That is the title of one of my all-time favorite books. Written by the eminent anthropologist, Loren Eiseley, and published in 1957, it is the story of life, from its unknown origins in the dim past to its present state. Being an anthropologist, Eiseley focuses most of his attention on the evolution of Man.
I first read this book almost 20 years ago, and was riveted by Eiseley’s writing. I’m not normally a science geek, although I do find it interesting. But reading “The Immense Journey” was a revelation. He was that rarity, a poet-scientist, who could explain the path of life and evolution without making it tedious and mechanical. Indeed, he mainly rejected the easy, mechanistic explanations of how Man evolved to become what he is today.
Too many of today’s scientists, particularly evolutionary biologists, see everything concerning life as mechanism. Completely absent from their worldview are any purpose or meaning. Many times, the soulless prose of these scientists reflects their vision. Not so Loren Eiseley. He saw mystery not just in Man, but in all of life, and that sense of “owl-eyed wonder” (his words) illuminated his writing.
I quoted one of my favorite passages from this book a couple of Sundays back, but I want to share another of this author’s marvelous descriptions of wonder:
. . . but more delicate, elusive, quicker than the fins in water, is that mysterious principle known as “organization,” which leaves all other mysteries concerned with life stale and insignificant by comparison. For that without organization life does not persist is obvious. Yet this organization itself is not strictly the product of life, nor of selection. Like some dark and passing shadow within matter, it cups out the eyes’ small windows or spaces the notes of a meadow lark’s song in the interior of a mottled egg. That principle – I am beginning to suspect – was there before the living in the deeps of water.
By all accounts Eiseley was a not a religious man in any traditional sense of the word. Yet he was no enemy of religion either. He was comfortable using religious imagery when it was called for, as in this quote from the editors’ preface to this edition of the book:
. . . whether we speak of a God come down to earth or a man inspired toward God and betrayed upon a cross, the dream was great, and shook the world like a storm. I believe in Christ in every man who dies to contribute to a life beyond his life. I believe in Christ in all who defend the individual from the iron boot of the extending collective state . . .
Do yourself a favor. Read this book.