The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
A Novel

77%

33 Critic Reviews

Reading it, the research is apparent but never too much. That’s the great trick of Gilbert’s work, for better (her actual writing) or worse (her undermining literary rep): She makes broad, unresolvable premises — regular-ish human life, with its aspirations and humiliations, her own or her character’s — look easy...
-National Post arts

Synopsis

A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed

Look out for Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, on sale now!

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 eighteenth and nineteenth 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 readers.
 

About Elizabeth Gilbert

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Elizabeth Gilbert is an award-winning writer of both fiction and nonfiction. 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. Her 2002 book, The Last American Man, 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 has been published in more than thirty languages; a film based on the memoir, starring Julia Roberts, opened in August 2010. Her most recent book, the memoir Committed: A Love Story, appeared in 2010. In 2008, Time magazine named Gilbert one of the most influential people in the world. Her Web site is www.elizabethgilbert.com.
 
Published June 24, 2014 by Riverhead Books. 528 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Oct 20 2013
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for The Signature of All Things
All: 33 | Positive: 25 | Negative: 8

Kirkus

Excellent
Reviewed by Kirkus Reviews on Apr 11 2013

Gilbert’s sweeping saga of Henry Whittaker and his daughter Alma offers an allegory for the great, rampant heart of the 19th century.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Sep 29 2013

Plausibility grows scarce during the book’s second half. But Ms. Gilbert’s wanderlust gets a chance to flourish. So does the love of knowledge that animates all of “The Signature of All Things,” especially when Alma begins independently discovering what the greatest minds of her generation are also learning.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Barbara Kingsolver on Sep 26 2013

A scientifically minded reader might want a few more details about what Alma sees through her microscope as she classifies her discoveries. Admittedly, a reader otherwise inclined might prefer the Victorian equivalent of a car chase; you can’t please everyone.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Elizabeth Day on Oct 05 2013

...The Signature of All Things brings to the fore all those forgotten women of science, whose trailblazing work was swallowed up by more famous men.

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Stevie Davies on Oct 04 2013

"Less is more" is hardly the author's watchword. The novel displays its own narrative excesses in those of the heroine...

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Jul 01 2013

...there is much pleasure in this unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form.

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WSJ online

Good
Reviewed by Clare Mchugh on Sep 27 2013

And Ms. Gilbert's engaging, lively style is once more on display—along with an impressive versatility. Few among the legions of contemporary memoir writers could turn out a novel as imaginative as this one.

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NPR

Excellent
Reviewed by Lizzie Skurnick on Oct 01 2013

This kind of storytelling is rare — one in which an author can depict the particulars of a moss colony as skillfully as she maps the landscape of the human heart.

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NPR

Excellent
Reviewed by Lizzie Skurnick on Oct 01 2013

This kind of storytelling is rare — one in which an author can depict the particulars of a moss colony as skillfully as she maps the landscape of the human heart.

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All About Romance

Good
Reviewed by Blythe Barnhill on Jan 23 2014

I loved The Signature of All Things - it’s an excellent reminder of why I like to read non-genre fiction now and then...It’s beautifully written and well worth the time. If you read historical fiction as well as romance, I recommend it highly.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Carol Memmott on Sep 28 2013

In language as lovely as the horticultural marvels she so picaresquely describes, Gilbert’s “Signature of All Things” will take root in the imagination of its readers. It’s a joyous reminder of the unlimited paths we’re offered in life.

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Book Reporter

Excellent
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on Oct 04 2013

The Signature of All Things is a magnificent literary triumph that surely will be long heralded as an enduring classic. But more than that, it's an absorbing, satisfying page-turner of a read.

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Washington Times

Above average
Reviewed by Corinna Lothar on Mar 14 2014

“The Signature of All Things” has many well-drawn characters. Some of the weak survive; some of the strong do not...The reader will enjoy Alma’s journey and perhaps agree with her that “knowledge is the most precious of all commodities.”

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Globe and Mail

Below average
Reviewed by Aparna Sanyal on Oct 11 2013

If this is a novel of ideas, the ideas are shallow; if this is fictional biography, the main character does not hang together; if this is a call to arms to present-day Americans, it ought to have had a simpler and tighter plot.

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Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Nancy Wigston on Sep 27 2013

...Gilbert evokes place so deeply that we almost live it — from claustrophobic America to bewildering Tahiti and finally, to orderly, homey Amsterdam.

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National Post arts

Above average
Reviewed by Kate Carraway on Oct 13 2013

She makes broad, unresolvable premises look easy, by taking nothing for granted, making sharp and unrelenting observations and framing it with a rare positivity and sense of possibility. The feeling of The Signature of All Things is that of a long, winding dream, but a real one.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Leah Greenblatt on Oct 01 2013

Gilbert's writing is so smart and richly drawn that it does what all the best books do: It sweeps you up.

