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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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  •  
    Casey Chicago, IL, United States 11-23-13
    Casey Chicago, IL, United States 11-23-13 Member Since 2010
    ratings
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    8
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    "Such a Wonderful Listen!"
    Where does The Signature of All Things rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    This is easily one of my favorite audiobooks. As soon as it was finished, I wanted to listen to it all over again.


    What about Juliet Stevenson’s performance did you like?

    She was a very captivating reader. I never tired of hearing her speak this story.


    Any additional comments?

    This book has such an epic scope and yet it also has such a detailed, tender feel to it. Gilbert's writing was so rich and human. I found myself laughing and crying throughout the book and marveling at the feelings this book so deftly siphoned out of me. This is the only book I have ever written a review for and I have listened to dozens over the years. I hope you give it a try!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shauna Loveland, CO, United States 11-08-13
    Shauna Loveland, CO, United States 11-08-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Good, but not the best of Elizabeth Gilbert"

    I have to give Elizabeth Gilbert credit for taking on such a huge project. The research of the history in this story was obviously thorough and the time period she chose was an interesting one. I really wanted to love this book, but I ended up only liking it and I think the problem was the characters. I can't lay my finger on what exactly was missing from the characters in this book, but I did find myself thinking several times through the book that this was her first major work of fiction...there were just moments when that was clear. I look forward to reading more from Elizabeth as she develops her skill in fiction. I wouldn't say this is a waste of a credit, it just wasn't the best historical fiction I've listened to.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eric Mill Valley, CA, United States 11-04-13
    Eric Mill Valley, CA, United States 11-04-13 Member Since 2005
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    "100% EDUCATIONAL AND ENJOYABLE"
    If you could sum up The Signature of All Things in three words, what would they be?

    This is a book about family, botany, the (putative) existence of god and a great dog named Roger. I don't have a background in botany so I can't tell you if Gilbert is the expert she appears to be, but I learned a great deal about how the world works and her protagonists's "theories" resonate remarkably and motivate thoughtfulness.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    My favorite character was Roger the dog but virtually every character in the book was memorably depicted.


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

    I haven't listened to her audiobooks but I have seen most of her performances. She was masterful with this book. I would be happy to listen to her again and will check out what else she has done for Audible.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    janet United States 11-13-13
    janet United States 11-13-13 Member Since 2013
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    1
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    "Wow, this was boring."
    What disappointed you about The Signature of All Things?

    This was a really long drawn out boring story. Really sad. I wanted to like it, it sounded like such a great idea for a story, when I listened to the interview on NPR.


    Has The Signature of All Things turned you off from other books in this genre?

    Yes.


    What about Juliet Stevenson’s performance did you like?

    The reading was spectacular.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    Interesting premise.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mary Stevenson Ranch, CA, United States 10-27-13
    Mary Stevenson Ranch, CA, United States 10-27-13 Member Since 2011

    maryc25

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I was hoping for so much more from Gilbert"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    This story was dreadfully boring, and I just did not want to spend any more time with the main characters of the father and the mother. They were greedy, unscrupulous, and not relatable. Gilbert's story did not embrace the characters. She wrote it from a third party viewpoint, so much so that I didn't care whether or not they lived or died or were happy or sad. I made it through the first part of the book, which many reviewers said was the best part. I was so uninvolved I stopped listening.


    Has The Signature of All Things turned you off from other books in this genre?

    no


    What about Juliet Stevenson’s performance did you like?

    I thought the performer was really good. She breathed life into staid writing.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Disappointment. Eat Pray Love was great. Maybe fiction isn't Gilbert's thing.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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