The Signature of All Things

The Signature of All Things

By (author) Elizabeth Gilbert


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A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 "New York Times" bestselling 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 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. 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 readers. "

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  • Hardback | 512 pages
  • 147.32 x 231.14 x 45.72mm | 748.42g
  • 01 Oct 2013
  • Riverhead Books
  • English
  • New.
  • 0670024856
  • 9780670024858
  • 47,146

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Author Information

Elizabeth Gilbert is an award-winning writer of both fiction and nonfiction. Her short story collection, "Pilgrims," was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and her novel, "Stern Men, " was a "New York Times" Notable Book. Her 2002 book, "The Last American Man, " was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love," which has been published in more than thirty languages; a film based on the memoir, starring Julia Roberts, opened in August 2010. Her most recent book, the memoir" Committed: A Love Story, " appeared in 2010. In 2008, "Time "magazine named Gilbert one of the most influential people in the world. Her website is

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Review quote

Praise for "The Signature of All Things" "Unlike anything Gilbert has ever written. The book's heroine is Alma Whittaker, the brilliant, restless daughter of an imperious botanical explorer. 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...Gilbert has returned to her roots in fiction and written the sort of rip-roaring tale that would have been considered entertainment for the masses 150 years ago." --"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" "Gilbert has mulled, from the confines of her desk, the correlations of nature, the principle that connects a grain of sand to a galaxy, to create a character who does the same - who makes the study of existence her life's purpose. And in doing so, she has written the novel of a lifetime." -- "O, The Oprah Magazine" "Gilbert's sweeping saga of Henry Whittaker and his daughter Alma offers an allegory for the great, rampant heart of the 19th century...Characters leap into life, visible and vibrant... A brilliant exercise of intellect and imagination."--"Kirkus Reviews" "Gilbert has returned to fiction, and clearly she's reveling in all its pleasures and possibilities...[an] unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form."--"Publishers Weekly" "Rich, highly satisfying...Gilbert, in supreme command of her material, effortlessly invokes the questing spirit of the nineteenth century...Beautifully written and imbued with a reverence for science and learning, this is a must-read."--"ALA"" Booklist"

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Customer reviews

Sweeping and epic

I opened this title with anticipation. It is rather sweeping and epic, and Alma Whittaker is an admirable female protagonist, full of intelligence in a time when intelligence in a woman was not valued. There's greed, unrequited love, and adventure as well as unacknowledged self-sacrifice - all elements that should make an absolutely fascinating story. I found myself intrigued at times, bored at others, incredulous at some. I found it a worthwhile read in spite of myself, but don't recommend it for the "light" more
by Julie Smith