The Signature of All Things

The Signature of All Things

eBook - 2013
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A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat Pray Love, Big Magic, and City of Girls

In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker--a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry's brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father's money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma's research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction--into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist--but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe--from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who--born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution--bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert's wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.
Publisher: New York, New York : Viking, [2013]
ISBN: 9781101638002
Characteristics: 1 online resource (501 pages) : illustrations


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Apr 03, 2021

I really enjoyed THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. My Mom recommended it, saying it is one of her favorite books of all time. It isn't an all time favorite of mine, but it was certainly a joy to read and not a story likely to be forgotten.

Elizabeth Gilbert did an impressive amount of research to be able to accomplish what amounts to a historical novel. The story tells of the well-lived life of a female botanist coming of age in the early 1800's. It covers her entire lifetime, spanning 80 years, growing up in an unconventional family, during a time when female intellect was often disregarded.

The story is never boring, and in places, it is unexpected and delightful. It drives home the point that even if you never get some of the things you long for deeply, you can still have a great life, envied by others. To feel complete, you need not accomplish EVERY goal, but you need to take pleasure and pride in what you have done, and what you surround yourself with. This book is a powerful lesson on finding happiness.

Mar 25, 2021

A surprising and wonderful book. I'll never look at moss the same way. Really gets inside the mind and emotions of the lonely and brilliant central character. And there's even a connection to Darwin at the end.

Aug 03, 2020

Wow, wow, wowza. That book was a SLOG. I hated it by the end because it took so long for me to read. I had to re-new it at the library. I took it out because I LOVED City of Girls. I did not care for Eat Pray Love. So... I don't know, am I a Gilbert fan. Tihs book was boring, then good, then boring, then good and so on. I liked the writing it is just that Alma is SO BORING. My own prejudice is that I DO enjoy a book where the character is happy. It was almost depressing. Blaaaaah.

Jul 22, 2020

Disappointing; didn't finish it

May 23, 2020

A marvellous, beautifully written book! Worth reading again.

Dec 08, 2019

Elizabeth Gilbert has created a work of the most refreshing language and astonishing writing for capturing what life was like in the 1800s. I am both surprised and pleased that I picked up this book to spend two savoury weeks devouring every single detail in this love story. I would proclaim this book to be both a love story of romance and of the realism and evolution of life. I'd give it six out of five stars.

Sep 17, 2019


SPL_Brittany Feb 13, 2019

A sweeping historical fiction novel told against the backdrop of the Age of Enlightenment, that follows the life of Alma Whittaker, the daughter of the richest man in Philadelphia (Henry Whittaker) in the 1800s, who becomes a distinguished botanist and leading authority on mosses. Author of "Eat, Pray, Love", Elizabeth Gilbert writes a leisurely novel, full rich historical details along with the discussions within the scientific community during this period.

Though far from a fast read, I enjoyed taking my time and getting to know Alma Whittaker and her unique upbringing. I enjoyed travelling with her characters across the globe and delving into the scientific community during the Age of Enlightenment.

Readers who enjoyed Annie Proulx's "Barkskins" are sure to delight in this novel.

IndyPL_AnikaW Dec 04, 2018

Fantastically lyrical fiction about a 19th century female botanist/illustrator who focused on researching mosses, which she described as a "stupefying kingdom" as she gazed through a magnifying glass.

Alma Whittaker is an especially compelling and sympathetic character...and the details included by Gilbert on mosses and other aspects of botany as well as the theory of evolution make for a rich and engaging read.

Nov 03, 2018

I like botany so reading about mosses suits me well, but the book seems forced. I don't feel the writer's love for botany - did she plough through her botanical research, hoping to provide an unusual backdrop for her plot, or she truly enjoys plants? Anyway the poor characters are not well developed either. They don't come alive as they could have.

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