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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 (1129 )
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4.5 (1032 )
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    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
    ratings
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    73
    33
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    FOLLOWING
    3
    0
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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
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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    34
    7
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    0
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    Story
    "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 DUNNELLON, FL, United States 12-14-13
    Candy DUNNELLON, FL, United States 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
  •  
    nadine Minneapolis, MN, United States 12-13-13
    nadine Minneapolis, MN, United States 12-13-13 Member Since 2012
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    5
    5
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "not too bad"
    Would you try another book from Elizabeth Gilbert and/or Juliet Stevenson?

    Its a nice book but lacks a good punchy story. yes


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

    not really not fantastic enough


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

    no


    Could you see The Signature of All Things being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    no


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elizabeth MILLEDGEVILLE, GA, United States 12-04-13
    Elizabeth MILLEDGEVILLE, GA, United States 12-04-13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    8
    1
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    Performance
    Story
    "New American Classic"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Signature of All Things to be better than the print version?

    They are totally different experiences. Given the beauty of Juliet Stevenson's narration, I have to say I preferred the audible edition. Now that I have enjoyed it, I can hear it in my head as I read. The best of both worlds.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes and no. It was hard to stop listening, yet I didn't want it to end, so I had to pace myself.


    Any additional comments?

    It is very hard to believe that this book is fiction. The characters become so real and so dear that on some level one is certain that they must have existed; in fact, that they were probably part of one's own history in some strange way. This book is one that stays with you long after you finish it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D. WARD Midlothian, Virginia United States 12-04-13
    D. WARD Midlothian, Virginia United States 12-04-13 Member Since 2009

    Diana bookworm

    HELPFUL VOTES
    101
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    228
    69
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    12
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    Overall
    Performance
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    "I didn't expect to love it"

    So you know already this epic story is about the lives of firstly Henry Whittaker..a brash unlovable character who succeeds amazingly well in the business of (basically) pharmaceutical botany and his brilliant but lonely daughter Alma…who spends her life studying mosses….it sounds so boring but it's a fabulously interesting tale and I was hooked after the first few minutes. Of course the narrator is one of the very best. A melodious perfectly moderated voice….believable accents….just the right speed and
    style. This is one of my favorites….unexpectedly.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Heidi Minneapolis, MN, United States 11-28-13
    Heidi Minneapolis, MN, United States 11-28-13 Member Since 2013
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    4
    3
    Overall
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    Story
    "Splendid!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Ambitious and satisfying novel. Refreshing to read about a woman protagonist whose life isn't about living happily ever after with a man.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joyce Arroyo Grande, CA 11-25-13
    Joyce Arroyo Grande, CA 11-25-13 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    22
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    50
    8
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    1
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    "Remarkable!"

    A truly remarkable book! Listening to the recorded version was a journey that opened up like an unknown flower. I never knew where it was going or what color it would reveal. Alma Whittaker feels like a member of my family, a treasured friend, a remarkable mentor. I feel like Oliver standing with my hands out, begging, "More, please!"

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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