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Niles Eldredge

Niles Eldredge is a curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and codiscoverer with Stephen Jay Gould of the theory of punctuated equilibrium—a milestone in evolutionary theory. His numerous books on evolution include Reinventing Darwin: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory (Wiley, 1995), The Triumph of Evolution . . . And the Failure of Creationism (Freeman, 2000), Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene (Norton, 2004), and most recently Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life (Norton, 2005), which he wrote to accompany the exhibit “Darwin,” which he curated at the American Museum of Natural History.


Confessions of a Darwinist

Spring 2006 | Essays

 came to evolution in a roundabout way. Sure, as a kid I had seen the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History—and had heard a bit about evolution in high school. But I was intent on studying Latin and maybe going to law school.

But evolution got in the way. I was dating my now wife, and through her getting to know members of the Columbia anthropology faculty. At the time (early 1960s), anthropology to me meant Louis Leakey and his adventures collecting human fossils at Olduvai Gorge—rather than, say, Margaret Mead and her adventures studying cultures of the South Pacific. A summer spent asking embarrassing personal questions in my halting Portuguese in a small village in northeastern Brazil ended my quest to study evolution through anthropology. I was far more taken with the Pleistocene fossils embedded in the sandstone that formed the protective cove for the fishing boats. By summer’s end I was determined to become a paleontologist.