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 thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was long but I became more engrossed with each new chapter. It contains everything I enjoy listening to:
* Interesting and vivid characters
* Unexpected plot twists
* A background grounded in reality
The narrator has done a masterful job with the many accents -- British, Dutch, French, American, and Tahitian -- and the many ages and character types. This is a very rich book.
I confess to reading it under protest. I did not like Gilbert's "Eat , Pray, Love" . I am glad I was persuaded. This book is fascinating.
Ms. Gilbert is a master of language and a wonderful storyteller. A great work. It enriches one's mind in every way.
Alma Whittaker's story begins before she was born, as her father Henry travels the globe on daring and explorative sailing adventures. This part of the book could stand alone, as Henry Whittaker is quite fascinating in his own right. But, Henry's backstory is essential to shaping the wonderous and privalged childhood of Alma Whittaker. Alma is well-loved and far better educated than most women of her time, always encouraged by her parents to pursue her quest for knowledge.
Through her tale that spans Alma's lifetime, the reader can fall in love with the never ending determination and perseverance of Ms. Whittaker. Her highs and lows, documented within the landscape of the 19th century, fully submerge the reader in another time. Elizabeth Gilbert masterfully crafts Alma's journey around the world, through all the struggles and triumps of a life well-lived.
This novel, an epic even, is told with the fascinating detail and wonder one would expect from a study done by Alma herself. The Signature of All Things is totally worthy of the hard learned lessons it teaches through the eyes of an unlikely protagonist.
An instant classic in my library that I will be sure to visit again and again. I hope it moves you and that you enjoy it as much as I did.
I feel silly writing a review without finishing the book, but be warned that this is book is a long slog. The only reason I keep going is that I have great respect for Gilbert. Lots of detail, but more than 2/3 of the way through the book and it still hasn't really gone anywhere. If it were any other author, I would have given up long ago.
Like I said I'm horticulturalist / botanist so I might be a touch prejudice towards this story I also have a special spot for mosses so I thought it was pretty cool how she focused on that. It's an interesting, beautiful and sad/inspiring love story on top of all the warm and green mental imagery.
I appreciated the non-traditonal theme for the main female character, the historial context, and the scientific view points. I found myself interested in the next turn to this audiobook and enjoyed continous listening. The narrator was not my favorite but was not awful either (probably a personal preference.) Overall, I am very glad that this book was recommended to me!
The romantic life of Alma Whitaker--some romance in the conventional sense, but more the romance of loving one's mind, of scientific engagement with the natural world, and, I would say, with family. Alma is a wonderful heroine to spend time with and Gilbert is a felicitous writer who imagines her worlds vividly. This audiobook was mostly well read by Juliet Stevenson--occasionally I'd find her rendering of a character jarring, but really the 4-star rating should be 4.75. Much of the way through I couldn't put it down or, more exactly, I'd loiter at the end of my walks unable to press stop.
I listened to this book for a book club, and so I didn't have any expectations going in, but I found it really easy to listen to and I was finding myself turning it on any spare moment I had. Enjoyable.
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