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.
Hi all. I'm in my 50's (that's relevant, i think), and I favor fiction. I like the british sensibility, and was introduced to the Forsyte Saga through audible ... loved it! I happen to also like Chinese writers, but they are not well represented yet at audible. Looking to follow readers with similar tastes ...
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.
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.
Sprawling novel covering 80 years of Alma Whittaker's life.....
Definitely Alma Whittaker, and Ambrose Pike
No, this was my first, but I have now purchased another of hers, The Paying Guests
Definitely worth the cost of this book, a bit long for some maybe, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I love action and suspense embedded in a good fantasy or mystery. Sprinkles of romance okay, but no erotica please.
I felt like I was watching an artist paint, stroke by loving stroke, unique and fascinating characters onto an exquisite landscape. I laughed and I cried. I also enjoyed learning more about Botany and Gilbert's take on Darwinism. I loved the idea that God provides plants to help or heal the human body--with visual clues, such as a walnut looks like a brain and helps the brain. This book is amazing work; I don't know how she did it, but hats off to her!
P.S. Warning, it does get a bit sad and depressing in some places, but I managed to push through those parts. However, since I hate to feel depressed even for a moment I did mark it down a point.
As a fan of Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love and Committed (brilliant investigation into the history and global reality of marriage) I was a bit off put finding this novel fiction. As always, her research was impeccable and thought provoking, but her dialogue a bit flat. The excellent narration of Juliet Stevenson was obviously a challenge, as often the only way to differentiate the different characters was by accents. But as one of her first published books of fiction, that can be easily forgiven, for only the most seasoned of writers can bring dialogue alive and nuanced. Her story was captivating and the people living in this book came quite alive, albeit mostly by description. The strength of the book was how well she portrayed the plight of the 19th century woman, especially in the sciences. As a gardener, I savored the abundant flora and fauna tales. Much I learn from her books, and this one excelled in this aspect. Do look forward to more of her fiction, so well blended with fact and real historical figures.
Life's good when I am listening to a great book.
This book was beautifully read by Juliet Stevenson adding to the pleasure of the story. I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. It held a steady pace and kept my interest until about the last hour or so. I enjoyed the travels to several continents of the world while listening to the tales of the unusual lives of the Whittaker family, specifically, of Alma Whittaker. I also enjoyed learning about Alma's academic life as she was able to enjoy it following on the heels of her hard working, courageous if not conniving father. The reader is delivered into Alma's world of study, of adventure, and of the trials of sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction for a woman during the 19th century. My only complaint about this book is that it seemed to slowly die out towards the end but, to be fair, I often do not enjoy endings.
First of all, completely ignore that this is by the same author as Eat, Pray, Love. While EPL was a wonderful book, this is completely different. I was constantly thinking about how much research must have gone into this book about botany and science at the turn of the 19th century. It was very impressive. Science aside, the epic story of Alma Whittaker's life whisks you along on a beautiful journey. I loved it so much I also bought the kindle edition so I could read it in bed before sleep.
Lawyer, reader, writer, performer. Just love listening to books and talking about it!
I had no idea that Elizabeth Gilbert was such a tour de force in historical fiction. This is an impressive tome, a come of age story of an American girl with an unstoppable scientific mind. This kind of book about a woman with a real desire of her own wouldn't have been published maybe even twenty years ago. I think maybe general historical fiction has finally caught up with the feminist movement. That is not to say that this is a book about feminism. Rather, this is a book about a smart woman whose scientific mind took her places. If you are at all interested in Darwinism from a 19th century American Female POV, read this. And even if you are not and just want to see what else Elizabeth Gilbert writes, so long as you lasted with her through Eat, Pray, Love, you will enjoy this, too. I say that because it has the same rhythm as that book and there just might be a theme or two that are similar. Otherwise, they are night and day, so it is impressive that she can write such different material.
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