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The Signature of All Things: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Oct 1 2013

55 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (Oct. 1 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670024856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670024858
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.1 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 748 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #39,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Praise for The Signature of All Things

“Gilbert has established herself as a straight-up storyteller who dares us into adventures of worldly discovery, and this novel stands as a winning next act.  The Signature of All Things is a bracing homage to the many natures of genius and the inevitable progress of ideas, in a world that reveals its best truths to the uncommonly patient minds.”—Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review
“[A] rip-roaring tale… Its prose has the elegant sheen of a 19th-century epic, but its concerns — the intersection of science and faith, the feminine struggle for fulfillment, the dubious rise of the pharmaceutical industry — are essentially modern.”—Steve Almond, The New York Times Magazine
“The most ambitious and purely imaginative work in Gilbert’s 20-year career:  a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist.”—Alexandra Alter, The Wall Street Journal
“A  radiant novel…that rare literary achievement, a big, panoramic novel about life and love…Like Victor Hugo or Emile Zola, Gilbert captures something important about the wider world in The Signature of All Things:  a pivotal moment in history when progress defined us in concrete ways.”—Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“A delightful book…one of the best of the year…Gilbert marries the technical, cultural and spiritual with a warm, frankly funny wit… This kind of storytelling is rare – one in which an author can depict the particulars of a moss colony as skillfully as she maps the landscape of the human heart.”—Lizzie Skurnick, “All Things Considered,” NPR
“Gilbert’s sumptuous third novel, her first in thirteen years, draws openly on nineteenth-century forebears:  Dickens, Eliot, and Henry James…Gilbert’s prose is by turns flinty, funny, and incandescent.”The New Yorker
“Engrossing…The Signature of All Things is one of those rewardingly fact-packed books that make readers feel bold and smart by osmosis.  Alma commits her life to ceaseless study, but reading this vibrant, hot-blooded book about her takes no work at all.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Gilbert has mulled, from the confines of her desk, the correlations of nature, the principle that connects a grain of sand to a galaxy, to create a character who does the same – who makes the study of existence her life’s purpose.  And in doing so, she has written the novel of a lifetime.”O, The Oprah Magazine
“A fabulous read…Gilbert has returned to fiction with a boisterous historical novel about a 19th-century botanist named Alma Whittaker…Alma’s fabulous brain is a hot pot of scientific knowledge, lonely feminist turmoil and erotic longing.  All of which makes her an irresistible character to accompany through history and around the world.”—Helen Rogan, People
“Raucously ingenious…Signature is not just a historical novel that spans two centuries and many geographies…I found unshackled joy on every page…a novel of brave and lovely ideas.”—Beth Kephart, The Chicago Tribune

About the Author

Look out for Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, on sale now! Gilbert is the #1 New York Times bestselling author ofEat Pray Love and several other internationally bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction. She began her career writing for Harper's Bazaar, Spin, The New York Times Magazine and GQ, and was a three-time finalist for the National Magazine Award. Her story collection Pilgrims was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award;The Last American Man was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The follow-up memoir Committed became an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. Her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, was named a Best Book of 2013 by The New York Times, O Magazine, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The New Yorker. Gilbert’s short fiction has appeared in Esquire, Story, One Story, and the Paris Review.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Pamela TOP 1000 REVIEWER on Oct. 16 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I loved this book. Alma Whittaker is a marvellous character, and it is wonderful for once to read about a woman who manages to be compelling without also having to be physically beautiful. All the characters are well drawn and the narrative has a satisfying pace that carries the reader effortlessly into each new phase of the novel. This is a book that I will definitely come back to.....probably more than once.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dan Earle on Oct. 19 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
From page one this is an engaging story. It has adventure, history, botany, social strife, sensuality and compassion. The story is beautifully woven together by its focus being of Alma. I love a book that opens up doors to new explorations and this one certainly did that... Do I really want to jump into the world of Jacob Boehme and Christian mysticism?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Brett H HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on Nov. 28 2013
Format: Hardcover
This novel spans the nineteenth century, or the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ and is the story of Alma Whittaker, who was born in Philadelphia to extraordinary parents. Her mother, Beatrix, came from a Dutch family of botanists and her father, Henry was born in England, his father being the King’s Apple Magus at Kew. Henry himself had sailed the globe as a young man and had made his fortune by helping the Dutch East India Company to break the Jesuit’s monopoly on Cinchona (Quinine).

From her mother Alma learned many languages and from her father much about botany and how to grow mosses. She became something of an expert on the latter and had books published on their development, cultivation and categorisation. She marries late and the marriage is a failure, but when her father dies Alma decides to retrace her husband’s footsteps to Tahiti and to seek out the truth about the contents of his mysterious valise. This is truly a voyage of discovery which takes her to strange places, not all of which are charted.

When Alma arrives back in her mother’s hometown of Amsterdam she is reunited with her maternal family. She reads of Darwin’s theories of evolution which accord with many of her own ideas and observations. She finds a kindred spirit in Alfred Russell Wallace who has also developed many theories similar to her own but has also never solved the evolutionary explanation for human altruism and self sacrifice.

This is an extraordinary novel of an evolving century, encapsulated in the unlikely form of Alma Whittaker. It is, itself, a voyage of discovery rather than arrival, slow moving rather than pacey and perhaps a little on the lengthy side for my personal preferences. However, it is certainly a thought provoking read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ally Alias on Nov. 17 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a woman scientist and author wholly immersed in the study of the natural world in this male dominated field, I relished with great ardor every word on every page. What a rich find! A true piece of literature attempting to illuminate truth between the mechanical and mystical divide. The schizophrenic spilt still predominates in our midst and Gilbert has laid down every nuance of this quantum divide. Well done!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lynne Spreen on April 17 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
This book is well-written and extremely interesting. The story begins in the late 1700s with the first twenty years of Henry Whittaker's life, as well as the entire eighty years of his daughter, the main character, Alma. They are fascinating people, and the times as well as the settings are wrought in expert detail. I was astonished at the effort Gilbert put into it.

The subtext (if not the theme) of the book is evolution, both biological and sociological, and I think the reason Gilbert went into so much detail, however well-crafted and entertaining, was to demonstrate various aspects of evolution - or the resolute lack thereof - in of each of her characters. Thus we follow the lives of Alma, her father, her mother, Prudence, the insane friend, the insane husband, the Tahitian missionary, the Tahitian missionary's son, et. al. And I'm just getting started. Even Roger the dog evolves in order to triumph at life. Okay, I'm kidding about him. Sort of.

I'm not going to describe the entire book. Plenty of other readers will do that. However, I will say that there is a transcendent scene toward the end, when Alma and another scientist/big thinker debate the evolutionary logic of altruism. I was entranced by this unanswerable question and their discussion of it. However, that was just the icing on the cake. The main takeaway of the story, for me, was that we all have a chance to live our biggest life possible, if only we try as hard as we can and never, never let ourselves weaken. It's an empowering theme. I recommend this book, with the caveat that the evolved reader manage its length by discreetly skimming, thus saving her energy for the rest of life's battles.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Didi on Oct. 14 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had mixed feelings about this book. The characters are fascinating and the story meanders in a really unexpected and interesting way. It is also filled with great bits of biology and is well researched. However, I feel it would have worked better as a trilogy. The author tried to take on too much in one novel and the work ends up feeling a bit disjointed. A thorough examination of the family in this first book with deeper insights into the characters development would have made a brilliant story. I felt that I had to read between the lines to understand the motivations of the characters, because the author didn't know how to fill that space.
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