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The Signature of All Things: A Novel | [Elizabeth Gilbert]

The Signature of All Things: A Novel

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

  • 10 Best Audiobooks of 2013 (Salon)

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Amazon Customer 10-18-13
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    "Disappointing"
    What did you like best about The Signature of All Things? What did you like least?

    I was really interested in the themes that Gilbert was exploring, and there were several that ran together to form one sweeping novel. However, I felt the book was tedious. There was an awful lot of narration and at some points I really wasn't interested in what happened to the characters. I pushed through it because I rarely opt to not finish a book, but it was boring at times.


    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rebecca Edgartown, MA, United States 10-05-13
    Rebecca Edgartown, MA, United States 10-05-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Half way through and loving it!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    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.


    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mamabear 1625 10-30-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Loved this audiobook!"
    If you could sum up The Signature of All Things in three words, what would they be?

    Sprawling novel covering 80 years of Alma Whittaker's life.....


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Definitely Alma Whittaker, and Ambrose Pike


    Have you listened to any of Juliet Stevenson’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No, this was my first, but I have now purchased another of hers, The Paying Guests


    Any additional comments?

    Definitely worth the cost of this book, a bit long for some maybe, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. L. Finch Seattle, WA 06-07-14
    C. L. Finch Seattle, WA 06-07-14

    I love action and suspense embedded in a good fantasy or mystery. Sprinkles of romance okay, but no erotica please.

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    "A beautiful work of art"
    Any additional comments?

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sand 05-30-14
    Sand 05-30-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Satisfying overall, but curious about narration"

    On the whole, I love the premise and execution of this story--the details and historical context were a true pleasure from beginning to end. And, much as I hate to admit it (I'm one of those Eat, Pray, Love eye-rollers), the overall message was pretty inspiring.

    The only thing that bothered me was--excellent as Juliet Stevenson is--why this book was narrated in a British accent. Stevenson's Dutch accents are wonderful, but her American accents seemed all wrong for the period--flat and nasal when educated northeastern Americans like Alma, Prudence, Retta and Ambrose in the early- to late-1800's would arguably have sounded more British than the weird regional twang Stevenson was channeling.
    I'm being very picky here because Stevenson is such a pro--this is definitely not a huge issue with this book, because the actual dialogue-to-narrative ratio is actually pretty miniscule, but this is an ambitious novel and the heroine and setting are distinctly American, so I definitely felt a little dissonance whenever the native-born American characters started talking.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L. Calder 05-18-14
    L. Calder 05-18-14 Member Since 2014

    Gardening Geek

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    "Fascinating take on Darwin and botany"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marjorie Santa Rosa, CA, United States 04-14-14
    Marjorie Santa Rosa, CA, United States 04-14-14 Member Since 2015

    I enjoy literary fiction with character depth and psychological exploration. I am in my 50s, work in psychology, and love the outdoors.

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    "Interesting and Different"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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    gustavetoutant 04-04-14 Member Since 2012

    marcieanne

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    "Love!"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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    Amazon Customer PARIS, TX, United States 02-03-14
    Amazon Customer PARIS, TX, United States 02-03-14 Member Since 2008

    Lawyer, reader, writer, performer. Just love listening to books and talking about it!

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    "Impressive and Expansive, and a Beautiful Mind"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    DIANE Thornhill,, Ontario, Canada 11-27-13
    DIANE Thornhill,, Ontario, Canada 11-27-13 Member Since 2015

    I am an avid "reader"- I prefer to listen to books rather than read them due to the added dimension added by the narrator.

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    "Not a disappointment"
    What did you love best about The Signature of All Things?

    I loved the fact that as I followed Alma through her life, I never got bored. I felt that the reviewer who likened the book to Eat Pray Love incarnate was being harsh. I saw no parallels at all, and was impressed with Ms. Gilbert's writing. Some of the passages were racy but were tastefully done.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Signature of All Things?

    I think that Alma's meeting with Tomorrow Morning was memorable.


    Which character – as performed by Juliet Stevenson – was your favorite?

    I found Alma's voice slightly annoying. I felt that Ms. Stevenson did only a fair job of a Dutch accent but the voices did not detract from the story which I felt was well done.


    If you could rename The Signature of All Things, what would you call it?

    The lady of Whiteacre.


    Any additional comments?

    This was quite a saga and was quite unique when compared to the hundreds of books I've listened to on Audible. The premise of the story was fascinating in terms of the lead character's interest in plants and the premise of her potential relationship with famous scientists such as Charles Darwin. I did not feel that Alma resembled Ms. Gilbert as portrayed in her autobiography Eat Pray Love and I feel that if one can listen to the heavily scientific jargon in this book, it is a great read.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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