Loren Corey Eiseley
) was a highly respected anthropologist
, science writer, ecologist
. He published books of essays
and general science
in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Eiseley is best known for the poetic essay style, called the "concealed essay". He used this to explain complex scientific ideas, such as human evolution, to the general public.
He is also known for his writings about humanity's relationship with the natural world. These helped inspire the environmental movement. Among his books are The Immense Journey (1957), Darwin's Century (1958), The Unexpected Universe (1969), The Night Country (1971), and the memoir All the Strange Hours (1975).
Born in Lincoln, Nebraska
, Eiseley lived a hard childhood with a distant father and deaf mother who suffered from possible mental illness
. After his father's death, he dropped out of high school and worked various jobs before enrolling in the University of Nebraska
Diagnosed with tuberculosis
in 1933, Eiseley left the university and moved to the western United States desert
, believing the air would improve his condition. However, he was restless and unhappy and eventually began hoboing around the country, riding freight trains (as many others did during the Great Depression
). Eiseley later described these travels in All the Strange Hours
, which many critics consider to be his masterpiece.
Eiseley eventually returned to the University of Nebraska and received his Bachelor of Science in English and Geology/Anthropology. There he served as editor of the literary magazine "The Prairie Schooner," publishing poetry and short stories. Undergraduate expeditions to western Nebraska and the southwest to hunt for fossils and human artifacts provide the inspiration for much of his very early work. He later noted that he came to anthropology from paleontology, hence his apprehension in disturbing human burial sites unless destruction threatened.
He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1937 and began teaching at the University of Kansas that same year. During World War II, Eiseley taught anatomy to reservist pre-med students at Kansas.
In 1944 he left the University of Kansas to assume the role of head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Oberlin College in Ohio.
In 1947 he returned to Pennsylvania as head of the Anthropology Department. He was elected president of the American Institute of Human Paleontology in 1949. From 1959 to 1961, he was provost at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1961 the University of Pennsylvania created a special interdisciplinary chairmanship for him. In the same year he accepted a fellowship at Stanford University in California in the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. After a year at Stanford, he returned to his chairmanship in Pennsylvania, later named the Benjamin Franklin Professorship.
By the time of his death, Eiseley had received thirty-six honorary degrees over a period of twenty years, and was the most honored member of the University of Pennsylvania since Benjamin Franklin.
In addition to his scientific and academic work, in the mid 1940s Eiseley began to publish the essays which brought him to the attention of a wider audience. His first book, The Immense Journey
, a collection of writings about the history of humanity, was published in 1957, and was the rare science book to appeal to a mass audience. His book Darwin’s Century
won the Phi Beta Kappa prize for best book in science
The hallmark of Eiseley's writing was to combine scientific explorations with a deep sense of humanism and poetry. Instead of simply seeing the world as a set of scientific facts and figures, Eiseley used science to look for the deeper meaning of life, even while freely admitting that science could not answer all of the mysteries of existence. This led to Eiseley's recasting of the term magician from the merely metaphysical to that of the creative Muse.
In Eiseley's book, Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X: New Light on the Evolutionists, he describes Darwin as a credit thief, not giving full due to a progressive creationist, Edward Blyth, or fellow evolutionist, Alfred Russel Wallace, for their contributions to the theory of natural selection.
Death and burial
Loren Eiseley died on July 9, 1977, and was buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. Eiseley's wife, Mabel Langdon Eiseley, died on July 27, 1986, and is buried next to him, in the Westlawn section of the cemetery, in Lot 366. The inscription on their headstone reads, "We loved the earth but could not stay", which is a line from his poem The Little Treasures.
A library in the Lincoln City Libraries public library system is named after Eiseley.
Loren Eiseley was awarded the Distinguished Nebraskan Award and inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame. A bust of his likeness resides in the Nebraska State Capitol.
