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The Night Country: A Library of America eBook Classic

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Weaving together memoir, philosophical reflection, and his always keen observations of the natural world, Loren Eiseley’s essays in The Night Country explore those moments, often dark and unexpected, when chance encounters disturb our ordinary understandings of the universe. The naturalist here seeks neither “salvation in facts” nor solace in wild places: discovering an ol Weaving together memoir, philosophical reflection, and his always keen observations of the natural world, Loren Eiseley’s essays in The Night Country explore those moments, often dark and unexpected, when chance encounters disturb our ordinary understandings of the universe. The naturalist here seeks neither “salvation in facts” nor solace in wild places: discovering an old bone or a nest of wasps, or remembering the haunted spaces of his lonely Nebraska childhood, Eiseley recognizes what he calls “the ghostliness of myself,” his own mortality, and the paradoxes of the evolution of consciousness.


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Weaving together memoir, philosophical reflection, and his always keen observations of the natural world, Loren Eiseley’s essays in The Night Country explore those moments, often dark and unexpected, when chance encounters disturb our ordinary understandings of the universe. The naturalist here seeks neither “salvation in facts” nor solace in wild places: discovering an ol Weaving together memoir, philosophical reflection, and his always keen observations of the natural world, Loren Eiseley’s essays in The Night Country explore those moments, often dark and unexpected, when chance encounters disturb our ordinary understandings of the universe. The naturalist here seeks neither “salvation in facts” nor solace in wild places: discovering an old bone or a nest of wasps, or remembering the haunted spaces of his lonely Nebraska childhood, Eiseley recognizes what he calls “the ghostliness of myself,” his own mortality, and the paradoxes of the evolution of consciousness.

