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The Signature of All Things Paperback – 3 Jul 2014

4.4 out of 5 stars 297 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (3 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408841924
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408841921
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.7 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (297 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

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)

Review

''Eat, Pray, Love has been passed from woman to woman like the secret of life." (Eat, Pray, Love) (Sunday Times) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A gripping tale of an incredible woman, Alma Whittaker, living at a time of many scientific discoveries, a meticulous botanist in her own right, an adventurer who lived her early life in an affluent home in Philadelphia but survived incredibly difficult physical trials and tribulations in Tahiti, and ended up in Amsterdam celebrated for her discoveries in botany, specifically moss. I found the book hard to put down. Serious at times; humorous at other times, the story enthralled me.
Sired by a "rags to riches"" father, she was opened to adult scientific discussions at home from an early age, but protected a secret in her daily life. Despite her intelligence, she had little success with her personal relationships: being suddenly confronted in childhood with än "adopted sister" out of the blue, and later with an unconsummated marriage which finally led to the Tahiti episode.
Elizabeth Gilbert delineates a scientific age rich in discoveries very compellingly.
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By Sid Nuncius #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 1 Aug. 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this book which didn't fit conventional storytelling patterns, and as such kept me guessing throughout. This felt like quite delightful novelty. There is something engaging about an unconventional woman who rose above the restrictions of her time and whilst the story does not claim overt feminist perspective, there is much to support this in the characterisation.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has spoilt me for other novels at the moment as it had everything I wanted as well as being beautifully written.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really did enjoy this book. It is extremely well written and I felt as though I was part of the story.

If you are somewhat of a naturalist also you will especially enjoy this as I learned lots reading this.
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Format: Paperback
I don't ever remember reading a book that enthralled me so much, whilst at the same time being so rambling and limp. The Signature of All Things on one level isn't my thing at all. Set in the 19th Century, it's a story about one woman and her peculiar take on the world. It's about society and a woman's place being constricted by the social mores of the time. On another level the book is exactly my sort of thing; history of science blended with questions about the existence of God. I suppose that's why I had two such conflicting reactions to the book.

Alma Whittaker is the only child of a rich American landowner, the irascible Henry Whittaker and his wife, Beatrix. Both have brilliant minds. Beatrix is of Dutch puritan descent, and has a rigorous logical approach to life and learning. She raises her daughter in her own image. Alma grows up isolated, with little companionship her own age, pressed into learning almost every waking moment. Her dinner table conversations are scientific discourse and logical rigour. Alma is highly intelligent and focussed, yet completely unprepared for anything remotely resembling real life.

I very much enjoyed the opening of the book, which begins before the birth of Alma, charting the rise of her father. Born to a master orchardman, 'The Apple Magus', Henry Whittaker grew up sleeping on a mud floor. Being gifted horticultural expertise from his father, Henry is able to make himself useful around Kew gardens, where his father works. Henry is also able to make a small fortune, illegally selling samples and cuttings from the garden. Samples jealously guarded by Kew's curator Sir Joseph Banks.
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