Scientific essays and books on the history of science
- Charles Darwin, (1956, W.H. Freeman)
- The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature (1957, Vintage Books, Random House ISBN 0-394-70157-7 Reissued 2006 ). The first and most widely read collection of Eiseley's essays, with a million copies in print, containing some of his most beloved essays, including "The Slit," "The Flow of the River," and "How Flowers Changed the World."
- Darwin's Century (1958, Doubleday). Focuses on the development of the theory of evolution. Awarded the Phi Beta Kappa Science prize in 1959.
- The Firmament of Time (1960, Atheneum, University of Nebraska Press reissue 1999: ISBN 0-8032-6739-8). Awarded the 1961 John Burroughs Medal for the best publication in the field of Nature Writing
- Frances Bacon and the Modern Dilemma (1961, Scribner, 1972 revised edition pub. as The Man Who Saw Through Time: ISBN 0-684-13285-0, Peter Smith Publications 1983 reprint: ISBN 0-8446-5979-7)
- The Mind as Nature (1962, Harper and Row)
- Man, Time, and Prophecy, (1966, Harcourt, Brace & World)
- The Unexpected Universe (1969, Harcourt, Brace and World ISBN 0-15-692850-7)
- The Invisible Pyramid: A Naturalist Analyses the Rocket Century (1971, Devin-Adair Pub: ISBN 0-8159-5831-5, Scribner 1985 paperback: ISBN 0-684-12732-6, Reissued by Nebraska Press, 1998 ISBN 0-8032-6738-X)
- The Night Country: Reflections of a Bone-Hunting Man (1971, Scribner: ISBN 0684125684 , paperback: ISBN 0803267355 , Reissued by Nebraska Press, 1997: ISBN 0-8032-6735-5)
- Another Kind of Autumn (1977, Scribner ISBN 0-684-15138-3, Encore Editions: ISBN 0-684-16352-7)
- The Star Thrower (1978, Times Books (Random House) hardcover: ISBN 0-8129-0746-9, 1979 Harvest/HBJ paperback: ISBN 0-15-684909-7, Sagebrush library/school binding: ISBN 1-4176-1867-1); introduction by W. H. Auden The essay, "The Star Thrower" inspired the popular story of the compassionate man returning stranded starfish to the sea and made a difference. Also contains "The Fire Ape," the essay that caused science fiction writer Ray Bradbury to "fall in love with" the writings of Loren Eiseley.
- Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X: New Light on the Evolutionists (1979, E.P. Dutton, Harvest HBJ 1981: ISBN 0-15-623949-3)
- The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley, Kenneth Heuer editor, (1987, Little Brown & Co: ISBN 0-316-35921-1, 1991 paperback: ISBN 0-316-35923-8, 2002, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-6747-9) Includes letters from W. H. Auden and Ray Bradbury
- How Flowers Changed the World, photographs by Gerald Ackerman. (1996, Random House: ISBN 0-87156-889-6) The essay from The Immense Journey is accompanied by photographs of flowers.
- All The Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life (1975, Scribner, University of Nebraska Press 2000 reissue: ISBN 0-8032-6741-X).
- Notes of an Alchemist (1972, Scribner, McMillan 1978 reissue: ISBN 0-684-13693-7).
- The Innocent Assassins (1973, Scribner ISBN 0-684-13525-6).
- All The Night Wings (1978, Times Books ISBN 0-8129-0838-4).
- Angyal, Andrew J., Loren Eiseley (Boston, MA : G. K. Hall & Co., 1983). ISBN 0-8057-7381-9
- Christianson, Gale E., Fox at the Wood's Edge: A Biography of Loren Eiseley. H.Holt Brown, 1990, University of Nebraska Press 2000 reissue: ISBN 0-8032-6410-0
- Eiseley, Loren, All The Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life. Scribner, 1975.
- Eiseley, Loren and Kenneth Heuer, Ed., The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley. Little, Brown, 1987.
- Gerber, Leslie E. and Margaret McFadden, Loren Eiseley (New York : Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983). ISBN 0-8044-5424-8