30 review for The Night Country: A Library of America eBook Classic

  1. 5 out of 5

    Yael

    Loren Eiseley is where I go to find peace. It may be a tenebrous peace, in the crepuscular dimming of the world just after sunset, but it is always peace. And his The Night Country is one of the refuges from the human-haunted world I prefer above all. In one of the essays collected herein, Eiseley describes himself as "a little bone man," i.e., an archaeological and paleontological scientist who never managed to find a treasure-trove of fossils of the sort that would have made him famous and rich Loren Eiseley is where I go to find peace. It may be a tenebrous peace, in the crepuscular dimming of the world just after sunset, but it is always peace. And his The Night Country is one of the refuges from the human-haunted world I prefer above all. In one of the essays collected herein, Eiseley describes himself as "a little bone man," i.e., an archaeological and paleontological scientist who never managed to find a treasure-trove of fossils of the sort that would have made him famous and rich forever, such as are found by "big bone men." But that's not true. As Eiseley says, today science neglects the spiritual in its chase after the objective, which is a serious mistake. Our cultural heritage and inner life contribute at least as much to what we are as do our genes, gives shape to us at least as much as our bodies do. Eiseley, a careful searcher after hidden truths in human artifacts and literature, uncovers fossils of enormous importance to an understanding of ourselves in the collective unconscious and in our relationship with nature, such as it is. His books present his collections of such fossils and his analysis of the spiritual and psychological meaning they have for us. But these essays are also concerned with our relationship to the rest of the living world, and the increasingly rapid impoverishment of our lives as we usurp more and more of our living world in our frantic need to exploit it all to feed, clothe, and house our teeming billions. Someday, the works of Eiseley and those like him may be the only means by which our descendants can know the wealth of life that once graced the Earth, and the ways in which their ancestors fit into and were part of that life. Eiseley is not science's enemy -- indeed, he calls himself a scientist, which he is, without evident irony or shame. But he points out that neither should science be the enemy of the arts and other humanistic pursuits. For science cannot by itself fathom or give meaning to the deepest and most powerful aspects of our nature; it can tells us something of whither we have come, but never with any surety where we are bound. Its quarrel with religion -- like religion's quarrel with it -- is based on a dangerous error of perception concerning the nature of truth and the needs of humanity. Eiseley recalls us to our True Selves: the Selves that laugh and weep, gaze in awe on the Cosmos, love and hate, lust and flee in repulsion. That is where we live; that is where our truest nature is. And it is only out of that nature that we can appreciate the very real gifts the sciences have to give us -- without that nature, science itself becomes devoid of meaning and value. This is a book for insomniacs haunted by the night, who need to give shape and meaning to their suffering. Eiseley, an insomniac himself, who wrote most of his best-loved essays in the middle of the night during bouts of insomnia, provides a cogent and often-tender remedy for that suffering.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    Reading this book was like having a conversation with an extremely intelligent man. You get most of what he's telling you, knowing that some of it is over your head, but listening anyway because it's so beautifully stated. You don't want to interrupt with your own opinions on the subject because you recognize that you may be in the presence of a special intellect who may inadvertently hand you the secrets of the universe. Being in this man's head for the time it took me to read this book was qui Reading this book was like having a conversation with an extremely intelligent man. You get most of what he's telling you, knowing that some of it is over your head, but listening anyway because it's so beautifully stated. You don't want to interrupt with your own opinions on the subject because you recognize that you may be in the presence of a special intellect who may inadvertently hand you the secrets of the universe. Being in this man's head for the time it took me to read this book was quite an experience. It's not everyday that the world produces a scientist who is also a philosopher and an incredible writer. And, oh yeah, this book filled me with peace.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    No civilization professes openly to be unable to declare its destination. In an age like our own, however, there comes a time when individuals in increasing numbers unconsciously seek direction and taste despair. It is then that dead men give back answers and the sense of confusion grows. Soothsayers, like flies, multiply in periods of social chaos. Moreover, let us not confuse ourselves with archaic words. In an age of science the scientist may emerge as a soothsayer. I'm fortunate enough to liv No civilization professes openly to be unable to declare its destination. In an age like our own, however, there comes a time when individuals in increasing numbers unconsciously seek direction and taste despair. It is then that dead men give back answers and the sense of confusion grows. Soothsayers, like flies, multiply in periods of social chaos. Moreover, let us not confuse ourselves with archaic words. In an age of science the scientist may emerge as a soothsayer. I'm fortunate enough to live near several outlets in which, thanks to the proximity of a large university, a great number of course texts and academic books accumulate, allowing me to peruse them and purchase a few which then find their way into my possession for a time. Night Country was tucked away in a dusty block of heavily outlined and dog-eared books of poetry; much of Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, 'Best of' and highlight collections, along with a smattering of local authors, and obscure modernist poets. It has been several years since I picked it up. I had no expectations in approaching The Night Country this year, other than to complete it after having seen its spine gazing at me for far too long. Truthfully, I didn't quite know what to expect. Having flipped through a few of the pages before purchasing, I hoped to enjoy the writing and wanderings of his mind as he explored his childhood and history as an anthropologist. The experience of reading was just that, and turned out to be a very enjoyable philosophical examination of his perspectives on science, the progression of accumulation of data, and the regression of our wonder of the world. While written by a man who spent a great deal of his life searching the dust, dirt, and rocks of the Earth in search of humanity’s history, this is far from a science-jargon laced series of essays on the evolutionary process, or the origins of man. It is, however, an eloquent and emotionally charged collection of thoughts set down in beautifully presented and thoughtful manner. Each of the essays has a current of prose that carries Eiseley’s memories and speculations along on a descriptive torrent of awe and imagination of the sheer glory that lies before us in nature, and of man’s place in it. He covers the influencing factors that made him a traveler of the ‘Night Country’, both as the mapping of his mind when insomnia sets in and he’s only able to navigate by pen, and as someone who searches the dark parts of the world for the bones of the past. Eiseley found a certain satisfying solitude in the recesses where light held back its revealing power, allowing him to explore further into its subterranean landscape discovering more about humanity’s past as well as his own. I met nothing living now except small twisted pines. Boulders swelled up from the turf like huge white puff balls, and there was a flash of lightning off to the south that lit for one blue, glistening instant a hundred miles of churning, shifting, landscape. I have thought since that each stone, each tree, each ravine and crevice echoing and re-echoing with thunder tells us more at such an instant than any daytime vision of the road we travel. The flash hangs like an immortal magnification in the brain, and suddenly you know the kind of country you pass over, and the powers abroad in it. His prose really is exquisite, leaving you with wondrous imagery heightened by the minimalist black and white illustrations of Gale Christianson. It’s utterly refreshing to read the viewpoint of a man who wishes to express scientific examination through the medium of story and art. Eiseley, himself, expressed his distaste for those who lose their awe and appreciation of our universe, instead turning it into nothing more than raw data and numbers to be examined, manipulated, and seized upon for human consumption and progression. He expresses how the gradual seeping of certainty and exactness inherent in the modern scientific approach has overtaken other aspects of our lives gradually eating away at our own inherent awe our place in the universe. If we banish this act of contemplation and contrition from our midst, then even now we are dead men and the future dead with us. For the endurable future is a product not solely of the experimental method, or of outward knowledge alone. It is born of compassion. It is born of inward seeing. The unknown one called it simply “All,” and he added that it was not in a bodily manner to be wrought. This is as close to anything I’ve read of a master at work, presenting his personal misgivings and longings born of the loss of man’s majesty for the unexplained and the scope of life itself. There is something of Thoreau present here, the naturalist prose writer expounding on the philosophical flaws of man when faced with the might of nature. He shares many stories and experiences he’s had: discoveries he’s made; those he could have made but did not have the courage to; colleagues that found his approach unfitting for a man of his education and station; and the many unique people he’s encountered as a working anthropologist. There is a cruelty and fallibility to science that he could never quite come to grow comfortable with; to exchange the unexpected marvel of life with the lifeless extraction of its parts was to give rise to an entity that sought to steal the wonder from his pursuit, and one that he knew many of his colleagues and fellows missed by working as its catalyst. Not only did they miss it in the data, they ignored it as it applied to the modern day; an ignored mortality in pursuit of an immortality the bones could never grant them. I have said that the ruins of every civilization are the marks of men trying to express themselves, to leave an impression upon the earth. We in the modern world have turned more stones, listened to more buried voices, than any culture before us. There should be a kind of pity that comes with time, when one grows truly conscious and looks behind as well as forward, aware he is a shadow. Nothing is more brutally savage than the man who is not aware he is a shadow. Nothing is more real than the real; and that is why it is well for men to hurt themselves with the past – it is one road to tolerance. The Night Country is a remarkable read, one of my greatest surprise finds, and certainly one of the best I’ve read so far in 2017. It’s autobiographical, philosophical, speculative, poetic, and thoughtful. It captures the silent meditations of a man who has spent much of his life exploring the darkness, mapping his journey through that vivid land without color, from which he sends us his discoveries and musings. Highly recommended for those who enjoy Walden as well as other works by Thoreau, Emerson, and beautifully written philosophical treatises. A great river of stars spilled southward over the low hills, and a cold wind began to race me onward. Bone hunters were lonely people, I thought briefly, as I turned on the car heat for comfort. It had something to do with time. Perhaps, in the end, we did not know where we belonged.

