Johnson, an associate professor of urban policy and planning at Hunter College, dives deeply into the life of David Hosack (1769–1835), whose work as a leading physician and as the foremost American botanist of his time provides a window into the United States’ formative post-Revolutionary years. Johnson first examines Hosack’s early medical training, at Columbia College, Princeton, and the University of Edinburgh, and his efforts to increase the era’s medical knowledge. In parallel, she explicates the political and personal rivalries that consumed the fledgling U.S., experienced firsthand by Hosack as attending physician at Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s infamous 1804 duel. Johnson focuses, however, on Hosack’s hard-won creation of the country’s first botanical garden, lacing the text with surprisingly entertaining descriptions of some of the hundreds of plants Hosack enthusiastically acquired, such as the carnivorous roundleaf sundew, used by some Native Americans as a “wart remover... and also a love potion.” Johnson exhibits a welcome eye for the telling detail—noting, for instance, that for 18th-century medical students the “dissection season” began in autumn, when the weather cooled and corpses lasted longer. History buffs and avid gardeners will find Hosack an appealing and intriguing figure who doubles as an exemplar of the qualities of a vibrant and expanding America. (June)
Lively…. Victoria Johnson follows Hosack’s life and legacy through a range of detail and social context which answers all the answerable questions. Evocations of ‘pastoral Manhattan’ run through the story, reminding us what has been concreted over and lost.
A biography of David Hosack (1769-1835), a nature-obsessed doctor who "was convinced that saving lives also depended on knowing the natural world outside the human body."Trivia buffs may know Hosack as the physician who attended the 1804 duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. He certainly deserves a fuller portrait, and in her first book, Johnson (Urban Policy and Planning/Hunter Coll.) writes an admiring account of the energetic physician, who mingled with the Founding Fathers, lectured in medical schools across the country, and created America's first botanical garden. After training in America, Hosack traveled to Britain in 1792 to take advantage of its superior schooling. This included the study of medicinal plants, a more important element in medical practice during that time than today. He became fascinated with botany and brought this passion home in 1794. Settling in New York, he built a prosperous practice and became a university professor in both medicine and botany. Remaining neutral in national politics allowed him to treat both Hamilton and his bitter enemy, Burr. In 1801, he bought 20 acres in then-rural mid-Manhattan and built a huge botanical garden replete with greenhouses and hothouses. Universally praised, it became an educational and research center. However, the expenses were ruinous even for a wealthy physician, and Hosack, supported by influential friends, lobbied for government support. Legislators were unenthusiastic until 1810, when New York state bought it for less than Hosack wanted; then the government showed little interest in maintenance, so it fell into decay. As a physician, Hosack was not ahead of his time. He bled patients, prescribed toxins such as mercury, and administered drugs that produced vomiting, sweating, or diarrhea. This was accepted practice, and Johnson gives his healing efforts perhaps more credit than they deserve, but she provides an engaging tale of an important life in early America.An adroit portrait of an early American physician who became a pioneering horticulturist.
The founding era blooms with rare color in American Eden. In this captivatingly told story of how one man’s quest to cultivate his garden helped build his nation, Victoria Johnson makes a powerful argument for the age of Hamilton as the age of Hosack. She writes eloquently, researches deeply, and thinks creatively, and the result is a fresh, vivid picture of the early republic sure to enthrall readers of biography and history alike.
American Eden brings to life a young nation and an old New York, deeply known and lovingly peopled by Victoria Johnson. The book paints family portraits of the FoundersAlexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, plus their women and childrenwho orbit around their all-healing doctor, David Hosack. When the doctor blooms into a science pioneer and builds a botanical garden, Johnson gives us a biography of America’s first environmentalist, obsessed with preserving the world’s flora.
Plant-lovers and gardeners will savor the tales Johnson discovered about nineteenth-century botanizing and empathize with the trials of saving a garden, the most ephemeral of treasures, for posterity.... American Eden is a worthwhile read for history fans, botany and garden enthusiasts, and everyone interested in the challenge of turning a good idea into a legacy.
An extraordinary book about an extraordinary man, a cosmopolitan visionary of the American future. Integrating an astonishing array of sources into a supple, compelling narrative, Johnson masterfully recounts Hosack’s valiant establishment of a garden flourishing with native and immigrant plants, an Eden for the new nation; fleshes out his friendships with the leaders of the early Republic, all of them, including even Jefferson, Hamilton, and Burr, bound by botany; and recalls his pioneering efforts on behalf of medical and cultural New York. Johnson brings Hosack vividly to life while fully delineating his remarkable civic and scientific achievements.
