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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.
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)
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Molly-o on 12-27-13
Don't miss this one
Once again, for the past week, I have been in the enviable position of loving a book so much that I didn't want it to end. I have found Elizabeth Gilbert's name, unfortunately for her, will more often than not pull a rolling of the eyes from someone when I mention it. I have had to convince my friends and family that Gilbert is a fine writer - even if you didn't want to go with her on her self-reflective journey which I found more of a romp than a great work of non-fiction. Nonetheless, if you have this prejudice, don't let it stop you from listening to this excellent book.
Gilbert can tell a good story and this one is a dandy! It spans 80 years but I never lost interest and found myself plugging in to the story in the oddest of places just to hear what came next: the equivalent of a page turner. The characters are vibrant and riveting and the tale is full of life. Juliet Stevenson is one of Audible's very best narrators,truly; if you have never heard her read a book, it is your loss - she is nimble and talented with the change of character. Great story, fabulous narrator - it doesn't get much better than that.
64 of 65 people found this review helpful
By Dina on 10-18-13
An Educational and Epic Oddity
This book was so many things...epic, sad, funny, educational, weird, creepy, and gruesome. A strange description for the life of a wealthy, mostly spinster, botanist spanning the 19th century. Elizabeth Gilbert certainly has an incredible imagination and a beautiful way with words. And, the narrator for the audiobook, Juliet Stevenson, was spot on. The main character was an intriguing mix of brilliance and innocence with real human flaws. And, yet, I just didn't form a bond with her. In addition, I found the communication issues with all the various players, which lead to devastating life choices, frustrating. This is what kept this sweeping and unusual novel from being a 5 star book, for me.
58 of 60 people found this review helpful