5th January 1800. At the beginning of a new century, Alma Whittaker is born into a perfect Philadelphia winter. Her father, Henry Whittaker, is a bold and charismatic botanical explorer whose vast fortune belies his lowly beginnings as a vagrant in Kew Gardens. Alma's mother, a strict woman from an esteemed Dutch family, is conversant in five ...
5th January 1800. At the beginning of a new century, Alma Whittaker is born into a perfect Philadelphia winter. Her father, Henry Whittaker, is a bold and charismatic botanical explorer whose vast fortune belies his lowly beginnings as a vagrant in Kew Gardens. Alma's mother, a strict woman from an esteemed Dutch family, is conversant in five living languages (and two dead ones) and her knowledge of botany is equal to any man's. An independent girl with a thirst for knowledge, it is not long before Alma comes into her own within the world of plants and science. As Alma's careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction - into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose is a Utopian artist. But what unites this couple is a shared passion for knowing - a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all of life. The Signature of All Things is a big novel, about a big century. It soars across the globe from London, to Peru, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam. Peopled with extraordinary characters - missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses and the quite mad - most of all it has an unforgettable heroine in Alma Whittaker, a woman of the Enlightened Age who stands defiantly on the cusp of the modern.
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Publishers Weekly, 2014-01-06 From the author of Eat, Pray, Love comes this sweeping tale of one family's journey from rags to riches. Spanning two centuries and set in numerous countries, the novel follows the exploits of the Whittaker family, beginning with Henry Whittaker, an impoverished man from England who makes his fortune in South America. With such a massive narrative task at hand, narrator Stevenson never ceases to impress in this lengthy yet enriching performance. Her English accent and sensitive but firm reading perfectly matches the author's prose. The reading is clear and steady, and Stevenson creates a sense of intimacy between herself and the listener that never dissipates during the course of this audio edition. A Viking hardcover. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly, 2013-07-01 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. (Oct. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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