  4. 4 out of 5

    T.R.

    Although Loren Eiseley has this to say about nature writers such as Gilbert White, Richard Jefferies, and W. H. Hudson, the words apply equally to himself: "Even though they were not discoverers in the objective sense, one feels at times that the great nature essayists had more individual perception than their scientific contemporaries. Theirs was a different contribution. They opened the minds of men by the sheer power of their thought. The world of nature, once seen through the eye of genius, Although Loren Eiseley has this to say about nature writers such as Gilbert White, Richard Jefferies, and W. H. Hudson, the words apply equally to himself: "Even though they were not discoverers in the objective sense, one feels at times that the great nature essayists had more individual perception than their scientific contemporaries. Theirs was a different contribution. They opened the minds of men by the sheer power of their thought. The world of nature, once seen through the eye of genius, is never seen in quite the same manner afterward. A dimension has been added, something that lies beyond the careful analyses of professional biology." Eiseley's writing is lyrical, deeply reflective, even melancholic. The essays in this book defy a simple description. Are they examples of nature writing? Memoir? Reflections on archaeology and anthropology? Ruminations on the external and internal worlds of the human? Essays on education and what it means to be a teacher? The essays are drawn from all this, gain synergy, become something larger and memorable. It is rare, I feel, to find emerging from the pen of a scientist, educator, and thinker, prose of such grace and humility. Still, there are those who would complain of such writing, flay his ornamentation of ideas, rubbish his reflection as mysticism. It is difficult to imagine Eiseley himself being able to publish some of these essays in the literary and nature magazines of the present day. Where are the details? the editors may ask. The specifics, the hook, the motif, thread, conflict, and denouement? Or they might return his manuscript, advising him as one of his colleagues did, in all seriousness, to 'explain himself', perhaps 'confess' the state of his mind and internal world in the pages of a scientific journal. In Eiseley's words again: "No one need object to the elucidation of scientific principles in clear, unornamental prose. What concerns us is the fact that there exists a new class of highly skilled barbarians--not representing the very great in science--who would confine men entirely to this diet." Fortunately, Eiseley does not join the ranks of the barbarians, even as he admits in "Obituary of a bone hunter", with due humility, that his own scientific career is marked by "no great discoveries", that his is but a life "dedicated to the folly of doubt, the life of a small bone hunter."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Graychin

