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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

4.2 (1237 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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4.1 (1135 )
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3 star
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Story
4.5 (1128 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
 (86)
2 star
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1 star
 (8)
Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Courtney Nebraska, USA 01-09-14
    Courtney Nebraska, USA 01-09-14 Member Since 2012
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    36
    11
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "I expected to love this, but was disappointed."
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    The story was so slow and tedious, I was often quite bored, some things were fairly creepy and uncomfortable, and I don't care enough about botany to need as much information in that area of the book. I finished it because I rarely like to write off a book without giving it a full chance. The story itself was just boring overall.


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

    I have not listened to any other of Juliet Stevenson's performances, but I was impressed! I would recommend her as a lovely narrator.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joan Mora TX United States 12-28-13
    Joan Mora TX United States 12-28-13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    16
    5
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "An exquisitely written, sweeping story"
    Any additional comments?

    I found this to be one of the most compelling novels I’ve read. Even at 499 pages, the narrative is fluid and engaging. Exquisitely written, the characters and settings come alive. made this novel even more enjoyable for me was listening to the audio version narrated by the brilliant actress Juliet Stevenson. If you enjoy historical fiction and novels with strong female characters, this novel's for you. If you have an interest in botany, philosophy and world cultures, you will be in for an even greater treat.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diana Miami, Fl, United States 12-22-13
    Diana Miami, Fl, United States 12-22-13 Member Since 2011
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    1
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    Performance
    Story
    "Really good story - reels you in..."
    What made the experience of listening to The Signature of All Things the most enjoyable?

    I wasn't sure about Elizabeth Gilbert, i really enjoyed "Eat, Pray, Love" - but i didn't know if it was genius or just a very close account of a personal experience. With "The signature of all things" Gilbert demonstrates she us truly a good writer, and very capable to develop a story to be enjoyed.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Deborah MARSHFIELD, MA, United States 12-21-13
    Deborah MARSHFIELD, MA, United States 12-21-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    23
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    38
    38
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    2
    1
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    Story
    "Overall good, but ENTIRELY too long"

    Hmmmm, this book is very difficult to some up. In short, it was entirely too long - not all that much happened - the main character, Alma Whittaker, is mostly lonely and deprived her whole life. BUMMER!

    However, that all being true and being said, I loved Alma. I needed to follow her on this journey. Giving up on the book, never crossed my mind. I cheered for her small victories and reveled in her achievements. I was also with her for the misery and loneliness, too. All in all, I recommend!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D United States 12-18-13
    D United States 12-18-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    0
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    5
    2
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    "I wish I could read it again for the first time"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I would, if they were the sort of person who likes the type of books I do. I like the sweeping, historical, emotional, adventurous types of books. I also like learning new things, getting inside a character's skin, and just taking a journey. This book delivered on all counts.


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

    Prudence, if I could get her to agree. That woman has a story to tell, as well!


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L. Ronayne Huntington, L.I. 12-16-13
    L. Ronayne Huntington, L.I. 12-16-13 Member Since 2013

    Linnymama

    ratings
    REVIEWS
    4
    4
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Grounded yet spiritual"
    What did you love best about The Signature of All Things?

    This book encompassed so many things! Horticulture, Darwinism, relationships, sexual identity, desire, spirituality- and it all was threaded together into a cohesive whole. I think this is Gilbert's "masterpiece."


    What did you like best about this story?

    The characters kept surprising me, and I learned a lot about horticulture, which was unexpected. All the characters were unique and surprising. I didn't see some of the events that unfolded.


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

    Alma Whittaker was perfectly portayed by Juliet Stevenson. Her intellect, emotional confusion, her hopes and desires were all perfectly played. I hate to sound cliche, but I laughed and cried along with Alam because of Juliet's reading voice. I can't wait to listen to it again.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I found the ending to be so lovely and moving. I usually never like an ending of a book, but this one I loved and thought was perfection! The symbolism was beautiful...and Alma's life came full circle.


    Any additional comments?

    Bravo

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan Main Beach, Australia 12-15-13
    Susan Main Beach, Australia 12-15-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    30
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    REVIEWS
    73
    33
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    3
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    Story
    "A storyline to bathe the imagination"

    I love being transported back into earlier centuries and 'The Signature of All Things' did this expertly. I found the story rich and exciting, epic in proportions and fascinating. At one stage I thought that Elizabeth Gilbert must have studied botany herself, so detailed is the information about plants. And to then place all that information in another century shows her skill as a storyteller. Ugly Alma is a wonderful heroine and many of her ponderings about life, love and the universe have been my own, making her even more likeable as a character.

    My reason for only giving the story 3 stars is that I found the last third of the book somewhat tedious and slow, despite the fact that many issues are resolved here.

    All in all, though, I enjoyed this book thoroughly.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Saundra Thronton Co 80241 12-14-13
    Saundra Thronton Co 80241 12-14-13 Member Since 2011

    Now, a retired anthropologist with the time to listen to books as I weave, quilt and crank out functional fabrics for fun :)

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    "An amazing life"
    If you could sum up The Signature of All Things in three words, what would they be?

    Suffering has purpose.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Alma Whitaker lives a beliveable compelling life, filled with complexity and infuriating contradictions.


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

    No


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    Before Darwin there was Alma Whitaker-Pike


    Any additional comments?

    Here is a book for those minds, fascinated with the universe of living things and how we came to understand what drives life to move and change as realized by and through the lifespan of one amazing woman. In the first 1/3 the author sculpts out the strong family characters that will form Alma's conscience. The second 1/3 sharply frames Alma's childhood then we witness the life choices that confound and constrain her and those she will one day fully love. In the last third our beloved Alma throws caution to the winds that blow her to the Tahiti of 1851 in a grand journey of mind and body. This book is deeply thought provoking, infuriating, joyful and finally, most satisfying; exactly as a long life should be.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer St. Louis, Missouri United States 12-14-13
    Amazon Customer St. Louis, Missouri United States 12-14-13 Member Since 2003

    raven1965

    HELPFUL VOTES
    19
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    95
    5
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    "A Beautiful Epic Novel Worth the Time and Credit"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    This was a beautifully written epic novel worthy of the time to listen and the credit spent. The story was inventive and well told. Although some of the details of the story were unlikely, the overall effect was intelligent as well as entertaining. I particularly liked the ending.


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

    I found the ending to be very touching. The main character, Alma, evolved and matured over the course of her life. I believe she met her challenges and overcame her shortcomings. I particularly enjoyed the conclusions she came to in the end.


    What about Juliet Stevenson’s performance did you like?

    The narration was flawless and smooth. It never once distracted from the story.


    Any additional comments?

    Overall, The Signature of All Things was a lovely story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Candy 12-14-13
    Candy 12-14-13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    5
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "The Signature of All Things"
    What made the experience of listening to The Signature of All Things the most enjoyable?

    Very relaxing tone to the storytelling. Listened daily during my work commute and my how time flew.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Prudence, because she was the least understood.


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

    No


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    None

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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