The Monk in the Garden: The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics

Robin Marantz Henig, Author
Robin Marantz Henig, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-618-08704-4
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000
Release date: 05/01/2000
Hardcover - 224 pages - 978-0-395-97765-1
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-618-12741-2
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Henig (A Dancing Matrix: How Science Confronts Emerging Viruses) divides the life and reputation of Gregor Mendel, the eponymous monk in the garden, into two acts, with a 35-year interlude between. The lost-and-found genius of ""The Father of Genetics"" is one of the great legends of science, but it harbors many gaps and anomalies, out of which Henig has built a fascinating tale of the strange twists and ironies of scientific progress. Little is known specifically about Mendel's life and work. He left no scientific journals, nothing but a single article published in 1866 summarizing his experiments with peas that went completely unnoticed during his lifetime. Mendel's story is one of repeated failures, disappointments, breakdownsD""a man whose dreams of scientific acclaim are dashed again and again."" However, the disappointments of Mendel's life are merely the prelude to its second act: in the spring of 1900, 16 years after his death, that single article was rediscovered almost simultaneously by three separate scientists in three different countries, and within a few years Mendel was hailed as a giant of scientific discovery. Henig, who revisited the sites of Mendel's life and work (and corrects doubts about how extensive and credible his pea cultivations really were), treats Mendel less as a ""creative genius who died unrewarded,"" and more as a case study in the relationship between scientific work and a scientific reputation. Mendel's story continues to be one of the most human and appealing in the history of science, and Henig conveys its full value in this excellent and well-researched history. Agent, Jean Naggar. (June)
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