Victoria Johnson has written an engaging intellectual biography that weaves science into the story of America's founding. American Eden is rich in insights, and it casts a vivid light on the astounding achievements of the nation's first botanist.
American Eden is an exhaustively researched, brilliant and lively biography set in the close political, social and intellectual circles of the new Republic by professor of urban planning Victoria Johnson… Johnson's storytelling skills and her thorough knowledge of the period and the science makes this a book that will appeal to history lovers, botanists and gardeners alike.
Victoria Johnson's American Eden is the kind of history I love: deeply researched, evocative of its time, and fascinating at every turn. It follows the life of David Hosack, early American doctor, botanist, New Yorker, and bon vivant, whose life touched the famous on both sides of the Atlantic. Hosack was there when Alexander Hamilton took a bullet; Hosack greeted the Marquis de Lafayette on his triumphal return in 1824; Hosack founded North America's first botanic garden on the land where Rockefeller Center now stands in midtown Manhattan. Where others saw real estate and power, Hosack saw the landscape as a pharmocopeia able to bring medicine into the modern age.
[David Hosack] became a titan of medical research in the fledgling nation. He published on tetanus and breast cancer, pioneered smallpox vaccination and, as Victoria Johnson’s fine science biography reveals, contributed vastly to medicinal botany. Hosack’s famed, now lost, Elgin Botanic Garden in New York City became a key training centre for scientists and surgeons, who peered "into the globe-spanning, dizzying complexity of the natural world" through plants. A rich and compelling read.
In the fall of 1797 the eldest son of Alexander Hamilton, Philip, fell ill with yellow fever, which was sweeping through New York City. The family doctor, David Hosack, employed an unorthodox treatment of hot baths of Peruvian bark and alcohol and saved the boy's life... Hosack went on to establish the nation's first botanical gardenthe Elgin Botanic Gardenin the place that is now Rockefeller Center and to launch the American era of botany. He used the Elgin collection to conduct some of the earliest methodical research on the medicinal properties of plants, including poppies from which opiates are derived and the two plants that would later be involved in the development of aspirin.
You’ve listened to Hamilton, you devoured the Alexander Hamilton biography. But you might not have read up on David Hosack, the American botanist and doctor who accompanied Hamilton and Burr on their fateful duel. While he wasn’t paid in advance, he was treated with civility, and in American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic, you can read more about his life as a pioneering botanist, pharmacologist, and surgeon.
American Eden is one of those rare books…it surprises by its originality, it impresses with its deep scholarship and it seduces with its beautiful writing. Victoria Johnson has the gift of a storyteller and the tenacity of a detective…her descriptions of medicine, botany and politics in the early Republic are not only compelling but also exquisitely researched.
Lucky is the biographer who can resurrect a forgotten figure and retrieve a major reputation lost to the passage of time. In this captivating and intensely readable book, Victoria
Johnson rescues the remarkable life of Dr. David Hosack, physician and botanist extraordinaire and a towering benefactor of New York and the early republic. A
[A] captivating biography… Along the way, [Victoria Johnson] restores this attractive polymathwho 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 denizensthe 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, preciselyas Hosack himself might have done.
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.
Well into this fine biography, readers learn its subject's favorite saying: "the more a man has to do the better he does it." David Hosack (1769–1835), physician and esteemed lecturer in medicine; founder or member of several scientific, charitable, and cultural institutions; and the person responsible for the first U.S. botanical garden (located where Rockefeller Center stands today), was also an attending medic at the Hamilton-Burr duel. Duelists aside, the cast of characters here represents a veritable who's who of the early republic, as Hosack's drive and talent took him into the orbit of Thomas Jefferson, Sir Joseph Banks, Alexander von Humboldt, and Washington Irving. The story's backdrop is richly drawn: Johnson (urban policy & planning, Hunter Coll.) allows readers to imagine the city's prebuilt landscape as it appeared at the end of the 18th century, and how infectious disease was as dangerous a threat to its citizens as war with Britain. Readers will also delight in the details, as Johnson dutifully names Hosack's prized botanical collections. VERDICT A brilliant evocation of a man and his time. Plant lovers, history buffs, New Yorkaphiles, those interested in early medicine, even Hamiltonians—all will find this engrossing.—Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont.