The Signature of All Things

Gilbert, Elizabeth

Audiobook CD - 2013
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
The Signature of All Things
Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittake, 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).

Publisher: [United States] : Penguin Audio, [2013]
Edition: Unabridged.
ISBN: 9781611762020
Characteristics: 18 sound discs (22 hr.) :,digital ;,4 3/4 in.
Additional Contributors: Stevenson, Juliet


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Mar 24, 2015
  • TheresaAJ rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

I'm not sure I would have chosen this book on my own. It's the March 2015 selection for the Willa Cather Book Club. This historical novel explores the life of Alma Whittaker, an heiress born in 1800 to an English father and a Dutch mother. Alma is destined to take the road less chosen and has the means to explore her interest in botanicals in America, Tahiti, and Holland. This novel is written in the same style as Charles Dickens and Wallace Stegner. Lots of detailed description about the new ideas and theories being explored in the 19th century, the world-wide mania for botanicals, and the cost of unpopular ideas such as abolition, evolution, etc.

Oct 02, 2014
  • becker rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

As someone who was not a great fan of Eat, Pray, Love, I was pleasantly surprised with this book. It is a very ambitious, solid story filled with interesting historical scientific advances in medicine, botany etc. For the most part I really enjoyed this. It does have sections that are slow and bogged down with detail but it always picks up again and the stellar performance of the narrator added such a nice storytelling aspect to it, that I rather enjoyed just relaxing and taking it all in. This book is the type that is greatly enhanced by the audio production. I'm sure I would have struggled through it in print.

Sep 05, 2014
  • mkitty6258 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This is marvelous as literature, history and pure literary fiction.
The CD is truly perfect - the reader Juliet Stephenson was a magnificent choice.

Jun 04, 2014
  • mvanzuylen13 rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

I finished listening to this audio CD a few weeks ago, and had to digest what I thought of the book. Looking back, I can't say I really enjoyed it. I remember the first half of the story being quite engrossed, but the second half really drags on. By the end I could hardly bear to listen any more - but did because I had invested so much time already. I think the first half has a story, but the second half starts to sound very self satisfied. I do think it is very hard to write about a person whose physical and social passions are suppressed, and who then focuses on the life of the mind is very difficult to do in a way that is interesting.

The best part to me was the character of Ambrose, and the development of his relationship with Alma. This part of the story is well written, engaging and thought provoking. It is the reason I gave the book three stars. Anyone listening or reading this book should remember that the name "Alma" means "Soul". Knowing that will make Ambrose's wedding gift to Alma make sense.

I thought Juliet Stephenson's reading was exceptional.

May 19, 2014
  • sdi1943 rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Interesting because Gilbert has obviously done a lot of research in botany and in history.
Good listening because the reader is Juliet Stevenson. She is among the best. A total pro.
Good for bed time listening. You can fall asleep and miss chunks, no matter. Plot and characterization move at a glacial pace.
Characters. I'm not sure. They are not likeable. No one is of bad character particularly. But all are rather one dimensional, and over decades of living never change.

Apr 02, 2014
  • librarylizzard rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This novel highlights a time of great change in the scientific community - from the 18th into the 19th century scienctific discovery begins accelerating at such a rate that no one person can be informed in all areas. Alma Whittaker, daughter of a rags-to-riches pharmaceutical tycoon, focuses her interest on botany, specifically the study of mosses. Alma pales in comparison to her beautiful adopted sister Prudence, and never marries. Then, in her early 50s she meets Ambrose Pike, a spiritual individual who turns Alma's world upside down. After living in Philadelphia most of her life she begins traveling and winds up in Tahiti, then Amsterdam. Along the way Alma's worldviews and views of herself undergo radical changes. I thought Alma was a fascinating protagonist, and I enjoyed following her story from her birth to her eventual death.

Feb 17, 2014
  • artsyred rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

thia was so wonderful
narrator was delicious

highly recc. this

Feb 08, 2014
  • jenzbooks rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Juliet Stevenson's performance of this story about a 19th century woman scientist is amazing. She brings to life characters as diverse as Alma, a down-to-earth privileged Philadelphian; an energetic, optimistic missionary in Tahiti; a village of Tahitians speaking in Tahitian, and many more. The story itself is a celebration of life and not to be missed! This audio won the Listen List Award in 2014 for best narration.


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