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.