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The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame returns 13 years later with an old-fashioned story that spans the late 18th- and early 19th- centuries. In The Signature of All Things, we begin with a background of Alma Whittaker’s father, Henry Whittaker, who changes his fate from being poor to becoming one of the richest men in all of Philadelphia. It is quite an engaging journey we go on with Henry, through treacherous seas and across continents, and through it all just can’t help but admire his prowess to survive against all odds.

All this sets the stage for an epic story, thus when we are re-introduced to Alma Whittaker later on in the book, there is an expectation that this powerful dramatic saga will continue with her story. We are drawn to this plain-looking smart heroine who knew her numbers before the age of four, not just in English, but also in Dutch, French and Latin. Despite her brilliant mind and talent for botany, Alma is well aware of her “plainness”, which she considers unattractive and thinks she is destined for a lifetime as a spinster fated to take care of her father and his estate. But life has other things in store for her. Tormented by erotic desires, she finds love much later in life only to realize that it perhaps may not be everything she had hoped it would.

Laurie Grassi from Chatelaine interviews Elizabeth Gilbert
If you are expecting a classic Elizabeth Gilbert book, then you will be slightly disappointed. The Signature of All Things diverges from the expected writing style of the author, both in the era of the story and also in the deep exploration of a topic that may not be relatable to some. My personal love and devotion to botany made the initial detailed renditions of the evolution of moss a joy to read. But to those readers who really want to get right into the heart of the story, may find the book a bit unhurried, at times seeming more like a text book about the science of plants.

In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert does what she does best – devote a tremendous amount of research and attention to the subject matter at hand…which is the science botany, drawing of plants, spiritual introspection. She attempts to make a connection to evolution by comparing the evolution of mosses to that of humans. Whether she succeeds and gets her point across succinctly is something debatable. Perhaps if you are reading this, we’d love to hear your thoughts.