Why did I take so long to get around to reading this book? I think it was written just for me. I loved every word.
There is so much history in this book. It spans more than a century, from the 1770s to the 1880s. It incorporates so much that happens in this time period that it is hard for me to even remember everything it includes. For example, I had never heard of “The Year Without a Summer” in 1816.
I loved the combination of story, history, and science. I loved being reminded of some of the cool stuff I learned at university so many years ago. And, I loved learning a few things that I had never known before about botany and the scientists behind the theory of evolution.
I loved Alma and the way her mind worked. I loved her passion for mosses (I even ‘get’ her passion for mosses). I loved the White Acre dinner table discussions, the interactions between Henry and his wife and daughters. I loved witnessing the relationship between Alma and Prudence; for so long I couldn’t trust Prudence’s emotionless reactions, but came to understand them along with Alma. I loved both Henry’s and Alma’s sea-faring adventures, both sailing at very different times for very different reasons. I loved the mysteriousness of Dick Yancey and Ambrose’s valise, and Alma’s time in Tahiti. I loved the cave of moss Alma discovers, and Roger the dog. I loved the age-old discussion of science and religion. This book made me want to go right out and read Darwin’s books (which I didn’t, but you never know…).
I loved Alma’s constant search for answers; everything seemed to raise more questions, rather than answer them. She felt as though she was always in a “state of speculation”. But, she was determined, strong, and even feisty at times, like her father.
All her life, she felt, she had lived in a state of speculation. All she had ever wanted was to know things, yet still and now – even after all these years of tireless questioning – all she did was ponder and wonder and guess.
“Not everything has an answer.” Alma found this to be such a staggering piece of intelligence that she was struck dumb by it for several hours. All she could do was sit and ponder the notion in an amazed stupor.
“This life is a mystery, yes, and it is often a trial, but if one can find some facts within in, one should always do so – for knowledge is the most precious of all commodities.”
She still wanted to see what would happen next, as much as ever.
Then there was Ambrose, who took a whole different approach to the world than Alma did. Maybe this is why she was so drawn to him.
… to experience life through mere reason is to feel about in the dark for God’s face while wearing heavy gloves. It is not enough only to study and depict and describe. One must sometimes… leap.
There is so much in this book I could talk about, and so many beautiful passages, but I am trying to restrain myself. And, a lot of you have probably already read it. If you haven’t, you should, especially if you love the combination of history and science. Elizabeth Gilbert must have researched the heck out of this one.
Does anyone know any books out there that are similar (heavy on the history of science), because I would love to make up a little list for myself.
An interview at The New York Times with Elizabeth Gilbert about the inspiration behind The Signature of All Things.
41 thoughts on “The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert”
I’m glad to read a good response to this novel! So many I’ve read were just backlashes because it wasn’t a “light, fluffy beach read.”
I don’t think I’ve come across those ones. I have read a few that have been more on the fence, but I admit to unabashedly loving this book. I wanted it to go on and on…
Have you read it?
I haven’t, but you’ve almost convinced me to give it a go. I just had so many others that I haven’t seriously considered it.
Have you read Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett? Fascinating exploration of flora and fauna known at the time of the first Arctic expeditions. I liked this book even more than Signature, though Gilbert’s book is amazing too. Narwhal remains one of the top novels I’ve read.
I haven’t read this one – thanks so much for the suggestion! It looks wonderful!
Andrea Barrett is a wonderful writer.
I was put off of this one because Eat, Pray, Love did not appeal to me in the slightest, but your review has changed my mind. Thanks!
It’s nothing like Eat Pray Love, and I think you would like it, Carolyn! I hope you try it!
Ah, one of my favorite books from a couple years ago! In fact, it was on my best books list for that year.
I think it will be on mine this year!
Yeah, it’s great!
How wonderful that this book worked so well for you. It has been on my to-read list for a while. I was going to suggest Andrea Barrett, but I see that Valorie has beaten me to it.
The Andrea Barrett book sounds perfect. Have you read by her besides The Voyage of the Narwhal? Ship Fever also looked good.
I’ve read only Ship Fever and really liked the short stories. I’ve wanted to read more of her books, especially one of the full-length ones, since then.
