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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptionally good
I thought this was an excellent book. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it nearly as much as I did because it sounded a bit worthy and turgid from the description: the life story of a wealthy 19th Century woman from Philadelphia who has an interest in the study of mosses doesn't immediately grab my attention as a must-read book, but I found it exceptionally good from beginning...
Published 8 months ago by Sid Nuncius

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Let me know what you think - maybe it's just me?
Hmmmmm I'm wondering if I've missed something. This was recommended to me as exquisite & when I subsequently passed it on after I'd read it it received another rave review but for some reason I just wasn't feeling it. Don't get me wrong - I didn't dislike it & was keen to keep going to see what materialised but I felt it was dragged out a bit - perhaps it was all the...
Published 3 months ago by Peggy G


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptionally good, 1 Aug. 2014
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
(No. 1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 10 REVIEWER)   
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I thought this was an excellent book. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it nearly as much as I did because it sounded a bit worthy and turgid from the description: the life story of a wealthy 19th Century woman from Philadelphia who has an interest in the study of mosses doesn't immediately grab my attention as a must-read book, but I found it exceptionally good from beginning to end. It is readable, engrossing, extremely interesting and rather touching in many places.

The plot has been well summarized elsewhere so I won't go over it again. The story kept me reading, but what was exceptionally good, I thought, was the characterization and the sense of period. Elizabeth Gilbert creates exceptionally real, believable characters and Alma, in particular, is an engaging, flawed but deeply understandable and, to me, likeable character. Similarly, Gilbert portrays the life, the attitudes and the preoccupations of the time beautifully. Her skill in this put me in mind slightly of Patrick O'Brian, although the book is very different from O'Brian in many ways. However, it does have that wonderful gift of storytelling with excellent, readable prose and the sense of complete immersion in and understanding of the period. The language is wholly believable and there is a sense throughout of deep learning ,lightly worn.

This also comes over superbly in the intellectual insights into the period's upheavals in biology, particularly evolution. It is a rare pleasure to find such deep understanding in a novel not only of the ideas themselves but of their effect on individuals.

This a book which I was sorry to finish. It was a pleasure to read and had important things to say about all sorts of things: the nature of fulfilment and unfulfilment, of desire, of self-awareness, of what a life well-lived might be...and so on. It is simply terrific, and I recommend it in the warmest terms.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best novel I have read in years, 14 Dec. 2013
By 
MousieTongue's KM (UK) - See all my reviews
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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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful story of struggle and survival, 29 Nov. 2013
Elizabeth brings in the subject of survival by looking at differences in circumstances and upbringing of the diverse characters in the book. Although Alma is the main character , I find Henry to be my favorite character and he is the stepping stone and strength of the book. It touches a bit on the spiritual world and God, often in conflict with logic and reasoning, though there seems to be a marriage between the two as the book settles down in another place and time.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful, Ambitious, Totally Engrossing Historical Novel, 16 Sept. 2013
By 
elsie purdon "reads too much" (dorset uk) - See all my reviews
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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. Not only is it full of interesting historical details, that are mostly, but not only of the botanical world, but it is written with such warmth and vividness that I was able to travel to Tahiti in the 19th century, in the mind of a singular, brave and intelligent woman.

This is definitely a book I will reread and one to recommend. I think it is a wonderful rich novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Captivating, 11 Aug. 2014
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The best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love could have decided based on the book's success to play it safe and write more autobiographical books about her life and spiritual journey. After reading The Signature Of All Things, it is apparent to me that Elizabeth Gilbert did not play it safe. In fact this 600+ page novel is quite an ambitious undertaking. Having read both Eat, Pray, Love and Committed and loving both books, I was a bit dubious about The Signature Of All Things. If I am honest, it just did not sound like a book I wanted to read. What I had gleaned was that the book was a period novel based on the science of Botany with the main character being a female Botanist. Oh dear! Yet, the conundrum was that I really did yearn to read more by Elizabeth Gilbert. Still, I kept putting it off until after hearing more and more of the book's success and it being printed in different countries and in many languages I finally succumbed to reading the book. I am truly very glad that I did!

I am also glad that I knew so little about the book when I began reading it for this book really surprised me. It is so much more than just a period novel about a Botanist. This book causes the imagination to bloom in panoramic proportions so that what you envision is breathtakingly beautiful. Besides that, it is exceptionally well-researched. Those with an adventurous spirit will find themselves soaring. Contemplatives will find their minds being further challenged while lovers of science will find satisfaction.

Partly into the book, I thought I knew what the book was about; then surprise after surprise enters into the story. It isn't as if the story changes direction. It was more like a flower bud opening layer upon layer of petals so that each time something new was revealed it added to making the story more captivating. I found myself often wondering, "NOW where is this story going?" My conclusion is that The Signature Of All Things is Elizabeth Gilbert's current masterpiece. How she will top this, I don't know but I will never again hesitate to read more by her!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Novel that can be easily loved because of author's beautiful literary style, 23 Mar. 2014
By 
Denis Vukosav - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Signature of All Things (Kindle Edition)
"The Signature of All Things" by Elizabeth Gilbert is story told in the way the stories were once told.

On its more than 500 pages, action takes place over several continents and lasts a century long beginning with Henry Whittaker character, once poor man from England that due to his trading will become very rich person in Philadelphia.
The reader then meets his daughter Alma who is born on beginning of 19th century, clever girl interested in science and nature, who like to read and learn Greek and Latin.
Alma will become a botanist and sue to her research she will be pulled into the new and exciting world of evolution. But despite her wealth and education she isn't happy person.
Eventually she will find her soul mate in Ambrose Pike, who is a talented botanic, great illustrator and spiritualist.

