tomlange1, October 29, 2014 (view all comments by tomlange1)
To cover the character's entire lifespan the book is indeed substantial, but that was one of the many wonderful things about it. I enjoyed being able to delve into this book for a couple weeks. Each time I opened it again I was drawn into her world - I've enjoyed this opportunity from many other books but the experience would end after just a few days.
Although I have a particular love of plants I'd expect most people would enjoy this as well. Tremendously satisfying.
Jodi Barnes, February 14, 2014 (view all comments by Jodi Barnes)
Elizabeth Gilbert has written a beautiful novel. It is long and not a quick read, but this novel of adventure, science, love, religion, botany, evolution, family, colonialism, altruism, reason and the craft of writing is worth the time. Between mosses and orchids and Darwin and Russell, in this work of historical fiction we discover Alma Whitaker and her theory of natural selection. Whitaker, a bryologist, never published her treatise on competitive alteration. Gilbert tells her story in a way that demystifies science and shows how people develop scientific knowledge through methodical research and their interactions and relationships with people and places.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
techeditor, December 15, 2013 (view all comments by techeditor)
This may be the best fiction of 2013. I thought another book was the best fiction of the year, but THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is right up there with it. I know a book is a winner when I hate to see it end. THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is too good to end, so it passes that test.
THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is usually described as a family saga. But it may be more fair to say that it begins with the story of Alma Whittaker's father in order for the reader to better understand Alma.The majority of the book is Alma, from her birth to her death. And what a life, especially after she is 50! So much fiction concentrates on characters who are in their 20s and 30s. What a pleasant change this is to see a woman accomplish so much post-50.
In an effort to avoid spoilers, description of the book stops there in this review. Most reviews say too much.
Too many books insult my intelligence. This one doesn't. That's the best kind of literature.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (3 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
catfish, November 20, 2013 (view all comments by catfish)
I loved this book! And even if you are one of those people who hated Eat, Pray, Love, you should give this a try. It is entirely different. A big, sweeping historical novel that spans much of the 19th century with its spirit of scientific discovery and invention, it is also the story of one family, and one woman in particular, her fascination with scientific endeavors, and the relationships, fulfilling and otherwise, that give shape to her life. The novel explores the big issues like the origins and purpose of life, while also being an intimate portrait of a woman's psyche. The characters are wonderful, rich and so real you wish you could know them and have a conversation.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (5 of 10 readers found this comment helpful)
Lee Hodong, November 7, 2013 (view all comments by Lee Hodong)
I have been on an incredible journey these past two weeks. Gilbert does a masterful job describing the Age of Enlightenment as seen through the eyes of a plant thief's daughter. From descriptions of Captain Cook's voyages, debates on the Divine to the extensive study of botany in general and bryology (the study of mosses) in particular, we follow the life of Henry Whitaker's daughter Alma.
The book drags at times but one cannot fault the author for her extensive research of this time period. Knowledge is bursting from every sketch and lithograph and from every lively dinner discussion with notable men of science invited to join the Whittaker family on their plantation. It's hard to believe this is the same author who penned Eat,Pray,Love.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (3 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)
Now that the excitement over Eat, Pray, Love has finally subsided, readers can focus their attention on Gilbert's tremendous literary talents. This exquisitely written historical novel will thrill everyone who's been awaiting her return to fiction, as well as beguile fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Amanda Coplin.
by Rhianna Walton
The Signature of All Things amazes, in part, because it is so unexpected. Gilbert is in full mastery of this historical tale about one woman's unquenchable thirst for the knowledge of life, science, love, biology, language, and botany. Alma struggles through both the pinnacle of happiness and the pain of personal loss, but underneath her emotions is the always-soothing quest for knowledge. Gilbert's fiction is so compelling; this is a truly fantastic story full of heart and intelligence and beauty.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by 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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
by The New York Times Magazine,
“Unlike anything Gilbert has ever written. The book's heroine is Alma Whittaker, the brilliant, restless daughter of an imperious botanical explorer. Its prose has the elegant sheen of a 19th-century epic, but its concerns — the intersection of science and faith, the feminine struggle for fulfillment, the dubious rise of the pharmaceutical industry — are essentially modern….Gilbert has returned to her roots in fiction and written the sort of rip-roaring tale that would have been considered entertainment for the masses 150 years ago.”
by The Wall Street Journal,
“The most ambitious and purely imaginative work in Gilbert's 20-year career: a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist.”
by O, The Oprah Magazine,
“Gilbert has mulled, from the confines of her desk, the correlations of nature, the principle that connects a grain of sand to a galaxy, to create a character who does the same — who makes the study of existence her life's purpose. And in doing so, she has written the novel of a lifetime.”
by 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….Characters leap into life, visible and vibrant….A brilliant exercise of intellect and imagination.”
by Publishers Weekly,
“Gilbert has returned to fiction, and clearly shes reveling in all its pleasures and possibilities…[an] unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form.”
by ALA Booklist,
“Rich, highly satisfying….Gilbert, in supreme command of her material, effortlessly invokes the questing spirit of the nineteenth century….Beautifully written and imbued with a reverence for science and learning, this is a must-read.”
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.