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Eternal Ephemera: Adaptation and the Origin of Species from the Nineteenth Century Through Punctuated Equilibria and Beyond

Coming Soon

By: Niles Eldredge (Author)

376 pages, 18 b/w photos and illustrations, tables

Columbia University Press

Paperback | Nov 2016 | #229635 | ISBN-13: 9780231153171
Available for pre-order: Due Nov 2016 Details
NHBS Price: £20.99 $26/€23 approx
Hardback | Mar 2015 | #214809 | ISBN-13: 9780231153164
Availability: Usually dispatched within 48 hours
NHBS Price: £25.99 $32/€29 approx

About this book

One of evolution's fundamental questions is how the skein of life on Earth remains unbroken yet is constantly renewed by new species. What accounts for the scientific paradox that all organisms and species are ephemeral, and yet life endures, yielding more advanced players in nature's eternal play? In this riveting work, renowned scientist Niles Eldredge presents a magisterial account of leading thinkers as they wrestle with this paradox over a span of two hundred years.

Eldredge begins in France with Jean Baptiste Lamarck, who in 1802 first framed the overarching question about new species. Giambatista Brocchi followed, bringing in geology and paleontology to expand the question. In 1825, at the University of Edinburgh, Robert Grant and Robert Jameson introduce these astounding ideas to a young medical student named Charles Darwin. Who can doubt that Darwin left for his voyage in 1831 filled with these daring, new ideas about the "transmutation" of species, well cultivated by earlier thinkers tilling this rugged and contentious intellectual ground?

Eldredge revisits Darwin's early insights in South America and his later synthesis of knowledge into the origin of species. He then considers more recent evolutionary thinkers, such as George Gaylord Simpson, Ernst Mayr, and Theodosius Dhobzhansky, concluding with the young, brash graduate students Niles Eldredge and Steven J. Gould, who set science afire with their revolutionary concept of punctuated equilibria and upended accepted evolutionary ideas. Filled with shattering insight into evolutionary biology and told with a rich affection for the tumult of the scientific arena, this new book is destined to become a classic in the field.

"Very cutting edge. The historical insights of this book are very original and bring in interesting and important themes in the thinking about species and speciation."
– Donald R. Prothero, author of Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters

"In this beautifully written book, Niles Eldredge explores not only how scientific views of the origins of species have changed over the past two hundred years but also why they have changed. It is an enthralling personal view of the history of one of the most difficult problems in evolution, written by a leading paleobiologist whose work has helped mold our understanding of the tempo and mode of the diversification of life. A sheer pleasure to read."
– John N. Thompson, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Niles Eldredge has been one of the most innovative and critical theoretical evolutionary biologists of the past forty years. Now he returns to the roots of modern evolutionary biology to set the stage for new helpful proposals that move evolutionary theory forward. This is required reading for anyone with a serious interest in evolutionary biology."
– Daniel Brooks, University of Toronto

"Paleontological and evolutionary pioneer Niles Eldredge has produced a scientific and scholarly gem of a book. Lucidly written, it covers the history and science of adaptation and the origin of species, with special emphasis placed on how paleontologists helped to build and expand the evolutionary synthesis. Everyone interested in evolution and paleontology will enjoy reading it."
– Bruce S. Lieberman, University of Kansas

"Eternal Ephemera is the most articulate and forceful presentation of the concept and implications of punctuated equilibria, originally formulated by Niles Eldredge and Stephen J. Gould, a concept that has played a major role in the research and development of the theory of evolution over the last four decades. Eldredge's scholarly and bibliographic analysis of the historical precedents, from before Darwin to the present, of the related concepts of taxic versus phyletic evolutionary change is impressive. Eternal Ephemera deserves to be read by every evolutionist."
– Francisco J. Ayala, University of California, Irvine

"Eternal Ephemera offers a brilliantly researched and highly readable context for understanding the development of Darwinian models of evolution. It is a book that should be read by everyone, and perhaps especially those who have questions about evolution."
– Simon Underdown

"A must-read for armchair biologists!"
Booklist (*Starred Review)

"A meticulously researched history of evolutionary theories that will likely be unfamiliar to most readers."

"A masterful work by one of the most influential paleontologists of the past half century, this is a must read for every serious student of evolutionary biology."


Introduction: Approaching Adaptation and the Origin of Species

Part I. Birth of Modern Evolutionary Theory
1. The Advent of the Modern Fauna: On the Births and Deaths of Species, 1801--1831
2. Darwin and the Beagle: Experimenting with Transmutation, 1831--1836
3. Enter Adaptation and the Conflict Between Isolation and Gradual Adaptive Change, 1836--1859

Part II. Rebellion and Reinvention: The Taxic Perspective, 1935--
4. Species and Speciation Reconsidered, 1935--
5. Punctuated Equilibria: Speciation and Stasis in Paleontology, 1968--
6. Speciation and Adaptation: Large-Scale Patterns in the Evolution of Life, 1972--


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Niles Eldredge is a paleontologist on the curatorial staff of the American Museum of Natural History. He developed the theory of "punctuated equilibria" with Stephen Jay Gould, and his book The Pattern of Evolution offered a comprehensive theory of how environmental change governs the evolutionary process. He is also the author of Life in the Balance and The Triumph of Evolution...And The Failure of Creationism and was a coeditor of the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach.

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