Bay Nature magazineFall 2006


Book Review: Breaking Through: Essays, Journals and Travelogues of Edward F. Ricketts

October 1, 2006

Breaking Through: Essays, Journals and Travelogues of Edward F. Ricketts, Katherine A. Rodger (ed.), UC Press, 2006, 348 pages, $39.95

While he’s well known as the inspiration for the character “Doc” in several John Steinbeck novels, few people are aware of Edward Ricketts’ place as one of modern ecology’s seminal thinkers, a philosopher, scientist, and engaging writer.

Rodger, the editor, has gathered Ricketts’ personal writings and essays, including field notes discovered as recently as 2003 and published for the first time in this collection. Rodger’s insightful introduction details the academic, geographic, social, and economic factors that shaped Ricketts’ groundbreaking views on ecology and human nature. Short memoirs by two of Ricketts’ children and some rare photographs nicely round out the collection. Of particular interest are the newly discovered typescripts of Ricketts’ original notes from his and Steinbeck’s 1940 expedition to Mexico, a journey that provided the material for the duo’s scientific travelogue, The Log from the Sea of Cortez. While no one doubted that Ricketts assembled the extensive species list in the book’s first edition, there has been controversy over who wrote the narrative—most credited Steinbeck, who appeared as sole author on later editions. The newly discovered transcript ends all speculation: Large sections of the Cortez narrative come directly from the Ricketts’ notes.

This new collection’s detailed field observations, along with the author’s musings on science, literature, and modern society, give the reader a strong sense of the passion Ricketts brought to both research and thinking about humanity’s place in the world.

About the Author

Bay Area native Jessica Taekman spends her spare time hiking, surfing, and baking.

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