The Signature of All Things (Signed Book)

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Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
After 13 years as a memoirist, Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) has returned to fiction, and clearly she’s reveling in all its pleasures and possibilities. The Signature of All Things is a big, old-fashioned story that spans continents and a century. It has an omniscient narrator who can deploy (never heavy-handedly) a significant amount of research into the interconnected fields of late 18th- and early 19th-century botany, botanical drawing, spiritual inquiry, exploration, and, eventually, the development of the theory of evolution. The story begins with Henry Whittaker, at first poor on the fringes of England’s Kew Gardens, but in the end the richest man in Philadelphia. In more detail, the story follows Henry’s daughter, Alma. Born in 1800, Alma learns Latin and Greek, understands the natural world, and reads everything in sight. Despite her wealth and education, Alma is a woman, and a plain one at that, two facts that circumscribe her opportunities. Resigned to spinsterhood, ashamed and tormented by her erotic desires, Alma finds a late-in-life soul mate in Ambrose Pike, a talented botanical illustrator and spiritualist. Characters crisscross the world to make money, to learn, and, in Alma’s case, to understand not just science but herself and her complicated relationship with Ambrose. Eventually Alma, who studies moss, enters into the most important scientific discussions of the time. Alma is a prodigy, but Gilbert doesn’t cheat: her life is unlikely but not impossible, and for readers traveling with Henry from England to the Andes to Philadelphia, and then with Alma from Philadelphia to Tahiti to Holland, there is much pleasure in this unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (Oct. 1)
Kirkus Reviews
Gilbert's sweeping saga of Henry Whittaker and his daughter Alma offers an allegory for the great, rampant heart of the 19th century. All guile, audacity and intelligence, Whittaker, born in a dirt-floored hovel to a Kew Garden arborist, comes under the tutelage of the celebrated Sir Joseph Banks. Banks employs Whittaker to gather botany samples from exotic climes. Even after discovering chinchona--quinine's source--in Peru, Henry's snubbed for nomination to the Royal Society of Fellows by Banks. Instead, Henry trades cultivation secrets to the Dutch and earns riches in Java growing chinchona. Henry marries Beatrix van Devender, daughter of Holland's renowned Hortus Botanicus' curator. They move to Philadelphia, build an estate and birth Alma in 1800. Gilbert's descriptions of Henry's childhood, expeditions and life at the luxurious White Acre estate are superb. The dense, descriptive writing seems lifted from pages written two centuries past, yet it's laced with spare ironical touches and elegant phrasing--a hummingbird, "a jeweled missile, it seemed, fired from a tiny cannon." Characters leap into life, visible and vibrant: Henry--"unrivaled arborist, a ruthless merchant, and a brilliant innovator"--a metaphor for the Industrial Revolution. Raised with Dutch discipline and immersed in intellectual salons, Alma--botany explorations paralleling 19th-century natural philosophers becoming true scientists--develops a "Theory of Competitive Alteration" in near concurrence with Darwin and Wallace. There's stoic Beatrix, wife and mother; saintly Prudence, Alma's adopted sister; devoted Hanneke de Groot, housekeeper and confidante; silent, forbidding Dick Yancey, Henry's ruthless factotum; and Ambrose Pike, mystical, half-crazed artist. Alma, tall, ungainly, "ginger of hair, florid of skin, small of mouth, wide of brow, abundant of nose," and yet thoroughly sensual, marries Ambrose, learning too late he intends marriage blanc, an unconsummated union. Multiple narrative threads weave seamlessly into a saga reminiscent of T. C. Boyle's Water Music, with Alma following Ambrose to Tahiti and then returning alone to prosper at Hortus Botanicus, thinking herself "the most fortunate woman who ever lived." A brilliant exercise of intellect and imagination.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525426721
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/1/2013
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 77,846
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Gilbert

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 Web site is www.elizabethgilbert.com.

Biography

While Elizabeth Gilbert's roots are in journalism -- she's a Pushcart Prize-winning and National Magazine Award-nominated writer -- it's her books that have granted her even more attention.

Gilbert departed from reporting in 1997, with the publication of her first collection of short fiction, Pilgrims. A finalist for the 1998 PEN/Hemingway Award, Pilgrims was also selected as a New York Times Notable Book, was listed as one of the "Most Intriguing Books of 1997" by Glamour magazine, and went on to win best first fiction awards from The Paris Review, The Southern Review, and Ploughshares.

Since then, Gilbert has successfully alternated between fiction and nonfiction -- a high-wire act that has paid off in a string of critically acclaimed bestsellers that includes her first full-length novel, Stern Men (2000); The Last American Man (2002), a National Book Award for Nonfiction; and Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia (2006), a celebrated spiritual memoir that landed on several year-end Best Books lists.

Good To Know

Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Gilbert:

"I was once observed talking in my sleep, smiling with deep bliss as I said, ‘Ah...the writer's life!'"

"I was a terrible crybaby and coward as a child. I still cry a lot and am afraid of many things, like, for instance, surfing, skiing, and the possibility that somebody somewhere might be mad at me."

"I once accosted Wally Shawn in a restaurant where I was a waitress and he was a patron. I said to him something like, ‘You're a lovely, lovely man who writes lovely, lovely plays! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Wally Shawn!' He backed away slowly."

"I am far more of a loner than people would imagine. But I am the most gregarious and socially interactive loner you ever met. The thing is, I am fascinated by people's stories and I'm very talkative and can't ever say No to anything or anyone, so I tend to over-socialize, to give away too much of my time to the many people I adore. Therefore, one of the only ways I can ever be alone is if I go traveling solo. This is the secret reason I travel so much, and to such distant places. To get away from everyone I know. I love my friends and family, but I also love it when they can't find me and I can spend all day reading or walking all alone, in silence, eight thousand miles away from everyone. All alone and unreachable in a foreign country is one my most favorite possible things to be."

