Signature of All Things

Signature of All Things

A Novel

Paperback - 2014
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In this book the author returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth 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. The story 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."--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York, New York : Penguin Books, 2014.
Copyright Date: ©2013
ISBN: 9780143125846
0143125842
Characteristics: 501 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm

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From Library Staff

List - First Reads Recs
ChiPubLib_Adults Sep 12, 2019

"I had read her memoir but none of her fiction before. The book was so well-written, I felt like I was really in the 1800's." - Jess


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m
mogie
Aug 03, 2020

Wow, wow, wowza. That book was a SLOG. I hated it by the end because it took so long for me to read. I had to re-new it at the library. I took it out because I LOVED City of Girls. I did not care for Eat Pray Love. So... I don't know, am I a Gilbert fan. Tihs book was boring, then good, then boring, then good and so on. I liked the writing it is just that Alma is SO BORING. My own prejudice is that I DO enjoy a book where the character is happy. It was almost depressing. Blaaaaah.

l
LadyDi52
Jul 22, 2020

Disappointing; didn't finish it

c
crayment
May 23, 2020

A marvellous, beautifully written book! Worth reading again.

k
Katnip89
Dec 08, 2019

Elizabeth Gilbert has created a work of the most refreshing language and astonishing writing for capturing what life was like in the 1800s. I am both surprised and pleased that I picked up this book to spend two savoury weeks devouring every single detail in this love story. I would proclaim this book to be both a love story of romance and of the realism and evolution of life. I'd give it six out of five stars.

b
buttssarah
Sep 17, 2019

ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS

SPL_Brittany Feb 13, 2019

A sweeping historical fiction novel told against the backdrop of the Age of Enlightenment, that follows the life of Alma Whittaker, the daughter of the richest man in Philadelphia (Henry Whittaker) in the 1800s, who becomes a distinguished botanist and leading authority on mosses. Author of "Eat, Pray, Love", Elizabeth Gilbert writes a leisurely novel, full rich historical details along with the discussions within the scientific community during this period.

Though far from a fast read, I enjoyed taking my time and getting to know Alma Whittaker and her unique upbringing. I enjoyed travelling with her characters across the globe and delving into the scientific community during the Age of Enlightenment.

Readers who enjoyed Annie Proulx's "Barkskins" are sure to delight in this novel.

IndyPL_AnikaW Dec 04, 2018

Fantastically lyrical fiction about a 19th century female botanist/illustrator who focused on researching mosses, which she described as a "stupefying kingdom" as she gazed through a magnifying glass.

Alma Whittaker is an especially compelling and sympathetic character...and the details included by Gilbert on mosses and other aspects of botany as well as the theory of evolution make for a rich and engaging read.

s
snowdrop2011
Nov 03, 2018

I like botany so reading about mosses suits me well, but the book seems forced. I don't feel the writer's love for botany - did she plough through her botanical research, hoping to provide an unusual backdrop for her plot, or she truly enjoys plants? Anyway the poor characters are not well developed either. They don't come alive as they could have.

s
Sailnsandi
Sep 30, 2018

Interesting characters, great Botany information, and a great period piece.

RogerDeBlanck Jun 30, 2018

The Signature of All Things is impressive in both its breadth and detail. Seen primarily through the perspective of the inimitable Alma Whittaker, a botanist with an inexhaustible craving for knowledge, the narrative explores a treasure of ideas in the field of natural science. The story of Alma’s father Henry and the peerless Whittaker family is meticulously developed and beautifully told. For such a multi-generational epic, the story is never slow or boring. The lovely prose seemingly gallops along. Passion exudes on every page. But with all the intelligence and rapture the book delivers, some of its adventures felt as if they could have elevated to a higher level. The ending, though satisfying and interesting, came across as decidedly more expository, rather than revelatory. Nonetheless, this is a rich and enchanting novel that I recommend. It is a substantial literary work and a pleasure to read.

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