A Language Older Than Words


At once a beautifully poetic memoir and an exploration of the various ways we live in the world, A Language Older than Words explains violence as a pathology that touches every aspect of our lives, and indeed affects all aspects of life on earth. This chronicle of a young man’s drive to transcend domestic abuse offers a challenging look at our worldwide sense of community, and how we can make things better.

This narrative moves elegantly between the microcosm of the author’s dysfunctional family and the macrocosm of History. Readers are initiated into the stifling world of child and spousal abuse, and then beyond, where Jensen finds the same dynamics tricked out on the grand stage of Western civilization. The prose is as lyrical and cogent as it is convincing.

Jensen’s vast experiences as an environmentalist, high-jumper, student, teacher, beekeeper, and most importantly, as a human being give rise to the wealth of examples and anecdotes that further illustrate this cry for community. The masterful intertwining of all these elements elevates A Language Older than Words above and beyond an engrossing book, giving readers what might even be described as a curative outlook on life.


“Singular, compelling and courageously honest, this book is more than just a poignant memoir of a harrowingly abusive childhood. It relates the extraordinary journey of one man striving to save his own spirit and our planet’s…His visceral, biting observations always manage to lead back to his mantra: “Things don’t have to be the way they are.” Jensen’s book accomplishes the rare feat of both breaking and mending the reader’s heart.”
Publishers Weekly

“When you daily look into the blackened eyes and broken spirits of women who’ve been beaten by men who “love” them, every fiber in your being screams out, “How could this happen, who could do this, what will it take to stop it?” Derrick Jensen masterfully weaves together ancient wisdom, curiosity, the innocence and courage of a child to profoundly answer these questions. If you’re not moved to tears and action, wake up and read it again.”
Charlotte A. Watson, Executive Director of My Sisters’ Place, Inc.

A Language Older Than Words is what Franz Kafka said a book should be―an ax for the frozen sea within us. The reader should be advised that this is both high praise and sincere warning: ‘Dangerous reading here. Proceed at your own risk.'”
Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael and Beyond Civilization

Show more praise

“Among the ambiguities of our time, this memoir stands out for its honesty and purpose…a map to personal healing through the larger historical, economic, cosmological—and mostly mysterious—processes that are source and balm for our traumas…this book shows that when we are fully engage with the world around us, the universe is our greatest ally.”
Luis Rodriguez, author of Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A

“If any book can help us break free of this culture of denial, this is it. Stunningly original, grippingly personal, this book will shock you to your core while at the same time quickening your deepest yearnings for reconnection with Earth and all its creatures. Jensen has achieved the impossible: a book that is simultaneously horrifying and uplifting, terrifying and beautiful. I could not put it down. Passages from this book will stay with me forever.”
Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet

“A brilliant and disturbing investigation of human nature that becomes an inspiring guide to self-discovery, personal salvation, and the survival of humanity. Language is a wake-up call to embrace life, beauty, and truth. The wisdom in this book will change you forever.”
Michael W. Fox, author, nationally syndicated columnist, veterinarian

“Derrick Jensen connects all the right dots to present compelling portraits, not simply of what is wrong with America, but how we might set about fixing it. Language is must reading for anyone in the least concerned about the nature of our common future.”
Ward Churchill, author, educator, and activist

“The primordial language of the universe is the language expressed in the night sky, in the dawn and the sunset, in the flight of the eagle; it resonates in the song of the meadowlark, in the fragile bloom of the orchid…the mountains, the valleys and the rivers…and this book.”
Father Thomas Berry, author of The Dream of the Earth

Contents and Excerpts


October 2011, by Richard Reese
June 2008, by Alan Orth
March 2007, by Ruby Sara
2006, by Georg Feuerstein
2003, from Do or Die Issue 10
2001, by K.N.S. Maré
Fall 2000, by Rone Shavers
January 2000, from Publishers Weekly