Early America’s foremost botanist was also New York’s greatest institution builder, a man of ‘Industry and Talents.’ ... In her captivating biography American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic Victoria Johnson describes how, at a time when 'Philadelphians thought they inhabited the Athens of America,' Hosack helped to tip the scales in New York’s favor ... Along the way, she 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.
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.
David Hosack was an exemplary citizen of New York, intelligent, ambitious, public-spirited. A respected physician, he attended his friend Alexander Hamilton’s duel with Aaron Burr ... But Hosack’s passion was botany. In the days when drugs came entirely from plants, he believed their systematic study was essential to discovering cures for humanity’s ills ... 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 ... Though festooned with too many subplots, 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.