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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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Performance
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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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charlotte Ft Worth, TX, United States 02-28-14
    Charlotte Ft Worth, TX, United States 02-28-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Not your average novel"
    If you could sum up The Signature of All Things in three words, what would they be?

    Not a fast moving thriller but an interesting read/listen.


    Who was the most memorable character of The Signature of All Things and why?

    Prudence the sister who gave up everything.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Emily Northampton, MA, United States 02-19-14
    Emily Northampton, MA, United States 02-19-14 Member Since 2013
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    3
    3
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    Story
    "A good story but really drags overall"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    I loved the prose style and the characters, but so little actually happens! I guess I was hoping for a bit more excitement to keep me sustained through such a long book.


    If you’ve listened to books by Elizabeth Gilbert before, how does this one compare?

    Not as much fun, but has her usual style which I love.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    Hmmm, is it a greatly abridged, shorter movie? Maybe.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dr. BATON ROUGE, LA, United States 02-17-14
    Dr. BATON ROUGE, LA, United States 02-17-14 Member Since 2006
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    "very knowledgeable about the era"
    What made the experience of listening to The Signature of All Things the most enjoyable?

    I enjoyed the time frame.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The main character was confused and I wanted to say to her "get out" get on your own!!


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

    the nurse


    If you could take any character from The Signature of All Things out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    I would take the main character out and tell her there was a life outside of her father


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer PARIS, TX, United States 02-03-14
    Amazon Customer PARIS, TX, United States 02-03-14 Member Since 2008
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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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jacqueline Columbia, MD, United States 01-30-14
    Jacqueline Columbia, MD, United States 01-30-14 Member Since 2007
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    "Long and difficult to stick with..."
    Would you try another book from Elizabeth Gilbert and/or Juliet Stevenson?

    The reader was excellent and I enjoyed Elizabeth's last book but this one was difficult to stick with and went off into minute detail.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Elizabeth Gilbert again?

    Maybe


    Do you think The Signature of All Things needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    No


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    EmmaZ United States 01-28-14
    EmmaZ United States 01-28-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Well written and read, but tedious at times"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    About half the book felt like time well spent, then it began to get exhausting and, to be honest, even a bit boring for a while.


    Would you recommend The Signature of All Things to your friends? Why or why not?

    I am torn about that, it is extremely well read and written in a beautiful language, but it seems some hours too long and thereby tedious. If it had been the written book, I would have skipped or skimmed large parts, which was more difficult in the audio version.


    What does Juliet Stevenson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    I enjoyed the way she read the story, lively and interesting. I think I would not have continued reading the book after about a third, but listened to most of it.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    I think so.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diane Austin, TX, United States 01-25-14
    Diane Austin, TX, United States 01-25-14

    Diane Owens Prettyman Novelist and Audio Book Producer

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    "Beautifully Written Epic Adventure"
    What did you like best about this story?

    This is an unusual romance of sorts. I don't want to give it away, so that is all I'll say. This book also is great for scientists. I loved learning about the history surrounding the introduction of plant species into England and the US.


    Who was the most memorable character of The Signature of All Things and why?

    Gilbert magically depicted Alma, a unique prodigy, beginning in her childhood where she lived as a rich heiress and ending when she was well into her 80's. Listening to this story, I became totally immersed with this character and the trials and disappointments of her life.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    S. E. Logan Virginia 01-21-14
    S. E. Logan Virginia 01-21-14 Member Since 2013

    S_Logan

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    "Another highly recommended stinker"
    What did you like about this audiobook?

    I liked the narrator a lot.


    How has the book increased your interest in the subject matter?

    No.


    Does the author present information in a way that is interesting and insightful, and if so, how does he achieve this?

    No


    What did you find wrong about the narrator's performance?

    Nothing.


    Do you have any additional comments?

    This book was recommended as a book that tied in with the botanical books we read at my botanical book club by none other than the librarian who obviously doesn't know that the book club was formed to read about botanical subjects, not chick books, which is what this is, although an incredibly well written one. I think the references to Joseph Banks threw the librarian off. I really did not like this book at all and found it to be a big waste of my time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Reed Marlborough, NH, United States 01-18-14
    Reed Marlborough, NH, United States 01-18-14 Member Since 2007
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    "Started with promise but went flat"
    Would you try another book from Elizabeth Gilbert and/or Juliet Stevenson?

    Elizabeth Gilbert deserves an A for effort, and clearly her talent is considerable, but by the halfway mark, I just didn't care any more what happened to any of her characters. There wasn't enough "story" to animate the book's huge mass. By hour 12, I wished I could get a short, tidy condensation of the rest of the story


    Would you recommend The Signature of All Things to your friends? Why or why not?

    It had its moments, but fundamentally, no.


    Do you think The Signature of All Things needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    Seriously? What more could possibly be said?


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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