FINALIST FOR THE 2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION
A New York Times Notable Book of 2018
an Amazon "Best Books of the year: History” for 2018
an EDitors' Choice, the New York Times Book Review, July 5, 2018
an Amazon "Best Books of the Month: History" FOR June 2018
REVIEWS of AMERICAN EDEN
New York Times, Sunday Book Review, July 1, 2018 "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
Scientific American, July 2018 Issue, Book Recommendations from the Editors of Scientific American "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 garden—the Elgin Botanic Garden—in 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." —Andrea Gawrylewski
Popular Science, June 15, 2018, A Recommended Book for June 2018 "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." —Mary Beth Griggs
Nature, June 12, 2018 "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." —Barbara Kiser
The Wall Street Journal, June 2-3, 2018 "[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 Weekly Standard, November 4, 2018 “Victoria Johnson’s illuminating biography of the founder of the first American botanical garden drives home the fact that winning the Revolutionary War was only the beginning of the struggle to create a new republic. Dr. David Hosack (1769-1835) was deeply involved in the hard work of establishing cultural and scientific institutions for the new nation. Johnson interweaves Hosack’s story with those of others, primarily in government and the sciences, who interacted with him at strategic turns….After reading Johnson’s description of a plaque honoring Hosack in Rockefeller Center’s Channel Gardens, I hastened to wade through the crowds on a hot summer Sunday to search for it….That dedication encapsulates a lifetime, with many years spent pursuing and a decade spent realizing a magnificent and useful vision. Victoria Johnson conveys Hosack’s story with such detail that readers will feel like onlookers during those adventurous days that gave rise to so many institutions we still know. The time has come to raise the plaque and burnish it.” –Paula Deitz
The Financial Times, November 23, 2018 “The Rockefeller Center in New York is a supremely urban landmark. The skyscraper and the ice rink seem about as far from gardening as it is possible to be…In a new book, American Eden, 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. As she well remarks, we ‘now know a great deal about how passionate Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison were about botany and horticulture’. She adds Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton…Evocations of ‘pastoral Manhattan’ run through the story, reminding us what has been concreted over and lost.”
Library Journal (Starred Review) "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."
Kirkus Reviews "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....[American Eden] provides an engaging tale of an important life in early America. An adroit portrait of an early American physician who became a pioneering horticulturist."
Shelf Awareness "American Eden is an exhaustively researched, brilliant and lively biography...will appeal to history lovers, botanists and gardeners alike."
Publishers Weekly "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.”
Booklist “David Hosack (1769–1835) was an exemplary citizen of New York, intelligent, ambitious, public-spirited....Anyone involved with philanthropy or the nonprofit world will appreciate his struggles to raise funds. 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.”