Eiseley’s retrospective on life from the vantage point of old age contains little didacticism. Ever the explorer, the man with a quest, the narrator continues to ask probing questions and to reflect on the meaning of objects and experience. The book will disappoint any young reader who seeks to find in autobiography a guide for life or practical recommendations about living. Eiseley demonstrates the existential point of view that, despite adversity and hardship, a person can discover individual meanings in life and can contribute (modestly to be sure) to humanity’s understanding of the world and the civilizations that have inhabited it.
Willing to view life metaphorically as a game, Eiseley has no illusions about its significance. From his studies of paleontology and archaeology, he grew accustomed to counting time in past millennia, and he acknowledges that the individual life can represent only a minute particle of existence. The pessimism that permeates the book is summed up in the repeated passage, “Behind nothing/ before nothing/ worship it the zero.” The narrator accepts the rules of the game and plays as well as he can, resigned to the reality that for him the game will soon end. What remains will be the broken shards of experience, selective memories of others, and whatever writings survive.