20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Loren Eiseley remains one of the most articulate of Twentieth Century naturalists, who approaches anthropology from the perspective that human beings belong to nature and approaches evolutionary and other natural sciences from the perspective of a humanist. He aims to bring to life the way of thinking according to which everything is natural, without diminishing the sense of wonder at nature and humanity that would result from a crass materialism. This book, in my humble view, is one of his best and was the most profound for me. It gave me the tools and the words to consider events on a different time scale than the one we normally associate with history. He suggests for example, that you consider a slow sequence of water droplets, continued and magnified over centuries, and get a sense for the wonder and force of time. What was a trickle is now a flood, and the process of erosion and geological transformation can come to life in your mind's eye. It is this kind of imagination, that can grasp the firmament of time on an other than merely human historical scale, that is required to really come to grips with anything like the general process of evolution. We begin to see, not sudden and chance emergence of freaks, but dynamic reproductive flows, channelled by selective pressures, gradually altering the ecotopology. I don't believe I could have written that sentence had I never read Loren Eiseley -- but of course I can't claim to approximate in any of these sentences the marvelous economy with which Mr. Eiseley wields his pen.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Loren Eiseley is a man of great thoughts and words and here is at his best considering the passage of time, the evolution of life and development of man's perspective and insight on life and time. There were several passages in the book that I found so impressive that I subjected my wife and son to my out loud reading. The essay on the hall of the crustaceans is one of the best examples of how Eiseley turns his powers of observation and knowledge of natural history into a perspective of time and evolution that helps you feel and understand the eons of struggle for survival.
In this book Eiseley discusses the history and development of thought on evolution from the middle ages to the atomic era bringing all the names you remember from Biology 101 to life better than any textbook. This book was written in 1960 but the words seem contemporary and presceint.
Loren Eiseley is one of the only authors that can journey by horse across a mountain and carry you with his thoughts through eternity. I highly recommend this book, a short but powerful and stimulating read.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This work is a profound retelling of Mankind's changed understanding not only of the natural world, but of the nature of human nature. Eiseley in his poetic and contemplative prose traces Modern Science's transformation of the picture of Nature Mankind long held. This relates not simply to extending the time- frame of cosmic and terrestial happening, but to rereading the very nature of human nature. But Eiseley does not simply describe the movement from a static world- view of permanent unchangeable species to an evolutionary one of emerging Life, he makes a penentrating critique or certain aspects of Scientific Culture upon human life and Nature itself. And while doing he insists on our holding open an understanding of the Nature which may yet emerge, and the mystery which remains within and perhaps beyond the Universe despite all our progress in understanding.
This is a profound poetic meditation on Nature and Human Nature, and one which however strongly based in fact leaves us with a feeling of question and wonder at what we are and will become.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2010
This is not your typical history of organic evolution. Eiseley ruminates on the philosophical character and consequences of the various theories that lead to and culminated in evolution. Moreover he does not take an academic, historical approach; rather he uses a poetic one: he employs metaphors, imagery, allusions, and other tools more typical of a poem.
The first four chapters detail how each of the world, death, life, and man became natural. In other words, how each became governed according to universal laws, gleaned by reason, without the intervention of a Divine Maker in earthly matters. "God, who had set the clocks ticking, was now an anomaly in his own universe." (p. 15). James Hutton's historical geology, Charles Lyell's mass historical extinctions, Darwin's evolutionism as applied to non-human species, and finally evolution as applied to humans - each find their poetic explication in these first four chapters.
In Chapter Five, he discusses the consequences of making man natural on his psyche: "How Human is Man". "Man did something which at the same time revealed his continued need of the stability which had preserved his ancestors. Scarcely had he stepped across the border of the old instinctive world when he began to create the world of custom" (p. 124). Man, by using his newfound capacity of reason, created a new unnatural world, one outside his old instinctive nature. But reason created a short-lived security as it developed and is always developing new tools, for either beneficence or destruction, which threaten man's future. These tools do not have an end; they are means which presume a worthwhile purpose will be found. Now, always gazing outwards at these new tools, man has forgotten about his history and himself: he is on the verge of not being to be human (p. 135). Eiseley has grasped the paradox that by making man natural, by separating him from other men and the infinite, he has threatened his own humanity.