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LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by Carolyn Kellogg on Sep 26 2013

...sending Alma to Tahiti is problematic. She winds up seeking out a mysterious, beautiful Tahitian man: He is charismatic, knowing and sexually liberating. It's hard not to squirm a little at the cultural imperialism...

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
Reviewed by Elizabeth A. Brown on Oct 15 2013

This book, Gilbert’s sixth, is an impressive tale of science, history, and a woman’s evolving spirit told by a writer at the top of her game.

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Denver Post

Above average
Reviewed by Tucker Shaw on Oct 06 2013

I'll admit it: I never did read "Eat, Pray, Love." But as my first real introduction to Elizabeth Gilbert, "The Signature of All Things" is a captivating hello.

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The Columbus Dispatch

Good
Reviewed by Marion Winik on Oct 07 2013

The Signature of All Things shows what fiction can do at its finest, blowing other literary genres out of the water.

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The Washington Post

Good
Reviewed by Marie Arana on Sep 30 2013

If life is reasonable — if the natural, Darwinian order is for strength to prevail and grit to triumph — then Alma will find love after all. And Gilbert will be lauded for following a runaway bestseller with a radiant novel.

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Boston.com

Below average
Reviewed by Eugenia Williamson on Oct 05 2013

...by the end, the novel becomes so aggressively smug that reading it ceases to be a pleasure. It becomes a sort of exquisite torture, like having a long conversation with a beautiful, articulate person who seems capable of only discussing banalities.

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Irish Times

Good
Reviewed by Anna Carey on Oct 16 2013

I emerged from this compassionate, utterly unsentimental book with my mind full of charismatic botanists and unlikely kindnesses, of Tahitian beaches and Pennsylvanian gardens. For a moment, I felt as though I’d lived another life.

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The Coast

Good
Reviewed by Anon on Oct 04 2013

Gilbert’s prose is lucid and precise, and for all its 500 pages and the data contained within, nothing about The Signature of All Things feels swollen or didactic. Both intimate and epic, it is above all masterful storytelling, suspenseful without being contrived, sweeping but never superficial.

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Three Guys One Book

Good
Reviewed by James Costa on Sep 18 2013

I found myself totally enthralled by the whole experience because it made me realize that good writers will continue to write and enthrall us while bad ones will bore us and end up forgotten like an extinct plant. With The Signature of All Things, we have an author and book that will stay with us for a very long time. It’s Darwinism at work.

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Red Online

Excellent
Reviewed by VIv Groskop on Oct 18 2013

The story of the sweep of the life of Alma Whittaker, a 19th century botanist born into Philadelphia’s wealthiest family, it’s a sumptuous feast of a proper novel, Dickensian in its scope and ambition. And guess what? It’s everything they say it is and more.

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Kansas City Star

Below average
Reviewed by Elaina Smith on Oct 12 2013

By the end of this 500-page, good though not brilliant epic, the novel seems to be searching for its own signature, its own take-away lesson about life. Gilbert refuses to let the novel and Alma’s journey speak for themselves so she tidily oversimplifies the connection between those fascinating mosses and Alma’s own life.

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The Northern Echo

Good
Reviewed by Anita Chaudhuri on Oct 03 2013

Gilbert's observations, of both characters and locations, make this an unexpected joy and in Alma Whitaker she has created a truly unforgettable heroine.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Kate Carraway on Oct 11 2013

Reading it, the research is apparent but never too much. That’s the great trick of Gilbert’s work, for better (her actual writing) or worse (her undermining literary rep): She makes broad, unresolvable premises — regular-ish human life, with its aspirations and humiliations, her own or her character’s — look easy...

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From Left to Write

Excellent
Reviewed by Thien-Kim on Oct 17 2013

The Signature of All Things was such a pleasurable read. With most books, I try to sneak in 5 or 10 minutes throughout my day, but I couldn’t with this novel. I needed more than 10 minutes because I’d become so immersed in Alma’s world that I didn’t want to leave.

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Crazy for Books

Good
Reviewed by Anon on Oct 10 2013

In The Signature of All Things, Gilbert exhibits excellent story telling skills. There is something incredibly likeable about the way she unfolds Alma’s life, the quirks and quiet moments that make her what she really is. The novel also examines more serious things like faith vs. science.

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Books ... Looks and Takes by Eleanor Anders

Good
Reviewed by Eleanor Anders on Oct 18 2013

...a beautifully written tome of fiction where one main character, Alma Whittaker, strives to answer questions of life itself. Many of those same questions are asked today and those answers still vary.

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Malinda Charter 24 Jan 2014

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