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The Signature of All Things

The Signature of All Things [Kindle Edition]

Elizabeth Gilbert
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Unlike anything else she has ever written ... Its prose has the elegant sheen of a 19th-century epic, but its concerns - the intersection of science and faith, the feminine struggle for fulfilment - are especially modern (Steve Almond International Herald Tribune)

The story of Alma Whittaker's journey of discovery has irresistible momentum (Helen Dunmore The Times)

Ms Gilbert has established herself as a straight-up storyteller who dares us into adventures of worldly discovery, and this novel stands as a winning next act ... A bracing homage to the many natures of genius and the inevitable progress of ideas, in a world that reveals its best truths to the uncommonly patient minds (Barbara Kingsolver International Herald Tribune)

Charming and compelling ... A big novel in all senses - extensively researched, compellingly readable and with a powerful charm that will surely propel it towards the bestseller lists (Jane Shilling Daily Telegraph)

Gilbert has written the novel of a lifetime ( O, The Oprah Magazine)

Sumptuous ... Gilbert's prose is by turns flinty, funny, and incandescent ( New Yorker )

Quite simply one of the best novels I have read in years ... a bejewelled, dazzling novel (Elizabeth Day Observer )

Readers prepared to enter Gilbert Time will be rewarded: she is an unflaggingly curious writer, prone to delightful touches ... Gilbert's period interests seem boundless - she explores everything from self-sacrifice, to homosexuality, Darwinism and Victorian pornography ... This is a novel to be chewed over, slowly (Lucy Atkins Sunday Times)

A botanical odyssey through the nineteenth century, global in ambition, revelling in the period's insatiable curiosity about the world ... a tall tale, told with verve and wit ( Guardian )

Filled with dazzling storytelling (Susie Boyt Financial Times )

Gilbert writes superbly well (Wendy Holden Daily Mail)

An intricate, beautifully written historical novel ... A passionate paean to the 19th-century women of science who strove for achievement against the odds (Anita Sethi Metro)

Gilbert's observations, of both characters and locations, make this an unexpected joy and in Alma she has created a truly unforgettable heroine (Anita Chaudhuri Irish Examiner)

Astute and funny ... comes with generous helpings of optimism and romance. Cynics need not apply (Irish Sunday Mirror)

Ambitious, boldly imagined and packed with authenticating detail, it engages very boldly with the interaction of art and science (Andrew Motion, Guardian)

Gilbert reminds readers she can do, and undo, narratives through impeccably observed and original stories (Independent)

Gilbert shows herself to be a writer at the height of her powers (O Magazine)

Magnificent ... I was just a few pages into the book when I felt myself relax, aware that I was in the safe hands of a master story-teller (Anna Carey The Irish Times)

My own 500-pager of choice? Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things ... just read it ... Hugely enjoyable (Viv Groskop Observer Books of the Year)

Book Description

The New York Times bestseller

Elizabeth Gilbert's first novel in twelve years. An extraordinary story of botany, exploration and desire, spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 18016 KB
  • Print Length: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; 1 edition (1 Oct 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #859 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Elizabeth Gilbert is an award-winning writer of both fiction and non-fiction. 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. In 2002, she published The Last American Man, which 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 was published in over thirty languages and sold more than seven million copies worldwide. The film, released in 2010, stars Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem. Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage, a follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love, was published in 2010. Elizabeth Gilbert lives in New Jersey, USA.

(Photo credit: Shea Hembrey)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best novel I have read in years 14 Dec 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have a fairly short attention span, and this is a long novel by contemporary standards, but it gripped my interest from the beginning and held it throughout.

If I had to characterise a theme, it would be the joy of scientific discovery, and the immense beauty and diversity of the material world. I stress material world, as there is often a fashion to turn to the spiritual or the unseen as somehow loftier, or more mystical, or more worthy of attention - but this book reminds us on every page that the world we actually live in and can experience directly with our senses is breathtaking and absorbing in its own right.

It follows the life of central protagonist Alma Whittaker - gifted and privileged botanist who immerses herself in the world of mosses - from her birth in 1800 to her death in 1882. This might sound dry to a non-scientist, but it is the human emotions and drives as well as the thrill of discovery that advances the story line. The characters are so wonderfully real that I found myself periodically stopping to google to see if any of them actually existed. Most of them it would appear are purely fictional - but the author blends their fates with actual places, events and historical figures so skilfully that you are never sure of the exact dividing line between fact and fiction. Most of the story takes place in Philadelphia, but there are also excursions to Fiji, Peru (via her father's early travels) and later Tahiti and Holland. Huge historical events (the discovery of quinine, cultivation of vanilla, the struggle for abolition and the American Civil War, the publication of Origin of the Species, etc) are effortlessly woven into the story.

One of those stories that you simultaneously cannot put down but do not want to end. Just wonderful.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
By elsie purdon TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Alma Whittaker is the heroine of this engaging book. The story starts with her father Henry Whittaker, born in poverty near Kew just outside London. his story is interesting but his daughter Alma born 1800 is the star.
Henry's father worked in Kew Gardens. This is the tiny seed from which Henry grew ideas and the determination that made him a wealthy man. He married Beatrix a Dutch woman and together they settled in Pennsylvania USA. Alma their only natural surviving daughter is given an upbringing that encourages her to develop her intelligence and intellect and inevitably her interest in plants.

