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The Signature of All Things: A Novel [Hardcover]

Elizabeth Gilbert
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 1 2013
A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed

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.
 

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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

Elizabeth Gilbert is an award-winning writer of both fiction and nonfiction. Her short story collection, Pilgrims, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and her novel, Stern Men, was a New York Times Notable Book. Her 2002 book, The Last American Man, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which has been published in more than thirty languages; a film based on the memoir, starring Julia Roberts, opened in August 2010. Her most recent book, the memoir Committed: A Love Story, appeared in 2010. In 2008, Time magazine named Gilbert one of the most influential people in the world. Her website is www.elizabethgilbert.com.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly lovely book. Oct. 16 2013
By Pamela W TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous read 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
4.0 out of 5 stars The Age of Enlightenment Nov. 28 2013
By Brett H #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking story Jan. 15 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just finished reading this amazing novel. I didn't want to put it down! Easy and captivating to read! Simply a masterpiece.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! Jan. 4 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Just finished (reluctantly) this masterful novel. What a story. what an adventure. i loved every page and am so pleased that I tripped upon this book quite accidentally. Well-written, even for a book snob like me. What I also liked was the length. It is a real journey -- one that is thankfully not cut short. i didn't want it to end until the end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Phenomenological Gem 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
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant author. Brilliant book! Nov. 10 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book is brilliantly written and has some humoristic passages which makes it first class reading. I warmly recommend it!
Ray
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1.0 out of 5 stars Loved Eat, Pray July 17 2014
By Jane
Format:Hardcover
Loved Eat, Pray, love and enjoyed Committed. I just couldn't get into The Signature of All Things, dragged on, didn't find it engaging. A disappointing read. I kept reading in hopes it would get better. A disappointing let down.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Judge by Eat. Pray. Love.
If you didn't like Eat, Pray, Love read this one anyway. I hated that the book would end...story, history, ..everything.
Published 14 days ago by Carolyn Cornish
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous read!
Spellbinding, brilliant, entertaining"
A good read for summer.
A wonderful piece of natural history and scientific discovery.
Couldn't put it down!
Published 21 days ago by John A.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Signature Of All Things
Engrossing story with wonderful prose. Adventure. History, Anthropology in an interesting story of real life re-imagined. I would read all books by this author.
Published 3 months ago by Kelly
2.0 out of 5 stars Long and Boring... not what I expected from Elizabeth Gilbert
A tedious, boring, long read....disappointed in Elizabeth Gilbert this time. A tiresome read, unlike "Eat Pray Love" I can't even finish this one.
Published 3 months ago by Barbara
4.0 out of 5 stars a wonderful women's novel
Elizabeth Gilbert has done herself proud in her first novel. Her historical research is obviously extensive and her subject of plants and mosses and medicine is interesting on an... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Carol Anne Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
Well written, beautifully researched, intriguing story. Elizabeth Gilbert is a superb writer who transports us to a different time with amazing accuracy and attention to detail.
Published 4 months ago by Patricia Siebert
5.0 out of 5 stars Great reading
Elizabeth Gilbert really surpassed anything she has previously written.She takes us to so many places and so many adventures that it is sad to see the book come to an end.
Published 4 months ago by Flo
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring book that lacks continuity
I had high expectations coming to this book, given the positive reviews. It did not live up to all the hype.
Published 5 months ago by Mariel Grant Robson
4.0 out of 5 stars Another strong female character
Just like her earlier bestseller, Elizabeth Gilbert knows how to write strong, female characters who are unafraid to follow their dreams as they take us along on amazing... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Luba Yarmo
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I've read everything by this author and this was nothing like her earlier novels in terms of relevance, characters or storyline. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Julie Chapman
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