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In The Firmament of Time––nominated for a National Book Award––Loren Eiseley offers a series of brilliant, provocative excursions through the history of science. A paleontologist with the soul and skill of a poet, he reflects on the many ways in which the quest for knowledge has been shaped by the changing cultures in which it emerged and developed. Examining the role of m In The Firmament of Time––nominated for a National Book Award––Loren Eiseley offers a series of brilliant, provocative excursions through the history of science. A paleontologist with the soul and skill of a poet, he reflects on the many ways in which the quest for knowledge has been shaped by the changing cultures in which it emerged and developed. Examining the role of metaphor in scientific thought, anticipations of scientific discoveries in the works of poets and novelists, and the “unconscious conformity” of scientific theory to prevailing orthodoxies, he argues for the ongoing relevance of dreams, the imagination, and the irrational to scientific progress.


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In The Firmament of Time––nominated for a National Book Award––Loren Eiseley offers a series of brilliant, provocative excursions through the history of science. A paleontologist with the soul and skill of a poet, he reflects on the many ways in which the quest for knowledge has been shaped by the changing cultures in which it emerged and developed. Examining the role of m In The Firmament of Time––nominated for a National Book Award––Loren Eiseley offers a series of brilliant, provocative excursions through the history of science. A paleontologist with the soul and skill of a poet, he reflects on the many ways in which the quest for knowledge has been shaped by the changing cultures in which it emerged and developed. Examining the role of metaphor in scientific thought, anticipations of scientific discoveries in the works of poets and novelists, and the “unconscious conformity” of scientific theory to prevailing orthodoxies, he argues for the ongoing relevance of dreams, the imagination, and the irrational to scientific progress.

30 review for The Firmament of Time: A Library of America eBook Classic

  1. 4 out of 5

    Craig Evans

    Profound, poetic in its prose, and vividly entrancing. Hearkening from 1960, this collection of essays is stated as stemming from a series of lectures that the author gave as a visiting professor of philosophy at the University of Cincinnati. As the fourth collection of essays by Dr. Eiseley that I've now read, I can say with some confidence that I continue to be thrilled with his subject matter, turn of a phrase, and overall though process which comes through on the page quite vividly. Yes, the e Profound, poetic in its prose, and vividly entrancing. Hearkening from 1960, this collection of essays is stated as stemming from a series of lectures that the author gave as a visiting professor of philosophy at the University of Cincinnati. As the fourth collection of essays by Dr. Eiseley that I've now read, I can say with some confidence that I continue to be thrilled with his subject matter, turn of a phrase, and overall though process which comes through on the page quite vividly. Yes, the edition that I read is a 'first edition'. I found it in a used bookstore somewhere in the past couple of years.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Loren Eiseley was an anthropologist, educator and natural science writer, who taught at the University of Pennsylvania. This book consists of a series of lectures Eiseley did in 1959 to honor the 100th anniversary of Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species.” They explore evolution and our relationship to time and the natural world, or rather our growing disconnectedness from both. And now, 50 years later, Eiseley's concerns have only become more troublesome. We’re even more isolated, existing in an Loren Eiseley was an anthropologist, educator and natural science writer, who taught at the University of Pennsylvania. This book consists of a series of lectures Eiseley did in 1959 to honor the 100th anniversary of Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species.” They explore evolution and our relationship to time and the natural world, or rather our growing disconnectedness from both. And now, 50 years later, Eiseley's concerns have only become more troublesome. We’re even more isolated, existing in an artificial world. Since the six lectures were written to be read aloud, they lack the poetry of his other books but they do underscore his mastery of the lecture, something of a dying art form in itself. On Time: Eiseley laments that we have actually lost time. Lost the time we once had to explore our own thoughts. Not only are we not connected to the environment, we are rarely connected to even ourselves. “Much of man’s attention is directed exteriorly upon the machines which now occupy most of his waking hours…In America he sits quiescent before the flickering screen in the living room while horsemen gallop across an American wilderness long vanished in the past. In the presence of so compelling an instrument, there is little opportunity in the evenings to explore his own thoughts or to participate in family living in the way that the man from the early part of the century remembers. For too many men, the exterior world with its mass-produced daydreams has become the conqueror.” And as I sit staring at this computer monitor, I suddenly feel the overwhelming need to go outside and sit on the porch to ponder. We are the first species on our planet to become aware of who we are and our relationship to the rest of the universe and the first species hellbent on destroying ourselves. What does it all say about self-awareness?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bill Pritchard