    I’m still getting familiar with Eiseley, but I’m so glad to have found him. I feel like I’ve discovered an unexpected teacher, a kindred spirit. How often do you come across a scientist who can quote Sir Thomas Browne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Shakespeare, and the anonymous medieval author of The Cloud of Unknowing while discussing evolutionary theory and paleontology? His work is a bridge spanning the gap that opened in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries between science and philosophy, betw I’m still getting familiar with Eiseley, but I’m so glad to have found him. I feel like I’ve discovered an unexpected teacher, a kindred spirit. How often do you come across a scientist who can quote Sir Thomas Browne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Shakespeare, and the anonymous medieval author of The Cloud of Unknowing while discussing evolutionary theory and paleontology? His work is a bridge spanning the gap that opened in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries between science and philosophy, between experiment and the creative spirit. “The world of nature, once seen through the eye of genius, is never quite seen in the same manner afterward,” Eiseley writes, and he’s referring to people like Gilbert White and Henry David Thoreau, but we can apply the words to Eiseley himself with as much justice. This later collection of essays doesn’t cast the same sort of spell as The Immense Journey does. It turns inward as a means of turning outward. It is more personal and literary than that first book, but The Night Country is no less rewarding. My favorite essays here include the memoir pieces ‘The Gold Wheel,’ ‘The Places Below,’ ‘The Relic Men’ and ‘The Brown Wasps.’ Eiseley’s essays on the history and philosophy of science are penetrating and thoughtful, too. ‘Strangeness in the Proportion’ and ‘The Mind as Nature’ are particularly good.

  6. 4 out of 5

    August

    One of the best books I randomly came across. An amazing discovery for those that aren't familiar with Loren. The cross section of astronomy, philosophy, anthropology, and amazing literature. One of the best books I randomly came across. An amazing discovery for those that aren't familiar with Loren. The cross section of astronomy, philosophy, anthropology, and amazing literature.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Doug H

    Loren Eiseley is a kindred spirit, but my kin are all a bit much.

  8. 5 out of 5

    zogador

    This book was very disappointing to me. I'm not sure what I expected, but what I found in this publication was an author merely bordering on success. There were moments of great insight and wisdom, but overall the book failed to come together in a cohesive way. Unfortunately his attempt to mix themes of anthropology with existential philosophy doesn't lead the reader anywhere. I imagine Loren Eiseley fancied himself a great thinker. Several times in the book he points out that he doesn't sleep m This book was very disappointing to me. I'm not sure what I expected, but what I found in this publication was an author merely bordering on success. There were moments of great insight and wisdom, but overall the book failed to come together in a cohesive way. Unfortunately his attempt to mix themes of anthropology with existential philosophy doesn't lead the reader anywhere. I imagine Loren Eiseley fancied himself a great thinker. Several times in the book he points out that he doesn't sleep much at night but stays up reading books and pondering things. The most annoying parts were when his recollections of past events were dripping with sentimentality and nostalgia. We get the feeling that we are listening to a very old man ruminate about the good old days. Frankly, I'm surprised this book has such high reviews.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Savannah

    Rating of each essay: The Gold Wheel - 3/5 The Places Below - 4/5 Big Eyes Small Eyes - 5/5 Instruments of Darkness - 3/5 The Chresmologue - 3/5 Paw Marks and Buried Towns - 3/5 Barbed Wire and Brown Skulls - 4/5 The Relic Men - 5/5 (FAVORITE) Strangeness in Proportion - 4/5 The Creature from the Marsh - 4/5 One Night's Dying - 3/5 Obituary of a Bone Hunter - 5/5 The Mind as Nature - 3/5 The Brown Wasps - 3/5 Rating of each essay: The Gold Wheel - 3/5 The Places Below - 4/5 Big Eyes Small Eyes - 5/5 Instruments of Darkness - 3/5 The Chresmologue - 3/5 Paw Marks and Buried Towns - 3/5 Barbed Wire and Brown Skulls - 4/5 The Relic Men - 5/5 (FAVORITE) Strangeness in Proportion - 4/5 The Creature from the Marsh - 4/5 One Night's Dying - 3/5 Obituary of a Bone Hunter - 5/5 The Mind as Nature - 3/5 The Brown Wasps - 3/5

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tim Weed

    Another profound and beautiful collection of essays from Mr. Eiseley. A dark tangled beauty that's difficult to describe, but deeply enriching and perspective-opening, especially about nature, the history of humanity, and what it means to be alive. A thinker and stylist of the first order. If you haven't read Eiseley, this book or The Unexpected Universe would be a great place to start. Highly recommended. Another profound and beautiful collection of essays from Mr. Eiseley. A dark tangled beauty that's difficult to describe, but deeply enriching and perspective-opening, especially about nature, the history of humanity, and what it means to be alive. A thinker and stylist of the first order. If you haven't read Eiseley, this book or The Unexpected Universe would be a great place to start. Highly recommended.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bryan--Pumpkin Connoisseur

