October 2013 Indie Next List
“This novel spans two centuries and offers the reader details of travel, adventure, love, family dysfunction, and science. Alma Whitaker is born in 1800 to a self-made man who becomes the richest man in Philadelphia. Alma is brilliant but homely, and during her long, loveless life she pursues the study of botany, ultimately proposing one of the first theories of evolution. Gilbert expertly tracks Alma's travels around the world, her struggles with her family and the man with whom she falls in love, and her desperate need to understand the mechanisms behind all life.”
— Kate Mai, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX
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"
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 the Author
ELIZABETH GILBERT is the author of the story collection Pilgrims, a finalist for the 1998 PEN/Hemingway Award. It was a New York Times Notable Book and was listed as one of the Most Intriguing Books of 1997 by Glamour magazine. Pilgrims also won best first fiction awards from the Paris Review, the Southern Review, and Ploughshares. Her fiction has been published in Esquire, Story, GQ, Paris Review, Ploughshares, and the Mississippi Review. She is also a Pushcart Prize winner, and her nonfiction writing has earned her a 1999 National Magazine Award nomination. Annie Proulx called Gilbert a "young writer of incandescent talent." Currently a writer-at-large for GQ, Gilbert lives in New York's Hudson Valley.