    I am not truly sure how I came across this gem - which book list suggested that I add it some years ago to have it slowly rise to the top of my reading list. But whatever the motivation, it was divinely inspired. Loren Eiseley is a naturalist, but writes as a poet. it is not surprising that this work won the John Burroughs Medal for best publication in the field of writing - back in 1961!. Take the time to consume this brief but special book. From the closing chapter: "I am a man who has spent a g I am not truly sure how I came across this gem - which book list suggested that I add it some years ago to have it slowly rise to the top of my reading list. But whatever the motivation, it was divinely inspired. Loren Eiseley is a naturalist, but writes as a poet. it is not surprising that this work won the John Burroughs Medal for best publication in the field of writing - back in 1961!. Take the time to consume this brief but special book. From the closing chapter: "I am a man who has spent a great deal of his life on his knees, though not in prayer. I do not say this last pridefully, but with the feeling that the posture, if not the thought behind it, may have had some final salutary effect. I am a naturalist and a fossil hunter, and I have crawled most of the way through life. I have crawled downward into holes without a bottom, and upward, wedged into crevices where the wind and the birds scream at you until the sound of a falling pebble is enough to make the sick heart lurch. IN man, I know now, there is no such thing as wisdom. I have learned this with my face against the ground. It is a very difficult thing for a man to grasp today, because of his power; yet in his brain there is really only a sort of universal marsh, spotted at intervals by quaking green islands representing the elusive stability of modern science - islands frequently gone as soon as glimpsed. It is our custom to deny this; we are men of precision, measurement and logic; we abhor the unexplainable and reject it. This, too, is a green island. We wish our lives to be one continuous growth in knowledge; indeed, we expect them to be. Yet well over a hundred years ago Kierkegaard observed that maturity consists in the discovery that "there comes a critical moment where everything is reversed, after which the point becomes to understand more and more that there is something which cannot be understood." Highly recommend this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Colin Payton

    The first half of this book every scientist and engineer and proponent of progress and atheist who believes "the books of science will be rewritten identically whereas the books of religion will not" need to read. Unearned pride and cyclical error define the history of science. The latter half of the book is an astounding exploration of ethics, values, and meaning. I've never read a better writer on nature or science. The first half of this book every scientist and engineer and proponent of progress and atheist who believes "the books of science will be rewritten identically whereas the books of religion will not" need to read. Unearned pride and cyclical error define the history of science. The latter half of the book is an astounding exploration of ethics, values, and meaning. I've never read a better writer on nature or science.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    The Firmament of Time traces man's perception of nature, and his role in it, from before antiquity to the mid-Twentieth Century. Part of a 1959 lecture series at the University of Cincinnati, Eiseley's essays beautifully illustrate the evolution of modern scientific thought and how it has shaped (and continues to shape) our worldview and very human character. Eiseley never demonizes (or glorifies) past figures or schools of thought, nor presses a political agenda; his eloquent objectivism makes The Firmament of Time traces man's perception of nature, and his role in it, from before antiquity to the mid-Twentieth Century. Part of a 1959 lecture series at the University of Cincinnati, Eiseley's essays beautifully illustrate the evolution of modern scientific thought and how it has shaped (and continues to shape) our worldview and very human character. Eiseley never demonizes (or glorifies) past figures or schools of thought, nor presses a political agenda; his eloquent objectivism makes his work truly enlightening, begging readers to question what it means to be "natural."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Betty

    This is a short but weighty collection of lectures on nature. Best read slowly and frequently.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David Haws