Though wonderful and rich in many ways, Alma's life is not easy. She is very clever but her physicality is clumsy and unattractive. Her parents have adopted Prudence who is beautiful and the two are sisters who do not know how to communicate with each other . Yet each will profoundly affect the other's life.

As I hate spoilers I will not say how or why.
I loved the discoveries I made turning each page and wouldn't want to spoil that for someone else. However I do feel I can say that Alma does travel not only to Tahiti, and that towards the end of her life she has developed her own theory of how species have evolved. She won't publish, and not so long after the famous "Origin of Species" is published. Today we may not realise what an impact this had at the time.

This book is so much more than a historical novel.
Elizabeth Gilbert has written from deep within Alma and breathed life into her. To me Alma became a real person, I felt she must have lived! She is so vivid and solid.
This novel has been a truly wonderful read.
Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There may be 3 men and a dog who don't know about the book eat pray love, but the book was a word of mouth sensation; a beautifully written memoir which captured the reader with both content and prose. My husband carried it about for 3 weeks and read it avidly - normally it takes him months to finish a book (English isn't his first language) - so that gives you an idea how appealing Elizabeth Gilbert's writing is.

This is the first of her fiction that I've read, but it's easy to be captured by her tale of botany, adventure and a plain girl's search for love. "Alma Whittaker, born with the century, slid into our world on the fifth of January, 1800." An only child until the age of 10, Alma's life was blown apart by the arrival of an adopted sister; the beautiful child of a known cuckold who was murdered by her long-suffering husband who then hanged himself. The child Polly was rechristened Prudence and set upon a road of righteousness behaviour. Alma sat always in the shadow of this enchanting creature until a late marriage to a handsome younger man let her hope for peace and love of her own....

Add this to your Christmas list now - it's a weighty tome and the Christmas period is perfect to allow a little time to relax and enjoy it (and if by chance you haven't read eat pray love, do add that one too... )
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A big, bold feat of imaginative story-telling 11 Nov 2013
By Roman Clodia TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I almost missed this due to a (mis)perception of Gilbert as writing a cross between self-help and chick-lit, which would have been a shame as this is nothing like either of those genres. Instead, this is a big, bold, historical novel which is quirky and funny, and sad and clever all at once. At its heart is Alma who is big-boned and not pretty but who has a rich imaginative life as well as an insatiable curiosity about the world and life. She channels her intellectualism into the study of botany, and Gilbert captures her intellectual obsession and the excitement of research brilliantly.

Alongside this runs the story of Alma's emotional life: her school-girl crush on an older publisher; her relationships to her parents and beautiful sister; her abbreviated friendship with Retta Snow who seems to have wandered straight out of a Dickens novel (The Old Curiosity Shop? Bleak House?) - and her strange marriage.

Gilbert has successfully transposed elements of the classic nineteenth-century novel to America, but with a very modern consciousness overlaid. This is an immersive read which draws us in - but there are points at which the length of the book feels a little self-indulgent. The first section which re-tells the story of Alma's father, for example, feels like a diversion or a very long prologue before the story really gets going. That said, Alma is an lovely heroine who feels like an individual, and the narrative voice is warm and witty, empathetic without ever being sentimental.

If you are looking for a book in which you can lose yourself, and which is an intelligent, well-written take on the historical novel (no heaving bosoms, corsets or rakes), this is a long but enticing piece of story-telling.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars great book
Beautifully written, and so interesting to follow a life from birth to death. Didn't expect such a story. Very enjoyable.
Published 3 days ago by Ms. P. Fielding
1.0 out of 5 stars fantastic bedtime read as each time I picked up this ...
fantastic bedtime read as each time I picked up this book I fell asleep within 2 minutes... soooo utterly boring. Read more
Published 8 days ago by F. Donnai
3.0 out of 5 stars I was so sad finishing this book
I was so sad finishing this book, I wanted it to go on for ever . On every level it was moving, inspiring and insightful.
Published 9 days ago by irene o brien
5.0 out of 5 stars The Signature of all Things
I really enjoyed this book,in fact,I didn't want to put it down.It appeared to be very accurate historically,but I'm glad I have a dictionary on my kindle-certainly improved my... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Sarah Jane Buick
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Absolutely loved it!
Published 14 days ago by Erika Palmer
5.0 out of 5 stars The Signature of All Things
Immersed as I have been in botanics, since researching and co-authoring with Deirdre Dare a fascinating and enjoyable life of Charles Alexander Johns (A Passion for Nature), an... Read more
Published 17 days ago by Dr. K.M. Hardie-Budden
5.0 out of 5 stars A delicious, multi-storeyed extravaganza
This vast multi-layered exploration took me on a fascinating enquiry into botany, saw me clutching at the frustrations and tatters of unrequited love, and expressed its central... Read more
Published 22 days ago by Susie Minto
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating historical novel, brilliantly written
This book fascinated me from page one. The story of a young man sailing to America to make his fortune in medicinal herbs in the 18th Century is full of wonderful details about... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs Tiggywinkle
2.0 out of 5 stars Far too long and a bit silly
most people in our book group loved this book. i felt it was disjointed- first it seemed to be a story about the main character's father but then it seemed to start all over again... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Crystalpal
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, engrossing and fascinating novel
This is just my kind of book. The story itself is fantastic, with well-rounded unusual characters, twists and turns of the plot, and utterly fascinating subject matter, namely... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Lelly
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