A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the number-one New York Times best-selling 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 18th and 19th 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 listeners.
©2013 Elizabeth Gilbert (P)2013 Penguin Audio
"Juliet Stevenson's face would be instantly familiar to Anglophiles everywhere, especially those with a penchant for British TV (her films include "Truly Madly Deeply" and "Drowning by Numbers"), but she's also a first-class narrator…. Stevenson conveys the sense that the hand on the wheel is firm and certain and that the reader may lean back in perfect confidence that neither journey nor destination will disappoint." (Laura Miller, Salon)
“Gilbert's triumphant return to fiction is matched by Juliet Stevenson's lyrical reading. Both author and narrator capture the listener from the novel's opening words.” (AudioFile)
"[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." (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.” (The Wall Street Journal)
I loved the growth and development of the characters.
The heartbreak Alma felt when she found out that her husband didn't want the kind of marriage that she did.
No. I dragged it out as long as I could. I didn't want it to end.
I will look for more books by this author and read by Juliet Stevenson.
Photo is of my portuguese water dog, Sheila!
This book is very unusual and creative ( as one would expect from the author of "eat, pray, love"). Definitely exotic and a bit esoteric. I have to say, however, that I enjoyed it more while I was reading it than now in retrospect. I enjoyed the exotic forays -- both emotional and locational --?more than the central premise. So, I give this one 4 stars.
I listen to this book at work and can't wait for Monday morning! The detail really makes the story come together. An educational, insightful story that has my full attention.
I can't think of anyone who would enjoy this book except for maybe botanists who like the plant facts. Also if you really need a boring book to fall asleep to, this is for you.
I do love the historical fiction genre and I do love Elizabeth Gilbert so I thought I would love this book, but not so. I just gave up at 3 hours to go.
Juliet Stevenson's performance was great on this book.
I tried to listen and listen hoping upon hope it would get better. By the time an interesting character was introduced (Retta), she was pretty immediately taken out of the story. The same was true for the character of Ambrose Pike. Once these characters were taken out, then we were left with the completely boring Alma. I just stopped caring at 3 hours to go and figured I would waste my time no longer. If something really exciting happened at the end, I still don't care. It was just a frustrating experience listening to this story.
5th Grade Teacher - obsessive listener
Last summer I read this book and I have been stewing on it ever since. I cannot stop thinking about it and this saga of a woman's life quickly shot up to my top 5 list. I almost hesitated to mention it to others however, because I didn't want to share it. It touched me so personally, on so many levels, it left me feeling naked and raw. The saddest thing is I almost didn't read it because of the author.
I never read Eat, Pray, Love. There. I said it. I DID watch the movie however. It was a good story but it didn't make me run out and buy the book. This again, is one more example of why people say those infuriating words to nonreaders: "The book was so much better."
*Dear Elizabeth Gilbert - you are one of the best writers I have ever read and I am sorry I didn't take you seriously because of your movie. You have certainly made me take notice of you now.
There is just no way to catch the poetic prose of some authors. Example: If Morgan Freeman had not narrated The Shawshank Redemption, it would have been another Stephen King story ruined by Hollywood. (one of many stinkers in my opinion but that's a completely different post.)
Of course I didn't "read" The Signature of All Things, but listened to it on audiobook read by the audibly delicious Juliet Stevenson. But to me that brings books to life, the inflection, tone, and pace with which it is read can make a masterpiece or a mistake. This was a masterpiece.
I almost wanted to say, I only want my girlfriends who know me very well to read this, because in so many ways I feel very exposed by this book. I related to the protagonist from the science, to the lost love, the obsession, the adventure, the despair, the love of moss, and let's not forget my lovely Charles Darwin. It's long and there's a LOT of science, so probably just my best girlfriends would read it anyway. However, it would be a treasure to anyone who loves an excellent story about an amazing journey of an incredibly strong woman.
I adored "Eat, Pray, Love", and expected Elizabeth Gilbert's characteristic zest and presence to carry over into fiction. I'm sorry to say that the 'voice' of the author seemed impersonal and distant in this book. She just didn't seem engaged in the story, which made it hard for me to be engaged as well. I stuck it out for several hours, but eventually moved on.
Book never got to a strong or happy place. Just defeat after defeat. All voices male and female sounded same. Very disappointed.
The Dog Mom
Sometimes a historical fiction novel so dazzles a reader that a brief review does not do it justice. Such is the case with The Signature of All Things, but here goes . . .
This book captivating me for myriad reasons: the writing is beautiful - more like poetry than prose; the story is profound, complex, elaborate and spellbinding, in a quiet, sneaks-up-on-you way and the characters are beyond memorable - they wend their way into one's heart and mind. I don't recall a book that I've read in the past 10 years that made me cry for sadness for its characters.
The research that surely went into writing this book is hard to comprehend. It is detailed in its descriptions of those things botanical included in it (and these are numerous), yet never tedious or boring.
I apologize to Ms. Gilbert, whose book, Eat, Pray, Love I read and enjoyed. However, it never occurred to me that she was a writer of such magnitude to produce this remarkable piece of fiction.
The narration by Juliet Stevenson is perfect! She is beyond gifted in her ability to breathe life into Gilbert's characters.
This is a book of beauty, that unfolds slowly and elegantly, then keeps the reader in its clutches in a completely enchanting way. It is not a read for everyone, to be sure, but was a great treasure for me.
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