The son of an amateur Shakespearean actor and an untutored artist who was deaf from childhood, Loren Corey Eiseley (IZ-lee) grew up isolated and inquisitive. Reading, which he learned from his visiting half brother, became his escape from the family’s disharmony.
In 1925, Eiseley entered the University of Nebraska and published some early poems. From 1928 to 1930, he attended sporadically, stopping to work in a hatchery and to ride the rails with Depression-era drifters. Later his essays included tales from his hobo days. Recuperating from tuberculosis in a desert cabin, Eiseley observed the behavior of the desert creatures that later appeared in his essays. Returning to the university, he did field work in archaeology. As a young man, he felt a strange kinship with nonhuman beings and archaeological relics, and he once wanted to be a nature writer.
After finishing his B.A. in 1933, Eiseley entered graduate school in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in 1937, and in 1938 he married Mabel Langdon, a former teacher who encouraged his writing. After postdoctoral study at Columbia University, Eiseley taught in the Midwest, but in 1947 he returned to chair the Anthropology Department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained for the rest of his career, finally serving as Benjamin Franklin Professor.
By profession a physical anthropologist and by temperament a poet, Eiseley turned in mid-career from scholarly writing to his “concealed essay,” which approached scientific subjects through personal experiences. Writing for an educated popular audience, he published in Harper’s and other magazines. The first collection of essays, The Immense Journey, was published in 1957, a year before Darwin’s Century, his acclaimed scholarly analysis of Charles Darwin’s work and its intellectual impact. The Immense Journey established Eiseley as a writer of finely crafted meditations on personal experiences in science. Going downward in a narrow crevice,...
(The entire section is 842 words.)