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All the Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life

4.35  ·  Rating Details ·  299 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
In All the Strange Hours, Eiseley turns his considerable powers of reflection and discovery on his own life to weave a compelling story, related with the modesty, grace, and keen eye for a telling anecdote that distinguish his work. His story begins with his childhood experiences as a sickly afterthought, weighed down by the loveless union of his parents. From there he tra ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 1st 1985 by Scribner (first published 1975)
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Apr 21, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Reading Loren Eiseley, you are a visitor in a world shaped by experiences that seldom have found a voice such as his. An isolated Nebraska childhood in the early decades of the 20th century, and an even more isolating experience riding the rails as a drifter during the Great Depression -- these are not auspicious beginnings for a respected writer or a scholar. His family was poor, and his deaf, deranged mother haunted his life. From early on, he was a loner, with a poet's sensibility, who learne ...more
Dec 20, 2015 Julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have long admired Loren Eiseley and especially have been inspired by The Immense Journey and The Star Thrower. He is one of my guides in life, along with some other naturalist/philosophers such as Carl Sagan and Annie Dillard. I knew that Eiseley was a respected professor of anthropology, but I was unprepared for how affected I would be by this autobiography, All the Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life.

I was overwhelmed by his first two paragraphs, and knew instantly that this autobiograph
Sep 05, 2012 Chrisl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eiseley starts with quote from The Odyssey
"There is nothing worse for mortal men than wandering."

1. The Rat That Danced
2. The Life Machine
3. The Running Man
4. The Desert
5. The Trap
6. Toads and Men
7. The Most Perfect Day in the World

8. The Laughing Puppet
9. The Badlands and the School

21. The Blue Worm
22. The Talking Cat
23. The Coming of the Giant Wasps
24. The Time Traders
25. The Other Players.

Chaper 1 The Rat That Danced

Aug 31, 2015 Robin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The stories of his early life and especially his mother are haunting, and you can tell as the book goes on that this is a thoughtful man's last gasp, at times petty and utterly human and at others expansive. It can be beautiful when someone's writing, their personal and intellectual life, informs and is informed by their more scientific career, how well they mesh. How even at a clinical remove he can still unearth the weight of smaller, daily tragedies.
The person that recommended this read describes it best. "The book is divided into three sections: "Days of a Drifter" with 7 chapters, "Days of a Thinker" with 13 chapters, and "Days of a Doubter" with 5 chapters. He overcame so much--dropping out of high school, riding the rails, tuberculosis--and then embarked on an academic career that resulted in many awards, none of which really mattered to him. As an anthropologist, he knew that we are all dust in the end."

I have never read any of Loren E
Matthew Maline
Aug 21, 2014 Matthew Maline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It took a bit of jumping around to get this book, but the payoff was worth it. Eiseley's way of describing quirks in himself and the world around him is uplifting where it could have been cynical, yet mellow instead of romantic. For example, after recounting the improbably complex lifecycle of the Sphexe wasp, he spins it as something more than meaningless but less than supernatural:

I am an evolutionist. I believe my great backyard Sphexes have evolved like other creatures. But watching them in
Dec 30, 2014 Edward rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eiseley in this autobiography writes," I who profess no religion find the whole of my life a religious pilgrimage." It at first seems an odd statement as Eiseley is not in any usual sense a conventional "religious" person. He is an anthropologist and writes evocatively and well of his youth , a difficult one and of his many excavations among the remains and ruins of people and civilizations which have receded into the past. But at the same time, he is never far from asking questions about the "m ...more
Feb 27, 2011 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humanism
I don't know if I've ever read a writer of such unabashed intensity and melancholy. Eiseley traces the jagged, sharp edges of a natural world that is indifferent, violent, beautiful, and marked by occasional grace. Eiseley sees himself as cut from the same stone. Fragmented memories and buried anxieties, instinct, are of a piece with the shards of bone and artifact that Eiseley brushes off with his pen.
Apr 01, 2014 sisterimapoet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction14
I heard of Eiseley through a recent book I read. And I wasn't disappointed. This was atmospheric, imaginative, and profound. I felt that I leaned in and listened closely to what he had to tell me. It took me everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It should me something about how to live as well as how to write about how we live.
Jul 18, 2008 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is largely an autobiography of Eiseley and it reveals much about him as a person but also about his life-long love of both science and writing. Great work.
Christophe Van
Having reached the late autumn of his life, to use one of the author's expressions, a scholar/naturalist/poet reflects and reminisces over his life. The result is a hybrid between an autobiographical memoir and a collection of essays steeped in personal reflection. I am 50 years old, and quite a few of the chapters/essays resonated with me, but I think I would have liked the book even more if I had read it when being 65 or older.