Admittedly I found the last chapter to be difficult to understand and appreciate: I had to read it several times before it sank in. Here Eiseley fully engages in a poetic-philosophic narrative to discuss time and evolution. The gist is that man now can create the natural as he quotes Pascal: "'There is nothing which we cannot make natural ... there is nothing natural which we cannot destroy," (p. 159). Like the physicist who was afraid to fall through the vast molecular spaces (p. 153), man can generate his own view of what the world is, one that affects how he thinks and behaves to the point that what is natural is questioned. Ultimately, therefore, man should look inside himself rather than comb the depths of space, beyond the planets or between molecules.
If you'd like to approach evolution from a different angle, this is it.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2011
The way Eiseley opens his second chapter, "How Death Became Natural," is precisely the way I have been preparing my audiences to listen openly to an evolutionary view of the necessity, indeed sacredness, of death. Eiseley begins:
"It is necessary in surveying the human quest for certainty to consider death before life. Man, even primitive man, has tended to take life for granted. Death was the unnatural thing, the result of malice or mistake, the after-thought of the gods, or, in the Christian world, the result of the Fall from the Garden. . . In the development of a scientific approach to life on this planet, therefore, the recognition of death -- species death, phylogenetic death -- had to precede the rise of serious evolutionary thought. For without the knowledge of extinction in the past, it is impossible to entertain ideas of drastic organic change going on in the present or future."
Savor perhaps the greatest essayist of the 20th Century, and in doing so witness the delicate beauty that resides at the heart of an evolutionary view of the universe, once one has explored with courage the darkest corridors that modern science has excavated.
Note: This review was written by science writer Connie Barlow (wife of Michael Dowd). Her talk on an evolutionary celebration of death is titled "Death Through Deep-Time Eyes."
on December 3, 2014
Another wonderful book by Eiseley! This should be required reading in every high school science course in the country. Throughout history, our vision has been narrowed due to the constriction of our tiny individual lifespan - 50 to 100 years at best. So we tend to see grandiose (often religious) motivations behind everything we observe in that tiny time-slice.
But Nature is ever so slow, counting out the beat of time in eons, building the world in ways that are - though majestic - far simpler to understand. Here, the brilliant Eiseley poetically traces the path science has taken to lead us to our understanding of the ages that glaciers know.
on August 2, 2015
Reviewer Day says, "This should be required reading in every high school science course in the country." I couldn't agree more. I picked this up on a recent vacation and was glued to it. Once home I had to buy just about everything Eiseley published. This book is relatively short, and you don't have to be a scientist to understand it; you only have to be a curious human to appreciate it. Keep in mind that before Eiseley became an anthropologist and professor, he wrote poetry and rode the rails with the hobos as a young man. A bit of Thoreau, Carl Sagan, and Ray Bradbury mixed together. Everyone should read this book!
on May 13, 2015
I received my book way before the due date. I am replacing my paperbacks of this author so it was very nice to find a hardback that was not a rip off. It was received just as described on the JSL website. Thank you JSL Books.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2007
Loren Eiseley is an imaginative writer and developes a reader's interest in his strange life. Eiseley explains his fascination with nature, which began as soon as he could crawl, and this interest was not really supported by anything in his environment. HIs parent's relationship is presented as the boy experienced it, and one feels sympathy for his father, whom Eiseley suggests stayed with his insane wife because of his son. HIs tangled relationship with his mother receives attention at the beginning and end of the book, when she died. It is as if Eisiley himself hasn't digested her impact upon him, which he minimalized as much as he could. For whatever reasons, he became a writer who had to explain interesting things, who thought interesting things, and, yet, was very lonely. It was a lonely life, beautiful though.
2 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 1999
roger welsch has nothing to do with this book! it is not entertainment nor humor! what's going on?