The Monk in the Garden

The Monk in the Garden

The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics

Book - 2000
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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.

Baker & Taylor
A fresh study of the groundbreaking work in genetics conducted by Gregor Mendel, acclaimed as the father of modern genetics, argues that the Moravian monk was far ahead of his time.

Book News
Science popularizer Henig explores the life and experimentation of Moravian monk Mendel (1822-84), which went unknown for a generation after his death, then was simultaneously discovered in three countries. Using peas and other plants, he demonstrated the mechanism of inheritance. The CiP data shows the subtitle as How Gregor Mendel and his Pea Plants Solved the Mystery of Inheritance. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

A study of the groundbreaking work in genetics conducted by Gregor Mendel, acclaimed as the father of modern genetics, argues that the Moravian monk was far ahead of his time.

Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2000
ISBN: 9780395977651
Branch Call Number: B MAN
Characteristics: viii, 292 p. ; 22 cm


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Aug 28, 2010

Henig's factual errors in background material makes me doubt the historic accuracy of the book. She covers Mendel's life but dwells on his failures as much as his achievements. In the later period after his death and in the scientific debate she focuses on the historic revisionism far more than the science of the period unless it was to show the disagreeable nature of ill funded animal work in crowded settings.

Henig develops the idea that Mendel was so test phobic he failed to get his teaching certificate, twice. That he became so corpulent he couldn't walk up hills or stairs. She uses so many petty descriptions in reference to his size it feels like an agenda on her part. Yet photos available in other books show him to be fairly typical in build. or stocky but not massive, or corpulent.
She constantly harps on his lack of genius or that his genius was only in orderly counting. This is more than damming with faint praise it is dedicated denigration of Mendel's dedication, facility with his tools, and intelligent analysis of results.

She uses the sensational to make the book lively when she mentions Mendel's later adherents & detractors became so abusive it was rumored Weldon's heart failure was murder.

She wrote " . . . Galileo Galileo, an Italian mathematics professor and devout Catholic, faced excommunication for defending those same ideas (i.e., Copernicanism). Official doctrine had changed by then . . . but Galileo . . . refused to renounce his radical ideas . . .

Galileo was not 'devout' with his mistress and his 3 illegitimate children.

The Popes argument was with Galileo's insistence that the Church change -its- interpretation of Scripture to conform to Galileo's reinterpretations, which he had based on Copernicanism. The issue was Galileo's Scriptural re-interpretation, not his astronomy.
Galileo did renounce his radical doctrinal ideas. He was forced to keep to his villa outside Florence and not travel after wards. The threat of excommunication and torture are common exaggerations Henig should never have used.

She goes on to say "But natural scientists, if they are intellectually honest, often find themselves taking heretical positions on matters of creation and procreation, positions that challenge the very underpinnings of the Catholic Church."
That is blatantly false as science does not deal in matters of faith or doctrine only in that which has testable evidence in the natural world. Science can make no hypothesis concerning the supernatural so if a scientist makes a comment on a subject of faith it is from their own belief.

It is also false in terms of Mendel who was a monk. Monks & vicars studied the natural world as was common in that era. To study the world was to study the creator's message.

This world view, typical then, would have been of great interest to explore and explain especially in view of the current argument between fundamental evangelists versus scientist on descent with modification.

Henig has an sociopolitical bias I do not agree with.


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