Recommended if you feel you are in the autumn of your life and are
Ben Palpant
Dec 24, 2016 Ben Palpant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have met a few poets who were trapped inside a scientists body. Loren Eiseley is one of them. The narrative structure of this autobiography is hard to follow at times, but scattered throughout are some remarkable explorations into relationships, purpose, and the vulnerability of Darwinian claims. He writes, "a man contains his silences" and "you cannot fight the sky." These lines are worth the price of the book but you will have to excavate to find them.
Ben Loory
Nov 13, 2008 Ben Loory rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like biographies and/or the natural sciences
Recommended to Ben by: some random guy on the interweb
this was good, but i gave it up halfway through. it's an autobiography by a famous anthropologist / naturalist / poet / writer. the writing was really good and the guy was smart and interesting. but really, i just don't care about real life. i get so antsy reading anecdotes and people's thoughts about shit. what's the point of all this? i keep thinking. what are we doing here in this book? this book could be eleven pages long or 800... any story in it could be taken out or added to or replaced w ...more
B. Mason
Nov 12, 2015 B. Mason rated it liked it
Bones and bottle caps. Eiseley is a gifted writer, his control of form and tone are excellent in the book, yet this is an autobiography and as such he meanders down paths and anecdotes in a haphazard fashion. It's less about the sentence-long conversations he remembers from childhood and more to do with an instance like his impassioned meeting with Tim, a giant man going to break up a strike he meets on the train. Eiseley's meeting with Tim is a moment he recalls with startling clarity and imbue ...more
Again not a book I would have picked up on my own, but it was listed on the Nebraska 150 Reading Challenge. And this autobiography was well worth reading. Loren Eiseley came from a poor family and, through tough circumstances that shaped his character during his childhood and youth (a deaf and deranged mother, riding the rails as a drifter, overcoming tuberculosis) became a respected professor of anthropology and well-spoken author of several books. I very much enjoyed his anecdote about the “ca ...more
Aug 24, 2009 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Appropriately finished Eiseley's autobiography holed up in a tent in the Poconos during a long rainstorm. In his growing up in a neurotic household in Nebraska and the years of his youth spent hopping trains and slumming out the Depression, you can see the development of Eiseley's career as a scientific outsider. I loved the later chapter on the giant wasp, Sphecius speciosus; how the intricate, vicious and somewhat bizarre nature of the creature's prey and feeding habits illuminates the mysteri ...more
Jan 27, 2009 Tish rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my opinion, Loren Eiseley can't go wrong when he writes about avian pathos. Unfortunately, there's no avian pathos in All the Strange Hours. There's feline pathos, mouse pathos, familial pathos, and... a gambling metaphor that I still don't understand. Eiseley comes across rather awkward when he talks about himself, self-conscious and edgy. The sadness that peeks around his other works here takes a gloomy center stage. Reading it, I wondered if he couldn't give himself permission to soar (oh, ...more
David Kessler
Mar 06, 2012 David Kessler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eiseley had many adventures include the obvious but his life was just a little different. He launched his professional career at an older age after traveling the country by rail and foot during the Great Depression.
Once he began studying anthropology, he was hooked. He is a born writer and damn good at it but for a short while he acted in a provost and college administrator capacity. But back to his writing: he is a marvelous observer of man and also has the keenest of the thinkers in the scient
Andrew Schrader
I love Eiseley's work. Even though this was my least favorite of his books I've read so far, it's still enjoyable, mostly because of his amazing style. His work is haunting and full of melancholy. The way he turns rolling a set of dice as a kid into his life's cosmic voyage should be taught in writing classes. He invented a style and ended it, too - he is impossible to duplicate. He was a true renegade.
Jul 10, 2012 Maren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
Hindsight is 20/20, but Eiseley goes quite a bit further than merely looking back as he reflects on his life. As the title suggests, he is uncovering thoughts from the past as if they were bones preserved over time, and he examines each one carefully--I liked to think of each chapter as one bone: each a treasure by itself, but must be put in the right place with the others if the complete shape is to be comprehended.
Venessa E-man
I feel like I just don't get this book. Eiseley's erudite writing just goes way over my head. And it seems like he's trying to compete with real modern writers - trying his hand at the whole stream of conscious. He should have stuck to science and had a ghost writer for the book.
Dec 11, 2009 Zenitram rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An autobiography from a well-known anthropologist and scientist, he provides an interesting perspective on life as shown through his childhood and his studies/teaching. Check it out if you are looking for something different
Jennifer Chushcoff
Powerful and revealing essays on the human condition. Gorgeous language. I found this author by following another favorite, Ray Bradbury. Bradbury spoke highly of Eiseley during an interview. Now I know why.
Apr 06, 2008 Grey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: naturalism
The man's own words about his amazing life.
Eiseley is a god to me and it's tons of cool to read more about his childhood,mentors and the beginnings of a bone collecter.
May 16, 2015 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hauntingly beautiful prose. A most atypical autobiography full of stories that both pull at you and resonate alienation and loneliness. Definitely worth picking up.
Dec 28, 2009 Ruth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinated with the book because I remember hobos coming to my house asking for food. Every chapter was about a different part of his life. The book was well written, authentic.
Nov 14, 2015 Ezekiel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perfect. The sum of a lifetime. A man of science and wisdom excavates his long years and reveals to us the central and staggering mysteries of humanity.
May 05, 2007 Maggie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Biological anthropology, hoboism, childhood, aging, writing. Loren Eiseley's words are perfect, and his life's story is eventful and well related. So good.
John Adams
An unusual collections of essays, in beautifully poetic prose and discussing some interesting thought experiments.
Billalbing rated it it was amazing
Sep 26, 2013
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Loren Corey Eiseley (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977) was a highly respected anthropologist, science writer, ecologist, and poet. He published books of essays, biography, and general science in the 1950s through the 1970s.

