Loren Eiseley: Biography, Books, Poems & Essays

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

This lesson is about the American scientist and writer, Loren Eiseley, and his contributions to the academic world, particularly as they relate to the naturalist school of writing. Read the lesson and take the quiz!

Westerns Revisited

When you think of a Western or an American Plains story, what comes to your mind? Do you think of John Wayne riding a horse through dust and dirt? Perhaps you think of a small town, with one road running through it, saloon doors swinging? There may be an image in the back of your mind of cowboys versus Indians, and fights at high noon? This is not the West that Loren Eiseley wrote about throughout his career. The scholar and teacher instead wrote prose about the realities of life in the American West, drawing from his own experience growing up there. His realism-based books, essays, and poetry are considered the epitome of the naturalist writing style that arose in 20th century American literature.


Loren Eiseley was born in Lincoln, Nebraska on September 3, 1907. His father was a salesman that did not make much money, but he taught Eiseley the importance of words and how language could transform from a young age. Eiseley's mother was a mentally ill artist, and he grew up in a tense home. He would spend a majority of his time outdoors or at the local library, where he cultivated both of his passions.

Despite his love of language and writing, Eiseley would drop out of high school to start working following his father's death. However, he eventually attended the University of Nebraska. Once there, he would drop out again, this time due to his health. After he returned, he earned his degree and continued on to graduate school, eventually receiving his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

A career academic, Eiseley worked at various universities before eventually making his way back to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the head of the Anthropology Department. Eiseley passed away at age 69 in 1977 in Pennsylvania, where he is buried with his wife, Mabel.

The author, Loren Eiseley
Loren Eiseley

Books, Poems, and Essays

Loren Eiseley's writing is a juxtaposition of his love of nature and his extraordinary talent with the written word. Eiseley published various books on evolution, showing a fascination for Charles Darwin and his work. His first essays, on the natural world, were published in the 1940's, and he would continue his prolific writing throughout his lifetime.

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