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The untold story of Hamilton’s—and Burr’s—physician whose dream to build America’s first botanical garden inspired the young Republic.
When Dr David Hosack tilled the America’s first botanical garden in the Manhattan soil more than two hundred years ago, he didn’t just dramatically alter the New York landscape; he left a monumental legacy of advocacy for public health and wide-ranging support for the sciences. A charismatic dreamer admired by the likes of Jefferson, Madison and Humboldt, and intimate friends with both Hamilton and Burr, the Columbia professor devoted his life to inspiring Americans to pursue medicine and botany with a rigour to rival Europe’s. Though he was shoulder-to-shoulder with the founding fathers Hosack and his story remain unknown. Now, in melodic prose, Victoria Johnson eloquently chronicles Hosack’s tireless career to reveal the breadth of his impact.
“... Victoria Johnson’s fine science biography... A rich and compelling read.” — Nature
“[A] captivating biography… Along the way, [Victoria Johnson] restores this attractive polymath—who today is mainly remembered, thanks to a small role in a certain hip-hop musical, as the doctor-in-attendance at the 1804 duel between two of his patients, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton —to his rightful place in American history. The rescue from oblivion is long overdue… Johnson, an associate professor of urban planning at Hunter College and an authority on botanic gardens, never allows her subject’s many achievements to weigh down her narrative. She writes trippingly, with engaging fluency and wit. She has a lovely way of conjuring up early New York and its denizens—the workers calling out as they unload cargo at the docks; the gentlemen crowding into the Tontine Coffee House for the news of the day. The book’s botany-related passages are particularly vivid. The author writes of plants delightedly, precisely—as Hosack himself might have done.” — Penelope Rowlands, The Wall Street Journal
“If Rockefeller Center is haunted, a likely candidate for the ghost is David Hosack, the doctor-botanist who assembled a major plant collection on the site starting in 1801... Victoria Johnson’s American Eden unearths Hosack, who was lauded in his lifetime but largely forgotten since. Hosack’s Columbia lectures were, as one student said, “as good as the theater,” and so is Johnson’s storytelling. She weaves his biography with threads of history — political, medical and scientific — and the tale of an up-and-coming New York City. An innovative medical practitioner, he was the friend and doctor Hamilton and Burr had in attendance on that July morning along the Weehawken cliffs for their ill-starred duel. Did Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton leave you with an appetite for more? American Eden will not disappoint... In her ambitious and entertaining book Johnson connects past to present. David Hosack’s garden may have been short-lived, but in our parks, gardens, medical practices and pharmacology, his efforts continue to bear fruit.” — Marta McDowell, The New York Times Book Review
“Victoria Johnson follows Hosack’s life and legacy through a range of detail and social context which answers all the answerable questions. It is 54 years since Hosack was the subject of a full biography. Johnson has added some more details, written in a lively way and has related him to other prominent people of his lifetime.” — Financial Times
“American Eden’s many glimpses of the swamps, meadows, fields and flora lying beneath the city, meticulously mapped, are among its greatest pleasures.” — Times Literary Supplement
Short-Listed — National Book Award, 2018
Commended — New York Times Notable Selection, 2018