    I had Eiseley recommended to me some time ago, but this is the first book of his that I've read. I don't know if this was the place for me to start. These essays, loosely connected with one another by events in Eiseley's past and an affiliation with some sort of darkness (whether that be real or imagined or personal), did not elicit the effect on me that it seemed the author was aiming for. Judging from other reviews, that appears to be a contrarian view. It may just be that my capacity for perso I had Eiseley recommended to me some time ago, but this is the first book of his that I've read. I don't know if this was the place for me to start. These essays, loosely connected with one another by events in Eiseley's past and an affiliation with some sort of darkness (whether that be real or imagined or personal), did not elicit the effect on me that it seemed the author was aiming for. Judging from other reviews, that appears to be a contrarian view. It may just be that my capacity for personal essays has reached its limit. There's something about them that strikes me as cloying, as sickly-sweet. This started with a collection of Anne Fadiman's essays (At Large and at Small: Familiar Essays, which I finished, and reached it's height with Scott Russell Sanders (Secrets of the Universe: Essays on Family, Community, Spirit, and Place), which I couldn't. It's important to say up front that Fadiman and Sanders are talented, and a lot of people do and will enjoy their writing. Eiseley is, I think, better than either--not nearly as clever (thank goodness) or trivial as Fadiman's, nor as righteous as Sanders'--but there was a level of sentimentality to Eiseley's that reminded me of both. It's hard for me to put into words what it was about Eiseley's essays that turned me off--sentiment, yes, but not that entirely. Even sentimental writing has its place. I think what it is that bothers me most about this sort of essays is the feeling that the author is assuming a role--that he or she is posing as a fellow traveler on a journey with the reader, and that the destination is as much a surprise to the author as anyone, when in reality the author is leading us toward his preconceived notions. Eiseley is nowhere as egregious in this as Sanders, but I felt constantly as if Eiseley was bombarding me with passages designed to elicit a feeling of awe and wonder about the universe and man's consciousness of it and of himself. He seems to be trying to lead me there, and perhaps it is my natural oppositional attitude, but I don't like being directed anywhere. Eiseley is much better (or at least I find him much more interesting) when he leaves off illustrating the ineffable and talks about concrete things--his essay Obituary of a Bone-Hunter, where the author describes three incidents of his archeological career, was, to my mind, the most enjoyable of the book, and, oddly enough, more indicative to me of the awesomeness of life than all his ruminations. Favorable opinion is too high on this collection to pass over it--whether you are already a fan of Eiseley or not--based on one or two bad reviews. I'll read more Eiseley at some point myself. But had I known the overall thrust of this collection, it's quite likely that, at this period of my life, I would have started with something different.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    I would call this human sciences but it's so much more than that. Amazing quality of writing that captures the pain of childhood with its gangs and bullies, as well as its joy of discovery of nature and the environment. Plus adult perspective on archaeology, collections of skulls, and other scientific musings in comparison to literature. Fascinating essays, all of them, that show the range of interests in a man's life. I would invite this guy to a dinner party for conversation if I could! Or bri I would call this human sciences but it's so much more than that. Amazing quality of writing that captures the pain of childhood with its gangs and bullies, as well as its joy of discovery of nature and the environment. Plus adult perspective on archaeology, collections of skulls, and other scientific musings in comparison to literature. Fascinating essays, all of them, that show the range of interests in a man's life. I would invite this guy to a dinner party for conversation if I could! Or bring this book to a desert island....

  13. 4 out of 5

    ASHLY SANFORD

    Love Loren Eiseley. His short essay's and stories are the best. A great American thinker, poet (and I don't mean his poetry which I'm not to into), and scientist. Read him by yourself at night or with others out loud. He will introduce you to thoughts and things you have not yet dreamed of. Love Loren Eiseley. His short essay's and stories are the best. A great American thinker, poet (and I don't mean his poetry which I'm not to into), and scientist. Read him by yourself at night or with others out loud. He will introduce you to thoughts and things you have not yet dreamed of.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    As an educator, I found some amazing insights into the role of education in here. Something about the natural world and education go hand in hand, and I question our industrial approach to schooling. He doesn't indict any of that, but my thoughts ranged down that path as I read this book. As an educator, I found some amazing insights into the role of education in here. Something about the natural world and education go hand in hand, and I question our industrial approach to schooling. He doesn't indict any of that, but my thoughts ranged down that path as I read this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Koz