Due to her love, she will be drawn into complete opposite direction, into the spiritual and magical world. The two of them will start travelling around the world, trying to understand the way our world is functioning, but also trying to understand their relationship.
Their relationship marked by their differences that brought them together completely.
During their life and their travels, in a world that is changing rapidly, reader will witness exciting time of human history when all the old assumptions were put into question, while two of them will visit places all around the world and meet numerous people that will make this story unique and unforgettable...

Although I didn't read Elizabeth Gilbert's previous novel "Eat, Pray, Love" this one seemed interesting and indeed it was an interesting book to read, written in a bit of old-fashioned grandiose way.

The author's style is very special and subtle while she describes events from the 19th century that seem so genuine in her writing.
Speaking about the novel's characters, Alma is special woman who besides her wealth and education decided to make some unusual choices. These choices will lead to consequences that together with the time and world she was living in, will mark her fate.

In the end, reader will see that between her life and botany she adored so much exists much symbolism - she was like a flower who struggled to grow and prosper but until she found perfect soil for that she was unhappy...

"The Signature of All Things" is novel that can be easily loved, due to author's beautiful literary style full of interesting places and convincing characters.
Therefore, although you read previous Elizabeth Gilbert's novels or not, I can recommend taking some time to enjoy this beautiful book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, well-researched historical fiction, 22 Jan. 2014
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I took a few days to ruminate on this novel before writing a review. At first, I think I may have undersold it but having spent a few days pondering some of the reasons why I only give four stars, just one really could have been addressed to my satisfaction.

Overall, the book was a deeply thoughtful, imaginative piece of historical fiction. The prose was beautiful; reminiscent of the Victorian era, but not so dense that it would lose modern readers.

The choice of third person narrative has some drawbacks as other reviewers have noted. I think it adds to the perspective of the book, especially when it plays with time (moss time, human time, divine time, etc.) and with space - the microscopic to our galaxy. However, it does fall short in creating tension to keep us reading, especially without any "bad guy." In some cases, it was starting to feel too slow, especially before the introductions of Retta and later Ambrose. While it does allow the reader some insight into the motivations of Henry and Alma in particular, it falls seriously short with Prudence, particularly when her choices have such an impact on Alma's thinking later in her life. This is why I only gave four stars.

Clearly, Gilbert did her research and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about characters from Captain Cook to Darwin to Alfred Russel Wallace. It was not wrapped up in a perfectly tidy ending, which one would expect from a piece of fiction such as this. Our heroine experiences tragedy but overcomes it, and doesn't leave us feeling depressed but rather that she has grown from it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime, 5 Feb. 2014
By 
Book Critic (UK) - See all my reviews
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History! Botany! A satisfyingly fat volume and a richly-detailed story about a misunderstood loner; an unattractive, over-educated lady botanist - living at a time when science in general, and botany in particular, was in arguably its most exhilarating stage, with exciting discoveries and theories appearing almost daily - with the freedom and money to indulge her fascination...
This book seemed guaranteed to please me; tailor-made to tick all my boxes and it absolutely did not disappoint. Though the narrative covers almost a century of change, exploration and discovery in the life of Alma Whittaker and her father, and the science of botany, and with an abundance of memorable characters, I was never once lost or confused or even bored, it was so beautifully crafted. The history is impeccable, the characterisation was perfect (oh, poor Ambrose. Most of all, I ached for you) and the story was just wonderfully absorbing. There are twists; they are subtle and gentle, but they kept me on the edge of my seat, and always resolved - not always how I would have wanted, rarely how I would have wanted, but everything does tie up; every detail shows itself relevant to the story, making for a wonderful sense of completion.
This is just a glorious book. Whether or not you care (as I do) about this time in history and the science of botany, The Signature of All Things is a wonderfully readable story about a set of fascinating characters that I found almost impossible to put down.
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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 (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An epic scientific heroine., 21 Sept. 2013
By 
Charliecat (Oxfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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I wasn't at all sure that I would like this book. I didn't like Eat, Pray, Love at all but I was intrigued by the premise of this one so I thought it might be worth a look and it certainly was! It's nothing like Eat, Pray, Love and bears no relation to it whatever which was a relief. The Signature of all Things is an epic, crossing continents and spanning one woman's lifetime and I enjoyed it immensely.

It follows the fortunes of Alma Whittaker the only natural born daughter of Henry Whittaker and his no-nonsense Dutch wife, Beatrix. The book begins with Alma's birth but immediately afterwards we go on a rollicking, botanical tour of the world with the young Henry Whittaker as we learn how he became one of the richest men in America. Henry begins his life at Kew Gardens and with a passion for plants and a drive to get ahead he sails the world and ends up with a vast estate, White Acre, in Pennsylvania, where Alma is born in 1800.

Alma is not your ordinary heroine. She is huge and ungainly and not very attractive and she has a tremendous intellect, a love of learning and a passion for plants which she has caught from her formidable parents. The greater part of the novel is spent at White Acre where the reader watches Alma grow up, learn everything from botanics, maths, Latin and Greek, cope with her sensuality and acquire a beautiful sister. It isn't until later on in the novel that Alma really sets out to discover the world and herself in the process.

The Signature of all Things is a fantastically fun and lively novel. Alma's love of learning and her interest in the world make her a great heroine to follow. It is, at times, not the most well written novel as the scientific research sometimes clouds the story and Alma's love interest, Ambrose Pike, seems a little flimsy for such a heroine and occasionally it feels overly long but it was a worth reading for Alma's story.
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The Signature of All Things
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
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