The Immense Journey

by Loren C. Eiseley

Hardcover, 1957




New York, Random House [1957]


Anthropologist and naturalist Loren Eiseley blends scientific knowledge and imaginative vision in this story of man.

User reviews

LibraryThing member MusicMom41
I first read this book when I was a sophomore in college and the book was relatively new (published about 3 years before I read it). I was going through a “faith crisis” as the time with the fundamentalist teachings of the church I had belonged to as a child being badly shaken by what I was studying in college. It had been my choice of church—not my parents; I’m sure my Presbyterian Dad didn’t realize just how fundamentalist they were since he was out at sea so much and never really attended and Mom was raised Baptist so probably didn’t notice. Now more than 40 years later I remember vividly how much Eiseley’s book had seemed like a life-line helping me to reconcile what I was learning about Darwinism (a very big topic in the 50’s and early 60’s) and what I had been taught about creationism in Sunday School. The most vivid image from the book that stayed with me all these years was his floating down the river on his back—what he called the river of time—and feeling at one with the universe. I wondered how much power I would feel from his essays so many years—and so many life experiences—later when I didn’t need it bolster my faith. That essay still carried the same impact it had in my youth. The other essays were still very enjoyable, also, although perhaps I read them a little more critically now. It is interesting that both Tucker (who gave me this copy so I would read it) and I both give it 5 stars even though we disagree about much in our life views.

One of the great attractions of the essays is the beautiful, at times almost poetic, writing:

p. 11: …has come to stand symbolically in my mind for a dimension denied to man, the dimension of time. Like wisteria on the garden wall he is rooted in his particular century. Out of it—forward or backward—he cannot run. [note: --this is why we love fantasy. At the same time as I was reading this book I read a series of young adult novels in which certain characters with special powers could do just that—go forward and backward in time! See reviews of “The Dark is Rising” series]

p. 13-14: If my record, like those of the sixteenth century voyagers, is confused by strange beasts or monstrous thoughts or sights of abortive men, these are no more than my eye saw or my mind conceived. On the world island we are all castaways, so what is seen by one may often be dark or obscure to another.

p. 20-21 If [Thoreau] had been possessed of the geological knowledge so laboriously accumulated since his time, he might have gone further and amusedly detected in the planetary rumblings and eructations which so delighted him in the gross habits of certain frogs, signs of that dark interior stress which has reared sea bottoms up to mountainous heights. He might have developed an acute inner ear for the sound of the surf on Cretaceous beaches where now the wheat of Kansas rolls.

p. 37 …were all a part of one of Life’s strangest qualities—its eternal dissatisfaction with what is, its persistent habit of reaching out into new environments and, by degrees, adapting itself to the most fantastic circumstances.
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LibraryThing member kencf0618
Wonderful natural history essays of the old school.
LibraryThing member rexvaughan
Even though this book is about 50 years old, it still sings. Eisley is an anthropologist who writes like a poet. The book is not religious, but Eisley conveys his sense of wonder, appreciation and awe with the world and particularly man in elegant prose. A native of Nebraska, he loves wandering and searching the west but also finds scenes of mystery and intrigue in the pigeons of New York City. His field has doubtless changed some by now, but his science is still good and his narratives captivating.… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Simply the most beautiful science writing I have ever read. An “imaginative naturalist,” according to the cover of his book, The Immense Journey. An anthropologist, a scholar, a poet, a genius. Eiseley wears all of these hats. He observes the story of life unfolding throughout history, recounting some of it to us in his own story. “Forward and backward I have gone, and for me it has been an immense journey” (p 13). By the time we read these words we have come to realize that Eiseley is not just talking about his own life’s journey. Eiseley’s narrator is metaphor for the journey of all humankind through the vast dimension of time and space—a journey filled with perplexity, delight, and impermanence. Eiseley might refute that, if he were alive today. He claims he does not pretend to speak for anyone but himself.

“I have given the record of what one man thought as he pursued research and pressed his hands against the confining walls of scientific method in his time. But men see differently. I can at best report only from my own wilderness” (p 13).

This book is science and philosophy presented in lucid, beautiful prose - a reader's delight.
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LibraryThing member LorenIpsum
This is a fantastic book.

There are places where Eiseley’s prose is absolutely beautiful. Consider this excerpt, plucked from a random page:

“The stolen energy that would take man across the continents would fail him at last. The great Ice Age herds were destined to vanish. When they did so, another hand like the hand that grasped the stone by the river long ago would pluck a handful of grass seed and hold it contemplatively. In that moment, the golden towers of man, his swarming millions, his turning wheels, the vast learning of his packed libraries, would glimmer dimly there in the ancestor of wheat, a few seeds held in a muddy hand.” (“How Flowers Changed the World”)

If the whole book were like this, it might be florid and unreadable. But it’s not: the poetry never lasts for very long. Eiseley deploys it strategically, to get his readers wondering or marveling. And then, instead of just going on and on until we’re glutted and bored, he shifts to an explanation or reflection or anecdote. We have to start thinking again. And then there’s another dollop of stunning beauty; the constant switch-ups keep the reader engaged and interested and following along as Eiseley makes his argument. I find the technique to be incredibly effective.

The substance is mostly equal to the style. It’s true that there’s a great deal of artifice and affect: Eiseley is very careful about how he presents himself, and it’s entirely possible that some of the incidents that he relates here are terrific lies. Even if that’s the case, though, they’re offered in the service of important and beautiful ideas. “The Secret of Life,” for example, suggests that the precise origins of life (if we ever discover them) may end up telling us far less than we assume. Eiseley does not start out with theses, or declare his arguments in advance, so it would perhaps spoil the essay to say more. I’ll simply point out that he makes a compelling and intuitive point that we (or at least I) routinely and inexplicably overlook.

I withhold half a star mainly because of the bits on human origins. Compared to the other essays, they’re long on detail and short on wonder. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what Eiseley does best. The problem is compounded by the fact that some of the information is now thoroughly discredited; scientists today don’t really believe what Eiseley says about “boskopoids,” for example. That’s not really his fault, but it’s a second strike against what I already took to be the weakest part of the book.

Make no mistake, though: you should read The Immense Journey. I myself intend to read it again. And when I do, I’ll savor all of it, weak parts included.
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LibraryThing member trilliams
It takes a lot to get me to reconsider my worldview. This book did it. Fantastic.
LibraryThing member Bruce_Deming
read in 1980's sometimes. It's a bit dim in my memory. Had some likable writing. Theme does not stick with me.



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