The Signature of All Things

The Signature of All Things

Book - 2013
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Follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family, including 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; and his brilliant daughter Alma, who becomes a botanist.
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2013
ISBN: 9780670024858
Branch Call Number: Fiction Gilbert
Characteristics: p. cm


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February 2017 - Discussion led by Sue

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Dec 08, 2019

Elizabeth Gilbert has created a work of the most refreshing language and astonishing writing for capturing what life was like in the 1800s. I am both surprised and pleased that I picked up this book to spend two savoury weeks devouring every single detail in this love story. I would proclaim this book to be both a love story of romance and of the realism and evolution of life. I'd give it six out of five stars.

Sep 17, 2019


SPL_Brittany Feb 13, 2019

A sweeping historical fiction novel told against the backdrop of the Age of Enlightenment, that follows the life of Alma Whittaker, the daughter of the richest man in Philadelphia (Henry Whittaker) in the 1800s, who becomes a distinguished botanist and leading authority on mosses. Author of "Eat, Pray, Love", Elizabeth Gilbert writes a leisurely novel, full rich historical details along with the discussions within the scientific community during this period.

Though far from a fast read, I enjoyed taking my time and getting to know Alma Whittaker and her unique upbringing. I enjoyed travelling with her characters across the globe and delving into the scientific community during the Age of Enlightenment.

Readers who enjoyed Annie Proulx's "Barkskins" are sure to delight in this novel.

IndyPL_AnikaW Dec 04, 2018

Fantastically lyrical fiction about a 19th century female botanist/illustrator who focused on researching mosses, which she described as a "stupefying kingdom" as she gazed through a magnifying glass.

Alma Whittaker is an especially compelling and sympathetic character...and the details included by Gilbert on mosses and other aspects of botany as well as the theory of evolution make for a rich and engaging read.

Nov 03, 2018

I like botany so reading about mosses suits me well, but the book seems forced. I don't feel the writer's love for botany - did she plough through her botanical research, hoping to provide an unusual backdrop for her plot, or she truly enjoys plants? Anyway the poor characters are not well developed either. They don't come alive as they could have.

Sep 30, 2018

Interesting characters, great Botany information, and a great period piece.

RogerDeBlanck Jun 30, 2018

The Signature of All Things is impressive in both its breadth and detail. Seen primarily through the perspective of the inimitable Alma Whittaker, a botanist with an inexhaustible craving for knowledge, the narrative explores a treasure of ideas in the field of natural science. The story of Alma’s father Henry and the peerless Whittaker family is meticulously developed and beautifully told. For such a multi-generational epic, the story is never slow or boring. The lovely prose seemingly gallops along. Passion exudes on every page. But with all the intelligence and rapture the book delivers, some of its adventures felt as if they could have elevated to a higher level. The ending, though satisfying and interesting, came across as decidedly more expository, rather than revelatory. Nonetheless, this is a rich and enchanting novel that I recommend. It is a substantial literary work and a pleasure to read.

Apr 22, 2018

Loved this book ! Well written with wonderful characters, a magnificent journey through a period of time . A fabulous exploration of science verse spirit and our humanness.

Sep 30, 2017

Well-written enough that I did finish it, but I did not enjoy this book. The characters were all "ugly," and I just couldn't make myself care about them.

Feb 18, 2017

I was drawn into this historical fiction tale from the first chapter. There is a lot of scientific detail but I found the main character delightful. She is a woman stuck in the wrong century! I enjoyed the questions her character raised in her quest to understand moss, science, love, and the 19th century world around her.

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