    Loren Eiseley is a melancholy genius. So we have one thing in common. He thought he was dumb and forgettable. As one sad fleeting dusty skull to another, sir, I remember you.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tom Leland

    Another author I'd love to have beers with, but whose other books I probably won't read. Called "a modern Thoreau", Eiseley writes without a ton of concern about how the reader will be able to absorb it. Some passages are incredible, as enlightened and deep as it gets. Another author I'd love to have beers with, but whose other books I probably won't read. Called "a modern Thoreau", Eiseley writes without a ton of concern about how the reader will be able to absorb it. Some passages are incredible, as enlightened and deep as it gets.

  17. 5 out of 5

    LindaJ^

    I have all the books the Library of America has published but have only dabbled in reading them (they do look great on my shelves!). A few weeks ago LOA put two e-books, authored by Loren Eiseley, on sale at Amazon for 99 cents each. With Non-fiction November approaching, I thought, why not and purchased them both, even though I knew nothing about Eiseley or the books. The 14 essays in this book were well worth the price and then some! This is a collection to be savored rather than devoured. I mo I have all the books the Library of America has published but have only dabbled in reading them (they do look great on my shelves!). A few weeks ago LOA put two e-books, authored by Loren Eiseley, on sale at Amazon for 99 cents each. With Non-fiction November approaching, I thought, why not and purchased them both, even though I knew nothing about Eiseley or the books. The 14 essays in this book were well worth the price and then some! This is a collection to be savored rather than devoured. I mostly would read one and then do something else, reading no more than three or four in one day. Some were easier to read than others and some were more interesting than others, although not always the same ones. These essay make you think. While Eiseley never references him, the essays made me think of Alexander von Humboldt, whose biography was the first of the non-fiction books I read this November. Eiseley often references Thoreau, who view of nature was influenced by Humboldt's work. And Eiseley, like Humboldt, encourages scientists not to specialize but to see the world more broadly. Eiseley would likely be even more aghast at the continuing narrowing of science into smaller and smaller subspecialties. One essay is called "The Chresmologue." I had never heard of a chresmologue and the Kindle dictionary had no definition of it and I was not connected to WiFi on my initial read so could not explore further. When I was later online, I searched for a definition and all that came up was "chronicler of oracles." That was not the only word in that essay I had to look up. Another was "palimpsest" in describing man as he exists in nature. A Palimpsest is "a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remains." Eiseley goes on to look at "modern man" whom Eiseley says "lives increasingly in the future and neglects the present." Eiseley is an archeologist who is work is to examine the past. He notes that he finds that the American public is rarely troubled about these antiquarian matters. Instead, people invariable ask, What will man be like a million years from now?--frequently leaning back with complacent confidence as though they already knew the answer but felt that the rituals of our society demanded an equally ritualistic response from a specialist. Or they inquire, as a corollary, what the scientists' views may be upon the colonization of outer space. In short, the cry goes up, Prophesy! Eiseley however doesn't take the bait. Instead, he cautions: In an age like our own, however, there comes a time when individuals in increasing numbers unconsciously seek direction and taste despair. It is then that dead men give back answers and the sense of confusion grows. Soothsayers, like flies, multiply in times of social chaos. Moreover, let us not confuse ourselves with archaic words. In an age of science the scientist may emerge as a soothsayer. Now that is prophesy! He does address this looking to the future, saying: [T]he human future … is made of stuff more immediate and inescapable--ourselves. If our thought runs solely outward and away upon the clever vehicles of science, just so will there be in that future the sure intellectual impoverishment and opportunism which flight and anonymity so readily induce. It will be, and this is the difficult obstacle of our semantics, not a future come upon by accident with all its lights and shadows, guiltless, as in a foreign sea. It will be instead the product of our errors, hesitations, and escapes, returning inexorably as the future which we wished only to come upon like a geographical discoverer, but to have taken no responsibility in shaping. In short, if you like to be challenged, these are essays to read. You will find no answers but the questions and the thinking are illuminating.