Eiseley is best known for the poetic essay style, called the "concealed essay". He used this to explain complex scientific ideas, such as human evolution, to the general public.
More about Loren Eiseley...

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“The inorganic world out of which life has emerged and into which, in season, it falls back, possesses the latent capacity for endless ramification and diversity. A few chance elements which appear thoroughly stable in their reactions dress up as for a masked ball and go strolling, hunted and hunter together. Their forms alter through the ages. They are shape-shifters, role-changers. Like flying lizard or ancestral men, they run their course and vanish, never to return. The chemicals of which their bodies were composed lie all about us but by no known magic can we return a lost species to life. Life, in fact, is the product of singular and unreturning contingencies of which the inorganic world disclaims knowledge. Only its elements, swept up in the mysterious living vortex, evoke new forms, new habits, and new thoughts.” 0 likes
“I am an evolutionist. I believe my great backyard Sphexes have evolved like other creatures. But watching them in the October light as one circles my head in curiosity, I can only repeat my dictum softly: in the world there is nothing to explain the world. Nothing to explain the necessity of life, nothing to explain the hunger of the elements to become life, nothing to explain why the stolid realm of rock and soil and mineral should diversify itself into beauty, terror, and uncertainty. To bring organic novelty into existence, to create pain, injustice, joy, demands more than we can discern in the nature that we analyze so completely. Worship, then, like the Maya, the unknown zero, the procession of the time-bearing gods. The equation that can explain why a mere Sphex wasp contains in its minute head the ganglionic centers of its prey has still to be written. In the world there is nothing below a certain depth that is truly explanatory. It is as if matter dreamed and muttered in its sleep. But why, and for what reason it dreams, there is no evidence.” 0 likes
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