Letters and Politics

Boko Haram; The Origin of the Origin of Species

Mike Smith, foreign correspondent for AFP news agency and former Western Africa bureau chief, based in Nigeria. He has extensively covered the Boko Haram insurgency and is author of the book Boko Haram: Inside Nigeria’s Unholy War. 

And Niles Eldredge, a paleontologist formerly 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 offers a comprehensive theory of how environmental change governs the evolutionary process. He was a co-editor of the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach. His most recent book is Eternal Ephemera: Adaptation and the Origin of Species from the Nineteenth Century Through Punctuated Equilibria and Beyond. 

About the books:

Boko Haram: Inside Nigeria’s Unholy War 

An insurgency in Nigeria by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram has left thousands dead, shaken Africa’s biggest country and worried the world. Yet it remains a mysterious – almost unknowable – organisation. rough exhaustive on-the-ground reporting, Mike Smith takes readers inside the conflict and provides the first in-depth account of the violence and unrest. He traces Boko Haram from its beginnings as a small Islamist sect in Nigeria’s remote north-east, led by a baby-faced but charismatic preacher, to its transformation into a hydra-headed entity, deploying suicide bombers and abducting schoolgirls. Much of the book is told through the eyes of Nigerians who have found themselves caught between frightening insurgents and security forces accused of horrifying brutality. It includes the voices of a forgotten police officer left paralysed by an attack, women whose husbands have been murdered and a sword-wielding vigilante using charms to fend of insurgent bullets. It journeys through the sleaze and corruption that has robbed Africa’s biggest oil producer of its potential, making it such fertile ground for extremism.

Along the way it questions whether there can be any end to the violence and the ways in which this might be achieved. Interspersed with history, this book delves into the roots of this unholy war being waged by a virtually unknown organisation, which is set to shape the destiny of Africa’s biggest economy and most populous state – and perhaps affect the future of Africa.

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

All organisms and species are transitory, yet life endures. The origin, extinction, and evolution of species–interconnected in the web of life as “eternal ephemera”–are the concern of evolutionary biology. In this riveting work, renowned paleontologist Niles Eldredge follows leading thinkers as they have wrestled for more than two hundred years with the eternal skein of life composed of ephemeral beings, revitalizing evolutionary science with their own, more resilient findings.

Eldredge begins in France with the naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who in 1801 first framed the overarching question about the emergence of new species. The Italian geologist Giambattista Brocchi followed, bringing in geology and paleontology to expand the question. In 1825, at the University of Edinburgh, Robert Grant and Robert Jameson introduced the astounding ideas formulated by Lamarck and Brocchi to a young medical student named Charles Darwin. Who can doubt that Darwin left for his voyage on the Beagle in 1831 filled with thoughts about these daring new explanations for the “transmutation” of species.

Eldredge revisits Darwin’s early insights into evolution in South America and his later synthesis of knowledge into a theory of the origin of species. He then considers the ideas of more recent evolutionary thinkers, such as George Gaylord Simpson, Ernst Mayr, and Theodosius Dobzhansky, as well as the young and brash Niles Eldredge and Steven Jay Gould, who set science afire with their concept of punctuated equilibria. Filled with insights into evolutionary biology and told with a rich affection for the scientific arena, this book celebrates the organic, vital relationship between scientific thinking and its subjects.

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