    At the end of the third lecture, Eiseley gives us a fairly representative burst of prose: “On my office wall is a beautiful photograph of a slow loris with round, enormous eyes set in the spectral face of a night-haunter…Sometimes when I am very tired I can think myself into the picture until I am wrapped securely in a warm coat with a fine black stripe down my spine…At such times a great peace settles on me, and with the office door closed, I can sleep as lemurs sleep tonight, huddled high in t At the end of the third lecture, Eiseley gives us a fairly representative burst of prose: “On my office wall is a beautiful photograph of a slow loris with round, enormous eyes set in the spectral face of a night-haunter…Sometimes when I am very tired I can think myself into the picture until I am wrapped securely in a warm coat with a fine black stripe down my spine…At such times a great peace settles on me, and with the office door closed, I can sleep as lemurs sleep tonight, huddled high in the great trees of two continents. Let the storms blow through the streets of cities; the root is safe, the many-faced animal of which we are one flashing and evanescent facet will not pass with us. When the last seared hand has flung the last grenade, an older version of that hand will be stroking a clinging youngster hidden in its fur, high up under some autumn moon.” I first read The Immense Journey during my sophomore year of college (1970) and was struck by the Gibbon-esque language. I’ve read the monograph a-half-dozen-times since, and decided that I’d try some of his later works. The Firmament of Time is a collection of lectures published three years later. By the fifth lecture, I was beginning to feel that the language was ossifying Eiseley’s concept—not irreparably, but enough to introduce the distraction. As most cross-discipline professors of his era, Eiseley seems to adhere to a Cultivation of the Intellect educational philosophy. This has allowed him the depth needed to produce remarkable works, but it also allows him to hide in his own prose. The difference between the third and fifth lecture seems to be the service of prose to a living concept. I’ve always enjoyed the interesting concepts of speculative fiction, but never appreciated how important they can be in driving the prose of inspired writers.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Adam Greven

    Far from the beauty and wonder of Eiseley's book, The Immense Journey, Firmament of Time paints a much darker picture. Eiseley examines man's view of time, through time, and its nature. He points out how man's point of view on the power, existence, and length of time was determined strongly by the beliefs, mostly religious and mostly Christian, of their time and how only a few broke through the necessary barriers. Over time man has learned to stay away from ideas like Eden and even God, but has, Far from the beauty and wonder of Eiseley's book, The Immense Journey, Firmament of Time paints a much darker picture. Eiseley examines man's view of time, through time, and its nature. He points out how man's point of view on the power, existence, and length of time was determined strongly by the beliefs, mostly religious and mostly Christian, of their time and how only a few broke through the necessary barriers. Over time man has learned to stay away from ideas like Eden and even God, but has, since that transition, lost his soul. The very definition of Nature is changing all the time by our outlook on time itself. The more vast Time becomes the more outward man looks, becoming ever more knowledgeable but losing more and more wisdom every step of the way. Is man any longer Natural or does he simply get to determine what that is by belittling miracles simply as Natural. Eiseley was scared for mankind when he wrote this book and the reader will feel it. As in The Immense Journey, Firmament of Time has poetry, a talent Eiseley cannot escape. I recomend this book to science lovers, philosophers, and those who also worry where mankind is heading and why.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Oliver

    Forty years after reading this book for the first time I think it meant even more to me this time. Time is a strange and mysterious concept as is this very human existence and there is something very special in how Eiseley merges scientific truth with man’s relationship with the unseen, his grappling with religious tradition and the humanity in the arts. To think that the lectures these writings were based on were given in 1959, the year I was born, is really amazing in that speaks so directly t Forty years after reading this book for the first time I think it meant even more to me this time. Time is a strange and mysterious concept as is this very human existence and there is something very special in how Eiseley merges scientific truth with man’s relationship with the unseen, his grappling with religious tradition and the humanity in the arts. To think that the lectures these writings were based on were given in 1959, the year I was born, is really amazing in that speaks so directly to me right now.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I wish this (or at least the first four chapters) had been required reading back in high school. The way the book combines scientific and historical awe with a firm refusal to engage in scientific or historical hero-worship is worthwhile in and of itself, but then, on top of that, Eiseley's writing is just dazzling. The last two essays are less a history of science and more polemic / philosophical. I appreciated them just as much now but I wouldn't recommend them to my high school self. I wish this (or at least the first four chapters) had been required reading back in high school. The way the book combines scientific and historical awe with a firm refusal to engage in scientific or historical hero-worship is worthwhile in and of itself, but then, on top of that, Eiseley's writing is just dazzling. The last two essays are less a history of science and more polemic / philosophical. I appreciated them just as much now but I wouldn't recommend them to my high school self.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael Cichoracki

