American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic

American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic

by Victoria Johnson


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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 America. 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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631496011
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 05/28/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 186,590
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Victoria Johnson, a former Cullman Fellow, is currently an associate professor of urban policy and planning at Hunter College (City University of New York), where she teaches on the history of nonprofits, philanthropy, and New York City.

Table of Contents

To the Reader xv

Prologue 1

Chapter 1 "Tear In Pieces The Doctors" 15

Chapter 2 "An Endless Source Of Innocent Delight" 38

Chapter 3 "Ripping Open My Belly" 52

Chapter 4 "He Is As Good As The Theatre" 70

Chapter 5 "The Grass Is Three Feet High In The Streets" 94

Chapter 6 "Doctor, I Despair" 117

Chapter 7 "There Are No Informed People Here" 127

Chapter 8 "H-K Is Enough, And Even That Unnecessary" 151

Chapter 9 "This Delicious Banquet" 169

Chapter 10 "I Long To See Captain Lewis" 192

Chapter 11 "Strange Noises, Low Spirits" 203

Chapter 12 "Such A Piece Of Downright Imposture" 219

Chapter 13 "You Know, Better Than Any Man" 233

Chapter 14 "Instead Of Creeping Along The Earth" 250

Chapter 15 "Your Fortunate City" 274

Chapter 16 "Expulsion From The Garden Of Eden" 295

Chapter 17 "Like A Romance" 318

Epilogue 329

Acknowledgments 337

Notes 345

Sources and Bibliography 407

Illustration Credits 437

Index 443

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