Cover image for The monk in the garden : the lost and found genius of Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics
The monk in the garden : the lost and found genius of Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics
Henig, Robin Marantz.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Physical Description:
viii, 292 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:

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QH31.M45 H464 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QH31.M45 H464 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Most people know that Gregor Mendel, the Moravian monk who patiently grew his peas in a monastery garden, shaped our understanding of inheritance. But people might not know that Mendel's work was ignored in his own lifetime, even though it contained answers to the most pressing questions raised by Charles Darwin's revolutionary book, ON ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES, published only a few years earlier. Mendel's single chance of recognition failed utterly, and he died a lonely and disappointed man.Thirty-five years later, his work was rescued from obscurity in a single season, the spring of 1900, when three scientists from three different countries nearly simultaneously dusted off Mendel's groundbreaking paper and finally recognized its profound significance. The perplexing silence that greeted Mendel's discovery and his ultimate canonization as the father of genetics make up a tale of intrigue, jealousy, and a healthy dose of bad timing. Telling the story as it has never been told before, Robin Henig crafts a suspenseful, elegant, and richly detailed narrative that fully evokes Mendel's life and work and the fate of his ideas as they made their perilous way toward the light of day. THE MONK IN THE GARDEN is a literary tour de force about a little-known chapter in the history of science, and it brings us back to the birth of genetics - a field that continues to challenge the way we think about life itself.

Author Notes

Robin Marantz Henig is the author of six books, including "A Dancing Matrix: How Science Confronts Emerging Viruses". She routinely writes about science & medicine for such publications as the "New York Times Magazine" & "USA Today". She lives in Maryland.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Gregor Mendel conducted his famous experiments with pea plants while the furor over Darwin's Origin of Species raged. Was the Augustinian friar, who had read Darwin, hoping to unveil how modifications arose in successive generations, a crucial factor in evolution that Darwin did not address? We cannot know because, as Henig notes in this warmly sympathetic biography, Mendel left few records, just a few letters and, most important, his 1865 paper describing his investigations into inheritance in pea plants. Henig artfully constructs, from that scanty primary documentation and other sources, a vital depiction of Mendel's personality and experiments. The latter lasted but a few years in the 1850s and 1860s, ending when Mendel became the abbot of his monastery in what is now Brno in the Czech Republic. Henig crisply conveys how the laws of inheritance that Mendel derived from his statistical analysis remained unnoticed until several botanists who discovered them independently in 1900 also learned that Mendel found them first. This biography itself rediscovers a scientist often mentioned but insufficiently known. --Gilbert Taylor

Library Journal Review

The author of numerous books (e.g., A Dancing Matrix: How Science Confronts Emerging Viruses) and articles on popular science and medicine, Henig here recounts the life of Gregor Mendel, the 19th-century monk who laid the groundwork for modern genetics through his pea-breeding experiments. Instead of using the standard biographical form, the author, who describes her writing as "educated deduction," employs a more descriptive, narrative style a few steps removed from the currently popular fictional biography. Very little information exists about Mendel, many of whose papers were burned after his death, and Henig fills in the blanks with probable scenarios. She paints an exceptionally human portrait of the monk that falls between the inflated hero and the beneficiary of lucky accidents. Henig's Mendel is a realistic compromise, a man who experienced failures and successes through intuition, luck (good and bad), and hard work. General readers will find the story very engaging, and the introduction to genetic theories is clearly outlined. This work will not be as appealing to scientists, who may take issue with "filling in the blanks" and the simplified discussion of genetics. Recommended for the general science collections of all public and academic libraries.DMarianne Stowell Bracke, Univ. of Houston Libs. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



PROLOGUE Spring 1900 The blue locomotive of the Great Eastern Railway streaked through the countryside of Cambridgeshire. To a farmer nearby, the trains cars was a rumble of teak and steel plowing through his fields, where seedlings of barley, wheat, and oats etched their own green tracks in the springtime loam. It was early May in 1900, and the earth, like the new century itself, pulsed with possibilities.Among the trains passengers was William Bateson, a don at St. Johns College, Cambridge. Bateson, who was a zoologist, was stoop- shouldered and large. His tweed vest strained at the buttons, his handlebar mustache gleamed - only his droopy eyes saved him from looking self-satisfied or smug. He had just turned forty, and was one of Britains chief combatants in the controversy over evolution and the theory of natural selection, still the source of strident debate more than forty years after Charles Darwin first proposed it.When Bateson boarded in Cambridge, he had no idea that in the next sixty minutes he would read a paper that would change the course not only of his own career, but of mankinds understanding of its place in the great cacophony of nature.Out the windows of Batesons velvet-and-leather compartment were mazes of hedgerows to the left, a pretty little river to the right. A tan stucco pub, looming beyond a hillock just past Harlowtown, marked roughly the halfway point on the familiar trip from Cambridge to London. But, according to the legend that has persisted for a full century, Bateson spent most of that train ride immersed in an old article from a small journal out of Austria. He was not gazing idly at the scenery.The article, written by an obscure Moravian monk named Gregor Mendel, described the elegant botanical experiments Mendel conducted in a modest monastery garden in the old Hapsburg empire of Austria. Mendel had painstakingly crossed and back-crossed pollen and egg cells from the common pea plant to reach a better understanding of inheritance. After working on peas and other plant species for seven long years, he recorded and analyzed his findings in a two-part lecture delivered in 1865. That lecture was published as a forty-four-page journal article - and then was all but ignored for the rest of Mendels life.What brought Bateson to that journal article on the morning of May 8, 1900 was the work of three other scientists, one of them the subject of his lecture that very afternoon. All three had cited Mendels forgotten paper almost simultaneously in their own separate publications. Uncannily, like a field of oat stalks that somehow know to erupt in unison, all three articles had appeared within two months of each other, during the same strange spring of 1900.As he read, Bateson realized that what he was trying to do in his own experiments was almost precisely what Mendel had already done thirty- five years before. He was both shocked and elated. As his wife put it, using a metaphor that prettil Excerpted from The Monk in the Garden: The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics by Robin Marantz Henig All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Spring 1900p. 1
Act 1
1. In the Glasshousep. 13
2. Southern Exposurep. 29
3. Between Science and Godp. 40
4. Breakdown in Viennap. 47
5. Back to the Gardenp. 60
6. Crossingsp. 69
7. First Harvestp. 82
8. Eve's Homunculusp. 94
9. The Flowering of Darwinismp. 100
10. Garden Reflectionsp. 119
11. Full Moon in Februaryp. 133
12. The Silencep. 151
13. "My Time Will Come"p. 160
Act 2
14. Synchronicityp. 177
15. Mendel Reduxp. 179
16. The Monk's Bulldogp. 199
17. A Death in Oxfordp. 221
18. Inventing Mendelismp. 227
19. A Statue in Mendelplatzp. 247
Epilogue: Another Springp. 257
Acknowledgmentsp. 263
Notes and Selected Readingsp. 266
Indexp. 281