Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

By profession a physical anthropologist, university administrator, and lecturer, Loren Eiseley was nevertheless an essayist by choice and a poet by temperament. His works include fifteen published volumes: Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It (1958), a work of scholarship whose conclusion reflects his development as a popular essayist; six collections of popular essays; a biography of Francis Bacon; a loosely structured series of reminiscences published as an autobiography, All the Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life (1975); three volumes of poetry; and a posthumous collection of essays, scholarly and popular, on which he had worked to establish the importance of Edward Blyth’s contributions to evolutionary theory, Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X: New Light on the Evolutionists (1979). In 1987, a collection, drawn from Eiseley’s notebooks and including notes, poems, a fragment of a novel, and photographs of the Eiseley family, was published under the editorship of Kenneth Heuer as The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley.

Confronted with temporary deafness in 1948, Eiseley turned from strictly scientific research to a form that had intrigued him even in high school, the nature essay. Out of a world of silence, a broad scientific knowledge, and a poet’s love of language, he forged a form that he would later call “the concealed essay, in which personal anecdote was allowed gently to bring under observation thoughts of a more purely scientific nature.” In his concealed essays, Eiseley blends personal experience and anecdote with archaeology, paleontology, and evolutionary biology, drawing on science to create art.

Before he began to write for a general audience, Eiseley had published a number of...

(The entire section is 729 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Angyal, Andrew J. Loren Eiseley, 1983.

Carlisle, E. Fred. “The Heretical Science of Loren Eiseley,” in Centennial Review. XVIII (Fall, 1974), pp. 354-377.

Gerber, Leslie E., and Margaret McFadden. Loren Eiseley, 1983.

Medelman, John. “The Immense Journey of Loren Eiseley,” in Esquire. LXVII (March, 1967), pp. 92-94.

Schwartz, James M. “Loren Eiseley: The Scientist as Literary Artist,” in The Georgia Review. XXXI (Winter, 1977), pp. 855-871.

Shapiro, H. L. Review in Saturday Review. XLI (January 4, 1958), p. 25.