    If you don't enjoy this book you might wish to consider not reading at all. If you don't enjoy this book you might wish to consider not reading at all.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    About halfway the author discards recalling the collective journey of mankinds scientific discovery and transcends to some absolutely sublime poetic writing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    j.e.rodriguez

    "I am the unfolding worm, and mud fish, the weird tree of Igdrasil shaping itself endlessly out of the darkness toward the light." "I am the unfolding worm, and mud fish, the weird tree of Igdrasil shaping itself endlessly out of the darkness toward the light."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jc

    One of the best of Eiseley. L.Eisely was a physical anthropologist and a science historian who also had a bit of philosopher, poet, and popular writer about him. Firmament (1960), which I have read twice since the early 1980s traces the changes in how humans thought of the world around them, and their relationship to it. Sometimes he gets a bit too religious for my taster, but his musings certainly make one think of their own role in the Universe. Like Stephen Jay Gould, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and One of the best of Eiseley. L.Eisely was a physical anthropologist and a science historian who also had a bit of philosopher, poet, and popular writer about him. Firmament (1960), which I have read twice since the early 1980s traces the changes in how humans thought of the world around them, and their relationship to it. Sometimes he gets a bit too religious for my taster, but his musings certainly make one think of their own role in the Universe. Like Stephen Jay Gould, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others, Eisely helps the public understand how science sees the world. Sure, 40 some years later some of the details are out of date, but the concepts behind scientific thinking remains the same.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chilton Miller

    The first time I read through this book, I only gave it four stars. While I thought the book had lots of good history, I thought it lacked any new ideas to be presented. However, after reading back through it the second time, I realized how wonderful and insightful this book is on the modern human condition. I gave the book five stars this time. The last two chapters of the book sums up the history of the prior chapters in strong philosophical manner. In fact, I would say that the last two chapt The first time I read through this book, I only gave it four stars. While I thought the book had lots of good history, I thought it lacked any new ideas to be presented. However, after reading back through it the second time, I realized how wonderful and insightful this book is on the modern human condition. I gave the book five stars this time. The last two chapters of the book sums up the history of the prior chapters in strong philosophical manner. In fact, I would say that the last two chapter are worth reading even if you never read the whole book. Perhaps some of the greatest insight into the modern human conditioins are found are explained in this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paul L'Herrou

    Even though I have studied a lot of science and have a degree in engineering, I never really learned much about the development of science and how it has evolved over the centuries. Eiseley shows how scientific thought has evolved and broken through established belief over time. Based on a series of lectures as Visiting Professor of the Philosophy of Science at the U. of Cincinnati in 1959, it was very interesting. I also appreciated Eiseley's acceptance of the two realms of science and religion Even though I have studied a lot of science and have a degree in engineering, I never really learned much about the development of science and how it has evolved over the centuries. Eiseley shows how scientific thought has evolved and broken through established belief over time. Based on a series of lectures as Visiting Professor of the Philosophy of Science at the U. of Cincinnati in 1959, it was very interesting. I also appreciated Eiseley's acceptance of the two realms of science and religion as opposed to the usual attempt to pit one against the other.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    One of the few science books I ever found worth rereading...as much philosophy as science.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bob Wrathall

    I read this book 40 years ago and it has left a lasting impression. Loren Eiseley has a web site, people like him well after he has passed away.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    Quick and easy read; good intro to the history of science, and specifically to how our ideas about how change happens in the natural world have shifted through time.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    Another collection of Eiseley's fine essays. I've got just about every one of his books. Another collection of Eiseley's fine essays. I've got just about every one of his books.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ricardo Vega

    A marvelous writer that takes science, especially evolution and explore it as only a well-informed poet could do.

  22. 5 out of 5

    T.R.

    A lovely read, especially the last chapter. Interesting to see how he arrives at the centrality of ethics and at looking beyond the nature that we know.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Titsing

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bencosgrove

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael Newsom

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  28. 5 out of 5

    Monte

  29. 4 out of 5

    Troy

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rohan Arthur

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