  18. 5 out of 5

    cartercam

    I found a few of the stories really captivating, namely: the one about him as a boy exploring the sewers, big-bone hunting in the desert, and the cave with rising water. I liked these for the narrative arc with just the right amount of introspection. Some of the stories were too philosophic for my taste.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kirk

    (My thanks to Dr. Michael Dolzani of Baldwin-Wallace College for the introduction to Eiseley.) There is a shadow on the wall before me. It is my own; the hour is late. I write in a hotel room at midnight. Tomorrow the shadow on the wall will be that of another. If you cannot bear the silence and the darkness, do not go there; if you dislike black night and yawning chasms, never make them your profession. If you fear the sound of water hurrying through crevices toward unknown and mysterious desti (My thanks to Dr. Michael Dolzani of Baldwin-Wallace College for the introduction to Eiseley.) There is a shadow on the wall before me. It is my own; the hour is late. I write in a hotel room at midnight. Tomorrow the shadow on the wall will be that of another. If you cannot bear the silence and the darkness, do not go there; if you dislike black night and yawning chasms, never make them your profession. If you fear the sound of water hurrying through crevices toward unknown and mysterious destinations, do not consider it. Seek out the sunshine. It is a simple prescription. Avoid the darkness. It is a simple prescription, but you will not follow it. You will turn immediately to the darkness. You will be drawn to it by cords of fear and longing. You will imagine that you are tired of the sunlight; the waters that unnerve you will tug in the ancient recesses of your mind; the midnight will seem restful—you will end by going down. Light the lights, I always say, but I have found that even this is no real security—not in the night. Because in the end you may find that the remaining light has only allowed you to see something it would have been better not to see at all. […:] I who write these words on paper, cannot establish my own reality. I am, by any reasonable and considered logic, dead. This may be a matter of concern, or even a secret, but if it is any consolation, I can assure you that all men are as dead as I. […:] the minute I start breaking this strange body down into its constituents, it is dead. It does not know me. Carbon does not speak, calcium does not remember, iron does not weep. Emerson and Thoreau lived close enough to nature to know something still of animal intuition and wisdom. They had not reached that point of utter cynicism, that distrust of self and of the human past which leads finally to total entrapment in that past, “man crystallized,” as Emerson once again was shrewd enough to observe. The terror that confronts our age is our own conception of ourselves. Above all else this is the potion which the modern Dr. Jekylls have concocted. As Shakespeare foresaw: “It hath been taught us from the primal state That he which is was wished until he were.” This is not the voice of the witches. It is the clear voice of a great poet almost four centuries gone, who saw at the dawn of the scientific age what was to be the darkest problem of man: his conception of himself. The words are quiet, almost cryptic; they do not foretell. They imply a problem in free will. Shakespeare, in this passage, says nothing of starry influences, machinery, beakers, or potions. He says, in essence, one thing only: that what we wish will come. I submit that this is the deadliest message man will ever encounter in all literature. It thrusts upon him inescapable choices. Shakespeare's is the eternal, the true voice of the divine animal, piercing, as it has always pierced, the complacency of little centuries in which, encamped as in hidden thickets, men have sought to evade self-knowledge by describing themselves as men. The long history of men, besides its ennobling features, contains also a disrupting malice which continues into the present. Since the rise of the first neolithic cultures, man has hanged, tortured, burned, and impaled his fellow men. He has done so while devoutly professing religions whose founders enjoined the very opposite upon their followers. It is as though we carried with us from some dark tree in a vanished forest, an insatiable thirst for cruelty. Of all the wounds man's bodily organization has suffered in his achievement of a thinking brain, this wound is the most grievous of all, this shadow of madness, which has haunted every human advance since the dawn of history and may well precipitate the final episode in the existence of the race. It is within the power of great art to shed on nature a light which can be had from no other source than the mind itself. “The is no Excellent Beauty that hath not some strangeness in the Proportion,” wrote [Francis:] Bacon in his days of insight. Anyone who has picked up shells on a strange beach can confirm his observation. But man, modern man, who has not contemplated his otherness, the multiplicity of other possible men who dwell or might have dwelt in him, has not realized the full terror and responsibility of existence. It is through our minds alone that man passes like that swaying furious rider of the hayrick, farther and more desperately into the night. He is galloping—this twofold creature whom even Bacon glimpsed—across the storm-filled heath of time, from the dark world of the natural toward some dawn he seeks beyond the horizon. Across that midnight landscape he rides with his toppling burden of despair and hope, bearing with him the beast's face and the dream, but unable to cast off either or to believe in either. For he is man, the changeling, in whom the sense of goodness has not perished, nor an eye for some supernatural guidepost in the night. […:] I believe that in one way or another we mirror in ourselves the universe with all its dark vacuity and also its simultaneous urge to create anew, in each generation, the beauty and the terror of our mortal existence. […:] the teacher is a sculptor of the intangible future. There is no more dangerous occupation on the planet, for what we conceive as our masterpiece may appear out of time to mock us—a horrible caricature of ourselves […:] The teacher cannot create, any more than can the sculptor, the stone upon which he exercises his talents [...:]

  20. 5 out of 5

    Don Campbell

    “Those as hunts treasure must go alone, at night, and when they find it they have to leave a little of their blood behind them.” I have never heard a finer, cleaner estimate of the price of wisdom. I wrote it down at once under a sea lamp, like the belated pirate I was, for the girl had given me unknowingly the latitude and longitude of a treasure—a treasure more valuable than all the aptitude tests of this age.

