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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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An absolute treasure

From start to finish, I found this book exceptionally captivating. It was so well researched that I genuinely enjoyed the glimpse into life during the book's time. I admit I am a bit of a botanist, so this book was more than just up my ally; it absolutely nurtured every part of my soul and at the end left me feeling like I had taken a much needed vacation. Not to mention, the book was incredibly unpredictable...this is truly a unique story.

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Wonderful story, great narrator

A sweeping novel for our time, trying to reconcile science and the divine and pondering eternal questions about what constitutes a successful life.
Even though, as a Dutch person, I could find fault with the Dutch pronunciation and Dutch accents of the narrator, I loved her voices and intonation and enjoyed the book as a meditation through her voice.

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Implausible Characters and Storyline

But I did stick with the book to the very end. I liked the message, but at times I found myself thinking that the characters were clearly "made up". When my own thoughts invade a book while listening, the author is clearly not keeping the book real. I enjoy fiction but I also like it to be believable...this storyline was not. It felt like the author was often reaching to carry her plot along. That said, there were beautiful passages in the book, but maybe not worthy of spending that many hours to find them

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  • Shannon
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 01-05-17

Wonderful story, beautifully written and performed

I can not say enough good things about Elizabeth Gilbert. I am always absolutely floored by the breadth of knowledge and research that she pours into her books. Highly recommend this book!!

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  • Janna
  • Davis, Ca USA
  • 01-02-17

Long but good

At 21 hours long, this is a very long audible book. However, I found it to be quite engaging so it went by quickly. I am not a botanist, amateur or otherwise, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of the science in this book. That being said, it FELT well researched, it read very much like an engaging biography.

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I love this book

I love the narrator's voice... gentle, British and feminine. The book itself is similar. Let it gently take u back into the details of the biological world, the ebb and flow of dramatic events, the live and kisses of life. Definitely a book to b read more than once.

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Excellent

Simply an excellent, well told story. Loved it! you won't be disappointed except when it ends.

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excellent book!

I loved this book. What a multi-layered story.
I enjoyed Eat, pray, love and decided to read Elizabeth Gilberts book that followed but did not enjoy it very much and would not have pursued this book if it wasn't so highly recommended by a friend who has excellent taste in books.
I would not have believed it was written by the same writer. Elizabeth Gilbert has taken her writing to a whole new level. A stellar book and the reader is excellent.

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Symphony

Gilbert's words are exquisitely crafted with perfect, yet unusual descriptions of an extraordinary life. Lewis' narration was

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beautiful story, if only...

Spoiler:

I just wish Alma had, you know. :/ But the detailed accounting of her life, the lives of those around her and of course, the magic of botanical, was very pleasing and inspiring. I kind of hated her only intimate experiences being less than loving and kind of brutal. Could have thrown her a bone, Elizabeth...