Good, I have recommendations for two of her books now. I wish I could just read them right now. 🙂
I had been avoiding this one because I wasn’t so sure about Gilbert’s fiction writing. But I guess I shouldn’t have been worried! I didn’t know about the year without a summer! That’s insane. And feels kind of eerie right now – smoke from forest fires blocked the sun out this way last week. It was horrible.
Anyway = I’m going to keep this one on the list!
Good! I think you would like it – I loved the writing. And, there is so much to learn!
Smoke blocking out the sun would be horrible. Imagine it going on for months and not knowing the cause of it for years!
I loved this one too. I can recommend anything by David Quammen but especially The Song of the Dodo.
I have never heard of him before, but it looks like he’s written a lot of interesting books. I’ll be looking at them a bit more closely – thanks!
Thank you for the reminder that I need to read this book: it’s been in my pile since hardcover publication. Your review makes it sound like something I’d really love.
I know the feeling. I had all but forgotten about it, too, until something reminded me. I can’t remember what or who it was now. But I’m glad I finally read it. I liked it even more than I thought I would. I hope you do, too!
I read The Signature of All Things for the first time a couple of months ago and I loved it, too. There were a few places where I found the weight of the research a little heavy going, but overall I was fascinated by Alma’s unconventional life.
I truly loved every word. I wanted even more research! But, that’s maybe just the biologist coming out in me. Sometimes, I miss it. Glad you like it! 🙂
I hesitate recommending it because it is so dense. But Richard Powers’ “The Gold Bug Variations” is a book that comes to mind. It is an exploration of love, science, music and art.And an amazing read.
Never hesitate to recommend! It looks good to me, and is now on my list. Thank you! 🙂
I haven’t read her other novels but this is really an inspired read, I loved it and thought it worked quite well, I’d be interested in the story from her sisters perspective as well, still so many unanswered questions.
Yes, this is the kind of book that could have been even longer – I wouldn’t have minded!
Like you, I’ve yet to make time for this one. Before the E,P,L phenomenon, she was a favourite writer of mine, but I’ve just lost track of her lately. This sounds terrific though, especially the moss bits!
I have a couple on my Canlit TBR which might suit your interest: Joan Thomas’ Curiosity (fossils) and Katherine Govier’s Creation (birds). There is also a scientist/researcher at the heart of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, which is a very satisfying read (a thriller on one level, but some layers to the theme if you’re looking for something “more” too).
I have had Curiosity on my list for a while, but keep putting it off because I have been afraid it will be too much like Remarkable Creatures by Chevalier which is also about Mary Anning and her fossils. But, maybe enough time has passed by now that it won’t be a problem.
I have also read State of Wonder and loved it. I have loved all of Patchett’s novels.
Creation is now on my list – I do love birds and have several of Audubon’s books, so this does sound good to me.
Thanks for the suggestions! And, if you have liked Gilbert in the past, then you are sure to like The Signature of All Things. 🙂
Curiosity is wonderful! Now that you mention it, I realize I put off reading Remarkable Creatures a few years ago because I had just read Curiosity and I wondered the same thing you did, only in reverse. Maybe the time has come for me to read that one as well.
Good to know you liked it! I’m thinking enough time has passed. I do wonder what the differences are…
SO glad to see it worked for you – I adored it! I feel like it’s a book I could come back to in a few years and experience again, which doesn’t happen very often.
I like your enthusiasm for this book. Makes me want to get & read it. I would second the already mentioned books by Andrea Barrett if you like the history & science combo. I did like her novel Voyage of the Narwhal too.
I’m itching to read that one, now that several of you have suggested it!
I loved this one, too! I loved the epicness of it. I am putting the Narwhal book on my tbr.
I’m excited to read the Narwhal book, but I could say the same for many other books on my list, as well, Wish I could read them all at once. 🙂
I loved Eat, Pray, Love so I don’t know why I haven’t gotten to this one yet myself! Especially given that it includes science too. I’ll have to check it out!
I think you would like this one – such a great mix of story, history, and science!
This one sounds fabulous! Your enthusiasm is palpable.
You might like Headstrong by Rachel Swaby! It includes 52 short biographies of some of the most important (and often overlooked) women in science. 🙂
Oh, great suggestion! Thanks! 🙂