Why Stanford University Delayed Ed Ricketts’s Book

Cover image from Between Pacific Tides, Ed Ricketts's marine biology text

Sea of Cortez, the record of John Steinbeck’s 1940 exploration of Baja California with Edward F. Ricketts, has become a familiar source for fans of both men, and for students of marine biology. Less well known is the story behind Between Pacific Tides, the pioneering marine biology text by Ricketts and Jack Calvin, another Steinbeck friend, published by Stanford University in 1939, the year The Grapes of Wrath appeared. My research on the history of the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory and Hopkins Marine Station, and the Chautauqua nature study movement in Pacific Grove, touches on a formative phase in the life of Steinbeck, who took a summer biology course while a Stanford University student that helped set the stage for his introduction to Ricketts when Steinbeck, who left college in 1925, moved to Pacific Grove.

Image of Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck's collaborator and friendMy research addresses intriguing questions about Ed Ricketts and his book raised by biographers, critics, and historians. The proposal for Between Pacific Tides was presented to Stanford University Press in 1930, the year Ricketts and Steinbeck met. Was the book’s publication slowed by the Director of Hopkins Marine Station Walter K. Fisher’s critical review of the manuscript? Did Stanford University Press dislike the ecological approach taken by Ricketts, whose holistic science and philosophy profoundly influenced Steinbeck’s thought and writing? Was Ricketts completely isolated from the scientific community of Hopkins Marine Station, as has often been suggested? The discovery of numerous letters between Ricketts, Stanford University Press, and invertebrate specialists around the world provides answers to these and other questions, chapter by chapter, in the book that I am writing about the delayed publication of Between Pacific Tides.

Donald Kohrs About Donald Kohrs

Donald Kohrs is Branch Library Specialist at the Miller Library of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California, where John Steinbeck’s interest in marine biology began. He lives in Santa Cruz and has degrees in biology and library science. His past research includes the history of the Pacific Grove’s Chautauqua program, the history of the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory, and the early years of the Hopkins Marine Station. His current project is uncovering the story behind the publication of Between Pacific Tides, the seminal work of marine biology by Edward F. Ricketts, Steinbeck’s friend and collaborator, and the artist Jack Calvin.


  1. Wes Stillwagon says:

    Years ago I visited Monterey with friends to observe the launch of the second exploration of the sea of Cortez. I expressed to my friends, one who was scheduled to go on the exploration that what will be missing among the attending marine biologists and scientists, will be the gritty philosophical discussion described so beautifully in Steinbe/Ricketts “Log From The Sea of Cortez”. Upon return the fellow confirmed that indeed it was missing. The group of scientists completely missed that point that collecting and preserving specimens does not equate to understanding their lives in the literal – what an opportunity lost. The radical shift in Ricketts’ writing perspective compared to the dry as dust usual scientific publications of the time, I believe accounted for much of the resistance to Ricketts’ publication
    What a treasure such a journey would be with a group made up of Steinbeck/Ricketts – like minded friends willing to tackle the tough questions on their journey into the Sea of Cortez and then compare their findings with those of the 1940s trip. I think I’d like to go as long as they had an improved outboard engine and not a Hansen Sea Cow.

  2. Intriguing Questions…plausible insights. Thank you

  3. The politics of publishing, an important issue all around. Looking forward to it.

  4. Michael E. Peterson says:

    Isn’t the name Edward F Ricketts, rather than Edward J Ricketts? I believe the middle name stand for Flanders. Just sayin.’

Speak Your Mind