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

Victoria Johnson. Liveright, $29.95 (448p) ISBN 978-1-63149-419-2
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)
Reviewed on: 04/30/2018
Release date: 06/05/2018
Open Ebook - 448 pages - 978-1-63149-420-8
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