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.
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.
This was a well-written, well researched book that had me reading slowly. Which can be a good thing. Some books just take more time, I kind of savored it all slowly, instead of eating it up without swallowing. If that makes sense.
This book was all about Alma, and her father as it all started with him. How he grew up and created his empire. And then how Alma was born and grew up. She had a fascinating mind, so clever, so logical, so good. She spent decades studying moss! But then she had the money to do what she loved, and what she loved was books and learning. That girl knew more at 10 than I know now. She was raised to take care of herself and to be independent (had some good genes too ;). As this takes place during her entire life you'd expect much to happen, but Alma is not that kind of woman. Like I said, she spent decades studying moss. Her upbringing was interesting, with her constant questioning of the universe and life.
Other characters we meet are, her sister who is all calm and ice, her crazy friend, her first crush, the man she falls in love with, and other people, strange and new she meets as she moves away. But what is constant in this book is the love of botany. And of course we learn what the signature of things is. That is when she wonders about what she has learned, that all things in nature has a meaning, made by God. But as Alma is all logic then that makes no sense. But it's an interesting concept.
A scholarly kind of book. I also felt sad for her at times because she wanted things she did not get. But she just went on in life, so nothing to feel sad about for long.
An interesting book that made me think, wonder and just enjoy it for what it was.
It may not be all look at me, but it works and there insides of the book is really pretty too
Paperback, 512 pages
Published June 24th 2014 by Penguin Books (first published October 1st 2013)