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American Eden

By: Victoria Johnson

Publisher: WW Norton

Imprint: Liveright

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781631494192

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Trade Paperback

On Sale: | Pages: 448

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Finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction A New York Times Editors' Choice Selection The untold story of Hamilton’s—and Burr’s—personal physician, whose dream to build America’s first botanical garden inspired the young Republic. On a clear morning in July 1804, Alexander Hamilton stepped onto a boat at the edge of the Hudson River. He was bound for a New Jersey dueling ground to settle his bitter dispute with Aaron Burr. Hamilton took just two men with him: his “second” for the duel, and Dr. David Hosack. As historian Victoria Johnson reveals in her groundbreaking biography, Hosack was one of the few points the duelists did agree on. Summoned that morning because of his role as the beloved Hamilton family doctor, he was also a close friend of Burr. A brilliant surgeon and a world-class botanist, Hosack—who until now has been lost in the fog of history—was a pioneering thinker who shaped a young nation. Born in New York City, he was educated in Europe and returned to America inspired by his newfound knowledge. He assembled a plant collection so spectacular and diverse that it amazes botanists today, conducted some of the first pharmaceutical research in the United States, and introduced new surgeries to American. His tireless work championing public health and science earned him national fame and praise from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander von Humboldt, and the Marquis de Lafayette. One goal drove Hosack above all others: to build the Republic’s first botanical garden. Despite innumerable obstacles and near-constant resistance, Hosack triumphed when, by 1810, his Elgin Botanic Garden at last crowned twenty acres of Manhattan farmland. “Where others saw real estate and power, Hosack saw the landscape as a pharmacopoeia able to bring medicine into the modern age” (Eric W. Sanderson, author of Mannahatta). Today what remains of America’s first botanical garden lies in the heart of midtown, buried beneath Rockefeller Center. Whether collecting specimens along the banks of the Hudson River, lecturing before a class of rapt medical students, or breaking the fever of a young Philip Hamilton, David Hosack was an American visionary who has been too long forgotten. Alongside other towering figures of the post-Revolutionary generation, he took the reins of a nation. In unearthing the dramatic story of his life, Johnson offers a lush depiction of the man who gave a new voice to the powers and perils of nature.
Johnson's lyrical prose breathes life into the New York City of 200 years ago.... 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.
—New York Times
Ms. 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 book also offers fascinating glimpses of early New Yorkers responding to world events, such as when, at the outbreak of the War of 1812, the city's residents fall “into a frenzy of fear and recrimination.”
—Wall Street Journal
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