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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
Robin Marantz Henig
Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: 

cloth, 292 p., $24

Gregor Mendel had little indication in his life that his hard work in the gardens of his Brünn monastery withPisum — the everyday pea — and other plants would lead to his scientific canonization as the "father of genetics." Mendel showed no great promise as a scientist as a youth, had troubles with academics in Vienna and by sheer luck fell into the cloistered world of St. Thomas monastery and the Augustinians. Given that the order admired research, Mendel was able to follow his experiments for years and apply his interest in mathematics to his gardening zeal. This lucky combination created the most important work in genetics in the 19th century; unfortunately, it took a new century and the vision of a few scientists, such as William Bateson in England and Hugo de Vries in the Netherlands, to see the genius of Mendel's careful efforts.

Henig puts together a convincing and very human portrait of Mendel, and the exciting if not amazing story of Mendel's rediscovery a century ago. Mendel lives again in my imagination, thanks to this book. A fascinating biography and history of the early years of genetics, this book is highly recommend to anyone interested in understanding genetics, the unfortunate twists and turns of science and the dedication of a single monk hidden in faraway Moravia. Without Mendel, biology would be quite a different and altogether less interesting science today; three cheers for this excellent book that you will find hard to put down.

— Edward J. Valauskas, Manager, Library and Plant Information, School of the Chicago Botanic Garden.