Meet Historian, Bestselling Author of "American Eden" Victoria Johnson | Desert Botanical Garden


Have you ever wondered how the first American public garden came to be? Who had the wonderful idea of creating a green space — an intersection of botany, research and display — for visitors to enjoy?

Uncover the riveting tale of David Hosack and his quest to create the first botanical garden in the nation with Victoria Johnson, author of the bestselling book “American Eden,” at the Garden’s Read Between the Spines Author Series on Jan. 17 and Jan. 18.

Register today for our author series for an intimate meet-and-greet with Johnson and have your book signed. And learn a little bit about the author below in this delightful Q&A with the Garden.

Q: Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it?

A: I’ve always loved botanical gardens. When I learned that the first American botanical garden was created at the dawn of the 19th century on 20 acres of stunning countryside, but today is buried under one of the most iconic urban spaces in the world, I was utterly hooked! How did that happen? I became obsessed with uncovering the story of this first garden and the brilliant, charismatic doctor, David Hosack, who brought it into the world against all odds—and what happened to it after that.

Q: The book really dives into the first botanical garden created in the United States. What do you think our visitors would enjoy about this book?

A: If you love plants, gardens, medicine, and/or history, you will find them all in the pages of “American Eden,” wrapped into the dramatic story of a man who refused to give up on his dream for his young nation. 

Q: What did you learn about botanical gardens while writing this book?

A: I already knew that botanical gardens are beautiful, healing, peaceful places. What I didn’t know was that their creation was a matter of life and death in early America.

Q: What can readers expect to experience if they attend this event?

A: I’ve presented on “American Eden” well over a hundred times across the U.S. Audience members routinely tell me how entertained and moved they were by this true tale of vision, patriotism and perseverance. I can’t wait to share this story with audiences at the gorgeous Desert Botanical Garden.

Q: Any last thoughts you’d like to share with Garden visitors?

A: The hero of “American Eden,” David Hosack, was close friends with both Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and served as the attending physician at their 1804 duel. These two enemies are important figures in “American Eden.” When I began my research for “American Eden,” I never expected to see the characters I was writing about, including Hosack, on a Broadway stage!

Speaker Bio

Victoria Johnson is Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She earned her undergraduate degree in philosophy from Yale in 1991 and her Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia in 2002. Her most recent book, American Eden, was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Nonfiction, the 2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Biography, and the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Victoria is currently at work on a biography of the nineteenth-century artist and landscape architect Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), to be published by Scribner in conjunction with the bicentennial of Church’s birth.

Book Club American Eden