"The Disney movie Coyote Ugly was based on an article I wrote for GQ about my experience as a bartender in an East Village dive. I just had to add that bizarre fact because I still can't really believe it myself."

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    1. Hometown:
      Hudson Valley, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 18, 1969
    2. Place of Birth:
      Waterbury, Connecticut
    1. Education:
      BA, New York University, 1991 (Political Science)
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 169 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(78)

4 Star

(35)

3 Star

(16)

2 Star

(17)

1 Star

(23)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 169 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 9, 2013

    This book was 520 pages of awesome. Could not put it down. The

    This book was 520 pages of awesome. Could not put it down. The research that went in to this book plus the obvious intelligence of the writer made this a wondrous read from start to finish. I have been a lover of books for greater then 50 years now and am putting this in my top ten of all time favorites.

    17 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2013

    beautiful and haunting

    This amazing work stays with you past the very last line
    Beautiful, haunting and satisfying the reader enters the antisceptic world of science and learns of natural selection only to find out that each amazing discovery via Alma's eyes/work is truly a discovery and disection of the human heart! Superb and highly recommended!

    17 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2013

    A lovely tale spanning beyond a century. Beautifully written, re

    A lovely tale spanning beyond a century. Beautifully written, researched with the most unique, in depth characters I've seen in so long.  Wonderful!

    17 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2013

    I enjoyed this novel very much for several reasons. I enjoy hist

    I enjoyed this novel very much for several reasons. I enjoy historical fiction and also I love horticultural history as well as the period of time which this story took place. I would definitely recommend it to people who enjoy these qualities in a novel. If you are looking for a quick light read-this isn't the book for you.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 10, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I was angry at this book when I was done reading. It hooks you b

    I was angry at this book when I was done reading. It hooks you because you keep expecting a transformative, game-changing experience for the main character but instead you get more of the same depressing, meaningless nothing. 

    12 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2013

    I have to agree with another review that stated they only got th

    I have to agree with another review that stated they only got through it because they had spent money purchasing it! I had to struggle to get through this book even though I am an avid reader. I found it dull & boring. One of the worst books I've read in a long time.

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2013

    Highly recommended

    This novel will appeal to readers interested in horticulture, history of science and exploration, women's issues and psychology. The plot is detailed, descriptions exotic and vivid, characters memorable. This is an involving read, excellent for book clubs.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2013

    I am in awe of anyone who writes a novel, because I know how muc

    I am in awe of anyone who writes a novel, because I know how much work it takes. And I bought this book with great expectations. But I really did not like it. As others have said, most of the interesting part was in the first few chapters. I only finished it because I had spent money on it. I thought the main character was not realistic and that the things she did in the book were not realistic for a person in her time. None of the characters seemed real to me, so I didn't really care much what happened to them. Frankly, in spite of all the research that obviously was done in order to write it, the book didn't seem very smart.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2013

    Reading this was a little like watching moss grow. The author w

    Reading this was a little like watching moss grow. The author was very ambitious in the scope of the story, but it would have been more satisfying to have had a bit more dimension to the characters and not quite so many locales. I am an avid reader and was looking forward to this book after reading several good reviews, but it was very tough to slog through and the characters never grabbed me.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2013

    Wonderful

    Her best book to date and hard to put down. Her talent is rare and her research of life in the nineteenth centry is remarkable. Buy this and share with someone you care about.

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2013

    I do not understand how this book is on the best selling list. I

    I do not understand how this book is on the best selling list. I could not decide if it was a science, travel or historical fiction book. One of the strangest books we have ever read.  The characters are so dysfunctional and odd. Many people struggled to get through it because it was so boring.  Don't waste your money. Too bizarre. What was the author thinking when she wrote this?

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2013

    Loved begining--not so much after

    Begins as 19th century adventure story but altimately becomes a repetitive saga of alma's joyless sexual frustration. I read it because it was on nyt top 100--why?

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2013

    I was very disappointed with this book. I found it very interest

    I was very disappointed with this book. I found it very interesting in the beginning, but soon went down hill with the main character's obsession with her body. I

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 1, 2013

    Not good

    I did not read "Eat,Pray,Love." I did see the movie, and thought I would like this book. I thought wrong. It was very tedious.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2014

    What a waste of time. Only continued to plod through this predi

    What a waste of time. Only continued to plod through this predicable and loathsome tome because I had spent the money and was hopeful something interesting would take place. After 444 pages Alma has a encounter that made no sense. The characters were underdeveloped and uninteresting. My recommendation is to read anything else!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2014

    Signature of All Things - 3 stars After starting out with such h

    Signature of All Things - 3 stars
    After starting out with such high expectations, I finished this book with mixed feelings. The scientific writing was great! For those of us who are science geeks, but whose knowledge lies in other fields, the taste of botany was informative! I felt that though there was excessive text about her father, Alma was well-developed as a character. However, there was way too much continuing emphasis on her and her husband’s sexual proclivities, and this detracted from what would otherwise have been a extrraordinary book about a pioneering female scientist. This book was good, but could have been so much better.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 27, 2014

    This books is interesting, boring and very long, all at the same

    This books is interesting, boring and very long, all at the same time. It could have used some strong editing. 

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2013

    Loved it. Recommended it to my friends.

    What a strong woman for her times. I learned so many fascinating things about plants, places, people and an insight into another period of history.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2014

    Faison278@gmail.com

    Add me plz

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2014

    Content alert

    Deleted for sexually explit content. Up until that point i was enjoying the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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