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Publisher's Summary

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 Origrin 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.

©2000 Robin Marantz Henig (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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  • Jean
  • 05-02-2017


The book is divided into two sections. The first is the biography of Gregor Mendel (1822-1884). Mendel spent thirty-five years conducting experiments primarily on peas. Mendel was a monk who in the last part of his life was the Abbott of the monastery where he spent his life. He is considered the father of the science of genetics. Henig reveals the strengths and weakness of Mendel in an interesting fashion.

The second part of the book focuses on the rediscovery of Mendel. The primary figure is William Bateson (1861-1926). Bateson was a professor of biology in England and was the first person to use the word genetics. In 1902 he read Mendel’s paper and realized its importance for Darwinism. Henig tells of Bateson’s work to bring Mendel’s work to prominence. Henig reviews Bateson’s research work and his use of women scientists as research assistants. The author goes into detail about the disagreement between Bateson and Thomas Hunt Morgan(1866-1945) who developed the chromosome theory which Bateson opposed.

The book is well written and researched. The story is easy to read with lots of details about the main scientist. I did notice a few historical errors, for example, Henig said Galileo refused to renounce his heliocentric belief before the Inquisition when, in fact, he did. The author states she traveled to the Monastery in Czech Republic that Mendel lived it and examined his garden and papers. Henig noted that most of Mendel’s papers were burned after his death.

The author states her interest in genetics is personal because her father died of Huntington’s disease.

Fleet Cooper does a good job narrating the book.

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  • Disher
  • 01-02-2019

Changes in science and scientists

The author is pretty up front about the lack of actual information available with respect to Mendel. The irony is that.. had Mendel not been meticulous about avoiding such leaps, his work would have remained unknown and or possibly would have made assertions that would have been disproven. Luckily for the author and unluckily for us, history is the interpretation of facts through the lens of the historian’s own research. It need not be proven because it’s largely anecdotal. In that light, I found this book to be everything I had hoped for and successfully had my own mind working, not just on Mendel, but on my own personal analysis of why this book had been written at all. Reading critically is as important with this book as it is with all its predecessors.. which I may have read and accepted without thinking about it. In that way, it adds to the body of literature that reflects our own time. We get 1) the life of Mendel and how his valuable work was ignored for decades, 2) the man who rediscovered and fought for Mendel’s rightful place in science (caveats included), and 3) we get a contemporary view of it all from a scientist’s perspective. This is what happens in the realm of untestable assertions, and yet, we hope that our current attitudes will lead to better science and better treatment of scientists (okay, people in general). History is an art. Nonfiction writing is an art. How to treat science and scientists is probably (probability is a science) still an art.. but we’re working on it.. hopefully.. one day we’ll have a better understanding of the best way to get at and use science. Okay.. maybe that’s beyond the scope of this book.. but like I said.. it got me thinking.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this review...

1 person found this helpful

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