In the 1930s, while the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression sent most of America into the doldrums, a lively intellectual and artistic community formed in the West, revolving around three legendary friends: Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck, and Joseph Campbell. Steinbeck immortalized Monterey’s bohemian spirit in Cannery Row, a novel that was inspired by his mentor and best friend, Ed Ricketts.
Today, Ricketts is usually remembered as “Doc” — the beer-drinking philosopher-scientist who presided over Monterey’s population of “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches” in Cannery Row. Untold is the fact that Ricketts was actually a trailblazing ecologist who did seminal work in the emerging field on the Pacific Coast. His two books, Between Pacific Tides and Sea of Cortez (coauthored with Steinbeck), are still considered classics. And hardly a soul has any idea about Ricketts’ enormous influence on Joseph Campbell, the twentieth century’s great mythologist.
At the time of his untimely death in 1948, Ricketts was working with John Steinbeck on a “northern sequel” to Sea of Cortez titled The Outer Shores. It was part of an ecological trilogy of the Pacific, stretching from the Baja to the Bering Sea, and one of the greatest scientific investigations of a coastline ever attempted at the time.
Ed Ricketts was a lone, largely marginalized scientist — an outcast to academia with no university degrees, memberships or honors. His pioneering ideas were at first dismissed by the scientific establishment. Now some sixty years after his untimely death, Ricketts’ ecological approach and ethic, and especially his warnings about the excesses of modern society’s material pursuit and its technological mania, are more relevant than ever.
Beyond the Outer Shores is a thoughtful and revealing portrait of symbiotic friend, the fusion of science, art and philosophy, a rousing tale of travel and discovery, and the inspiring true story of an unassuming scientist who became a legend in the annals of American literature.