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


Publisher:Mariner Books



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About the book:

The Moravian monk and naturalist Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) labored quietly over the years in his abbey's garden, becoming known locally as a reliable meteorologist with an unusually green thumb. He was much more than that, of course, but his transforming experiments in what a later acolyte would call "genetics" were less well known. When he published the results of his many attempts to discover the mechanisms by which traits are passed from one generation to the next--in Mendel's case, in sweet peas--it was in the proceedings of a local scientific study group, and it would take nearly two decades before researchers in more august institutions would in turn discover Mendel's work and apply it to their own revolutionizing biology in the process.

Mendel's life was full of disappointments: he failed his qualifying examinations to teach high school several times, and he had trouble getting the scientific establishment of his day to take him seriously. In her lucid, often moving life of the great (and to all purposes self-taught) scientist, Robin Marantz Henig gives readers a view of the deeply religious man himself and of his work not only in the context of his time but also in light of recent developments in the constantly changing field of genetics. Taking issue with historians of science who have sought to discount Mendel's contributions to the field, she makes a well-defended claim that the monk in his small garden should be honored as a genius: "a man with a vision and the dedication to carry it to its brilliant, radical conclusion." Her book is a fitting, and very welcome, memorial. --Gregory McNamee

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