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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

Critic Reviews

  • 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 Ratings

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  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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Story

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
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A beautiful story narrated with perfection

I truly enjoyed this book and listened to it non-stop. Alma is such a great and complex character. The narrator was so good, capturing the characters with wonderful spirit.

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Fabulous. mesmerizing annoying

loved it hated it.. definitely a dichotomy of dunces effect. I will listen to this again in a few months

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Odd but glad u read it

Fabulous performance. Book itself is as much philosophy as science. Made me wonder how anyone comes up with the idea for such a book.

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Not what I expected

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

I loved the Alma character.

Any additional comments?

As much as I loved the characters and how well-written the book is, the story lost me. I was much more interested in Alma before she met the Ambrose character. It seemed like these were two completely different books: before Ambrose and after.

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Excellent departure from her earlier works...

This book was truly excellent. It is historical fiction but also a meditation on our place in the Universe...and what our lives can mean. As a gardener, I loved the botany too. First class read.

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Wow!

This is a mesmerizing work with a rich cast of characters expertly knitted into a fascinating story that is meticulously researched for its scientific details and thoughtful in its examination of human nature. The narration was superb!
“AUDIBLE 20 REVIEW SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY”

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Not what I expected

Couldn't finish it. Having read Eat Pray Love this was a very different type of story. Not the style I fell in love with in Gilbert's more personal stories

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usually I don't like long novels

this historical novel provides entertaining insight into the period, the characters, science, and every time I thought the novel was over the author took me in a new exciting Direction. I highly recommend this fascinating story of a woman's Journey in personal Discovery and science in the 1800's. it was so well written and performed I didn't have time to think about how long it was.

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  • Shelley
  • Decatur, GA, United States
  • 07-15-17

tedious and long although lovely

struggled to finish. after about 3/4 of the way through I lost interest and the rest was a struggle.

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Beautiful

Any additional comments?

This book is a beautiful winding tale of plants, life and love. I absolutely loved listening to it.