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Eldredge began his undergraduate studies in Latin at Columbia University. Before completing his degree he switched to the study of anthropology under Norman D. Newell. It was at this time that his work at the American Museum of Natural History began, under the combined Columbia University-American Museum graduate studies program.
Eldredge graduated summa cum laude from Columbia College of Columbia University in 1965, and enrolled in the university's doctoral program while continuing his research at the museum. He completed his PhD in 1969.
In 1969, Eldredge became a curator in the Department of Invertebrates at the American Museum of Natural History, and subsequently a curator in the Invertebrate Paleontology section of Paleontology, a position from which he recently retired. He was also an Adjunct Professor at the City University of New York. His specialty was the evolution of mid-Paleozoic Phacopida trilobites: a group of extinct arthropods that lived between 543 and 245 million years ago.
Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould proposed punctuated equilibria in 1972. Punctuated equilibrium is a refinement to evolutionary theory. It describes patterns of descent taking place in "fits and starts" separated by long periods of stability.
Throughout his career, he has used repeated patterns in the history of life to refine ideas on how the evolutionary process actually works. Eldredge is proponent of the importance of environment in explaining the patterns in evolution.
Eldredge is a critic of the gene-centric view of evolution. His most recent venture is the development of an alternative account to the gene-based notions of evolutionary psychology to explain human behavior.
He has published more than 160 scientific articles, books, and reviews, including Reinventing Darwin, an examination of current controversies in evolutionary biology, and Dominion, a consideration of the ecological and evolutionary past, present, and future of Homo sapiens.
Eldredge enjoys playing jazz trumpet and is an avid collector of 19th century cornets. He shares his home in Ridgewood, New Jersey with his wife and more than 500 cornets. He also has two sons, two daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren.
Eldredge possesses a chart of the historical development of cornets (the musical instruments), which he uses as a comparison with that of the development of trilobites. The differences between them are meant to highlight the failures of intelligent design by comparing a system that is definitely designed, with a system that is not designed.
- Wertheim, Margaret. " SCIENTIST AT WORK -- Niles Eldredge; Bursts of Cornets and Evolution Bring Harmony to Night and Day", The New York Times, March 9, 2004. Accessed November 20, 2007. "By his own admission, Dr. Niles Eldredge is a pretty mediocre horn player. Tootling on a cornet in his living room in Ridgewood, N.J., he pumps out a few bars of Bach, then puts down the instrument with a good-natured sigh."
- Cracraft, J. and N. Eldredge (eds.) 1979. Phylogenetic Analysis and Palaeontology. Columbia University Press, New York
- Eldredge, N. and J. Cracraft. 1980. Phylogenetic Patterns and the Evolutionary Process. Method and Theory in Comparative Biology. Columbia University Press, New York, 349 p. Japanese edition, Soju Shobo, 1990
- Eldredge, N. 1982. The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism. Pocket Books, New York. 157 p. Japanese edition, 1992
- Eldredge, N. and I. Tattersall. 1982. The Myths of Human Evolution. Columbia University Press, New York. 197 p. Japanese edition arranged through Columbia U. Press.; Spanish edition 1986: Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico; Portuguese ed.: 1984, Zahar Editores, Rio de Janeiro; Italian ed., 1984: Boringheri
- Eldredge, N. and S. M. Stanley (eds.). 1984. Living Fossils. Springer Verlag, New York.
- Eldredge, N. 1985. Time Frames. Simon and Schuster, New York. 240 pp. Great Britain: Heilman; Princeton University reprint edition. Italian edition, 1991, hopefulmonster editore
- Eldredge, N. 1985. Unfinished Synthesis: Biological Hierarchies and Modern Evolutionary Thought. Oxford University Press, New York
- Eldredge, N. 1987. Life Pulse: Episodes in the History of Life. Facts on File, New York. Pelican edition (Great Britain)
- Eldredge, N. (ed.). 1987. Natural History Reader on Evolution. Columbia University Press, New York
- Eldredge, N. 1989. Macroevolutionary Dynamics: Species, Niches and Adaptive Peaks. McGraw Hill, New York. Japanese edition: McGraw Hill Publishing Co., Japan, Ltd.
- Eldredge, N., D. Eldredge and G. Eldredge. 1989. The Fossil Factory. Addison Wesley Publishing Co., Reading, Massachusetts
- Eldredge, N. 1991. The Miner's Canary: Extinctions Past and Present. Prentice Hall Books, New York; English edition: Virgin Publishing, Ltd.; Korean edition: Moeum Publishers; Italian edition: Sperling and Kupfer. German Edition: Spektrum; U.S. paperback edition: Princeton University Press
- Eldredge, N. 1991. Fossils: The Evolution and Extinction of Species. Photographs by Murray Alcosser. Abrams, New York; Australian edition: Houghton Mifflin; English edition: Aurum Press; German edition: Belser Verlag
- Eldredge, N. (ed.). 1992. Systematics, Ecology and the Biodiversity Crisis. Columbia University Press, New York
- Eldredge, N. and M. Grene. 1992. Interactions: The Biological Context of Social Systems. Columbia University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Eldredge, N. 1995. Reinventing Darwin: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory. John Wiley and Sons, New York; English edition: Orion; Italian edition: Einaudi Editore
- Eldredge, N. 1995. Dominion. Henry Holt and Co; paperback edition, University of California Press, 1997
- Eldredge, N. 1998. Life in the Balance: Humanity and the Biodiversity Crisis. Princeton University Press. Portugal: Dinalivre; China/Taiwan: International Publishing Co.; Poland: Proscynski; Japan: Seidosha; Spain: TusQuets; Italy: Guilo Einaudi Editore
- Eldredge, N. 1999. The Pattern of Evolution. W. H. Freeman and Co., New York
- Eldredge, N. 2000. The Triumph of Evolution...And the Failure of Creationism. W.H. Freeman and Co., New York
- Eldredge, N. (ed.). 2002. Life on Earth: An Encyclopaedia of Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California
- Eldredge, N. 2004. Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene. W.W. Norton, New York
- Eldredge, N. 2005. Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life. W.W. Norton, New York
- Eldredge, N. 2014. Extinction and evolution : what fossils reveal about the history of life, ISBN 978177085359; Firefly Books, Toronto
- Biographical Sketch at the American Museum of Natural History
- Confessions of a Darwinist
- Conversation with Harold Hudson on YouTube