to fuss over. Anyone searching for meaning in our world and the human experience can benefit from Quinn’s work.
This review will provide a brief overview of the plot before diving into my main takeaways. It is, by no means, a complete summary. If you want to absorb all the knowledge that Quinn imparts in its pages, you’ll just have to read The Story of B for yourself.
The plot of the book centers on Father Jared Osborne. Father Osborne is a middle-aged priest who, in the book’s opening pages, is summoned to the office of Father Lulfre, his “higher-up”. Lulfre tells Osborne that he has a special mission for him. He says that rumors are coming out of Europe about the appearance of the Antichrist.
While other denominations have long forgotten their duty to keep a watchful eye for the arrival of the Antichrist, Father Lulfre explains that the Laurentians have maintained their vigilance in this mission. He tasks Osborne to travel to Europe to investigate whether the rumors are true and, if so, whether this figure is actually as dangerous as people are saying.
The Story of B tracks Osborne through his discovery of this Antichrist, whose followers call him B. It chronicles the unlikely relationship that develops between Osborne and B as the former tries to understand the message the latter is spreading. All the while, B is working to help Osborne understand the follies of his worldview and attempting to impart upon him a new vision of how man is meant to exist on Earth.
B’s Definition of ‘The Antichrist’
Early religious authors suggested the existence of a figure diametrically opposed to everything that Christ stood for. In some texts, it is written that the arrival of the Messiah would be followed shortly thereafter by the arrival of the Antichrist and that the battle that ensued would lead to the ultimate vanquishing of evil. This would, in those texts, place a nice tidy bow on the timeline of history. Everything would be “done” after that.
Other set forth the idea that, because the Messiah (Jesus) had already arrived, the next ‘arrival’ would be that of the Antichrist, whose mission would be to lead all humanity to sin. In this story, the Antichrist would become nearly as beloved as Jesus himself, before the ultimate battle that vanquishes evil, sees God triumph, and, again, puts a nice, neat bow on the timeline of history.
In The Story of B, Quinn takes things a step further and says that “The Antichrist isn’t just the antithesis of Jesus, he’s equally the antithesis of Buddha, of Elijah, of Moses, of Muhammad, of Nanak, of Joseph Smith, of Maharaj Ji–of all saviors and purveyors of salvation in the world. He is in fact the Antisavior.”
Who is B?
B is Charles Atterley. B is Shirin. B is…YOU! I know it might sound confusing, but I’m going to leave it right there. If you’re dying to know what I mean, you’re just going to have to read it for yourself.
A Journey Through History
My favorite part of this book was that it took the reader back (farther back than you may have ever considered) to understand why we live the way we live today and to impart the lesson that our way of life isn’t the only way. This journey through history also shows us that there is much less separating East and West as some of us (myself included before reading) might imagine.
This journey will take you back far more than 10,000 years. It will take you back before our Agricultural Revolution. It will take you back before war and famine and poverty and so many other ailments existed among the human species. It will show you how quickly our population has exploded in the last 10,000 years, and how relatively slowly our population was increasing before that.
It will help you understand the intricacies of why the tribal system was so successful for the human species for so many years. It will take you back to offer insights on why the Egyptians, Mayans, and Aztecs all built pyramids. What it won’t do is to give you all the answers, but it will make you ask questions and consider how you’ve been looking at the world around you.
B’s Major Lesson
There are many, many lessons that lie within the pages of this book. There are thoughts on religion, politics, social systems, sustainability, and so much more. But the most important lesson comes in the form of making us re-imagine our place in the world and, indeed, in the community of life. Our human history extends much further back than the first tribes that organized into farms and villages to test a new agricultural system. That system has given us the ability to create great food surpluses, but it has also created opportunities for devastating famine.
For me, B’s lesson was a reaffirmation of an idea that has dwelt in my subconscious for some time now. We are part of the community of life, rather than rulers of that community. We are subject to the laws of ecology just as is every other species alive on this Earth. For all of our advanced intelligence and technology, we can not escape our biological origins. We come from this Earth, our ancestors knew how to live on this earth without destroying it, and we are capable of remembering how to do so as well.
Learn The Story of B!
While I hope you’ve enjoyed this summary of my most important takeaways from Daniel Quinn’s The Story of B, I want to stress that there is really no substitute for sitting down and the digesting the entire book on your time. If you do choose to purchase The Story of B after reading this review, I’d love to know how the book speaks to you!
Also, I’d love to hear what other types of books or authors you’d like to see reviewed on this site. I’m always looking for new opportunities to read and review. My only regret is that my reading list tends to grow much faster than I’m able to check items off of it, so if you do leave me a suggestion, I appreciate your patience as I dive into the many books on my shelves!
Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!