Henig not only achieves her goal of making Mendel come alive as a “flawed but brilliant human being,” but provides a...

READ REVIEW

THE MONK IN THE GARDEN

THE LOST AND FOUND GENIUS OF GREGOR MENDEL, FATHER OF GENETICS

A clear and engaging account of the life and times of the Moravian monk whose passion for numbers and painstaking work with pea plants laid the foundation for the modern science of genetics.

Science writer Henig (A Dancing Matrix, 1993, etc.) acknowledges at the start that conjecture and educated deduction were needed in telling Mendel’s story, for very little of his writing (three papers, seven letters, and a brief autobiography written when he was only 28) survives. However, Henig is not telling Mendel’s story in a vacuum. She depicts the intellectual milieu of 19th-century Europe, the beliefs and arguments about creation, spontaneous generation, and inheritance, and the storm of controversy that followed publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Mendel’s immediate world, an Augustinian monastery where teaching and research were emphasized, gave him the freedom to pursue scientific study in the fields that fascinated him: mathematics, botany, physics, and meteorology. Lacking records telling exactly how, when, in what order his botanical experiments were done, Henig pictures Mendel in his monastery garden, “tweezers in one pudgy hand and a camel’s hair paintbrush in the other,” moving slowly along his rows of pea plants, collecting pollen. While his cross-breeding experiments were meticulous, his 1865 report of his findings on heredity went largely unnoticed. Darwin never read the copy of Mendel’s paper he received, and the only scientist who did acknowledge it (Nageli, a German botanist) misinterpreted it—possibly intentionally and perhaps through jealousy. A widely read horticultural textbook published in 1881 did cite Mendel’s work, but it was not until 1900 (16 years after his death) that Mendel’s paper was noticed by three scientists working in three different countries. Henig deftly explores the circumstances surrounding the rediscovery of Mendel’s work and his subsequent enshrinement as an unappreciated genius and father of a new science.

Henig not only achieves her goal of making Mendel come alive as a “flawed but brilliant human being,” but provides a fascinating picture as well of a scientific age when luck and personalities—and not just brains—determined success.

Pub Date: June 5, 2000

ISBN: 0-395-97765-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more