  21. 5 out of 5

    C.

    I read this book on my dad's recommendation, it's one of his favorites, but I just had trouble getting into it. Some sections were interesting, then the next would just be dull and long winded. When he was talking about adventures he'd been on the book was interesting, but it ended up being too philosophical when he talked about humanity and the ages. I read this book on my dad's recommendation, it's one of his favorites, but I just had trouble getting into it. Some sections were interesting, then the next would just be dull and long winded. When he was talking about adventures he'd been on the book was interesting, but it ended up being too philosophical when he talked about humanity and the ages.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Harpole

    Eiseley's ability to incorporate his own personal reflection in reiterating the profound flow of the natural world is astounding. I found myself pondering my own place in the universe while also exploring landscapes I had never been too. Easy, exciting read that breathes peace. I will cherish this one. Eiseley's ability to incorporate his own personal reflection in reiterating the profound flow of the natural world is astounding. I found myself pondering my own place in the universe while also exploring landscapes I had never been too. Easy, exciting read that breathes peace. I will cherish this one.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Betty

    These personal essays are rich with wonder. To be read and savored, but they are not easy to absorb. Sort of an essayists version of rhyming slant. There are easier essays to stimulate your thinking - Such as of Staying Put by Scott Russell Sanders - Eiseley's perspective has a mystical quality born out an anthropologist's understanding of time. These personal essays are rich with wonder. To be read and savored, but they are not easy to absorb. Sort of an essayists version of rhyming slant. There are easier essays to stimulate your thinking - Such as of Staying Put by Scott Russell Sanders - Eiseley's perspective has a mystical quality born out an anthropologist's understanding of time.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dave Mills

    A bright fellow, but this book of his is sad, dark, and a bit depressing. The drawings in this paperback edition don't help. Essay 9, "The Relic Men," is particularly good. So is essay 12, "Obituary of a Bone Hunter." You'll never think of Pholcidae in quite the same way again after you read his account. A bright fellow, but this book of his is sad, dark, and a bit depressing. The drawings in this paperback edition don't help. Essay 9, "The Relic Men," is particularly good. So is essay 12, "Obituary of a Bone Hunter." You'll never think of Pholcidae in quite the same way again after you read his account.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Petrea Burchard

    A truly beautiful and original book. Eiseley's essays about childhood, anthropology, genius and more might not seem to belong together. But they share the topics of darkness, individuality, learning. His prose is clear and profound, making me grateful to have discovered his work and to know there are more Loren Eiseley books to read. A truly beautiful and original book. Eiseley's essays about childhood, anthropology, genius and more might not seem to belong together. But they share the topics of darkness, individuality, learning. His prose is clear and profound, making me grateful to have discovered his work and to know there are more Loren Eiseley books to read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    About ourselves: “But the minute I start breaking this strange body down into its constituents, it is dead. It does not know me. Carbon does not speak, calcium does not remember, iron does not weep. … I have a kind of machine, but where in all this array of pipes and hurried flotsam is the dweller?”

  27. 4 out of 5

    Domagoj Bodlaj

    Eiseley is a true modern mystic. He is an epitome of what I consider a true spiritual person: one with the amazing capacity for wonder invoked by the most ordinary things. His method is scientific but his mind is poetic, which makes his writing informative as well as beautiful. His works are best read in nature at the dusk

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rob Prince

    Loren Eiseley was a wonderful anthropologist. He has a profound sense of the complex interaction between people, nature and history. These essays are not easy reading although each has a point. Highly recommended.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carol Ann

    I rated it four stars only because I liked certain parts better than others. I like Eiseley's writing. This was a dark collection of pieces, but his genius is obvious again. I couldn't put it down. I rated it four stars only because I liked certain parts better than others. I like Eiseley's writing. This was a dark collection of pieces, but his genius is obvious again. I couldn't put it down.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    I feel seen, and that doesn’t happen very often. I have tremendous affinity to the author and so many of my internal monologues and digressions feel suddenly validated, long after I ever gave up hope or need for such a thing.

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