Everybody knows the basic story from biology class of Gregor Mendel, the Moravian monk who grew peas in his monastery garden and managed to discover the patterns of genetic inheritance without anyone else realizing the importance of his work during his lifetime. Henig relates what little is known of his life (there's something sweet about his failing twice to pass oral exams for teacher certification, and his youthful depressions, when he took to his bed for 4 to 12 months at a time), and places his life and work in their greater context. The last third of the book details the subsequent fight to accord his work its proper credit. In pleasant and uncomplicated prose, she sketches in the roles of Darwin, Huxley, Bateson, and the others, and though she has a tendency to favor an apocryphal tale "because it is a beautiful metaphor" (and why spend a page on the World War I poet Rupert Brooke, just because Bateson lived for a time in the village of his birth?), at least she's open about it. Not a deep or revelatory book, but an undemanding read for the lay person.
This report prepared by David Loftus