The Signature of All Things

Elizabeth Gilbert
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Oct 23, 2013

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest work of fiction, Alma Whittaker is born in 1800 to her parents, Henry and Beatrix, who are themselves interesting characters. Henry grew up poor and very resentful of this fact, although his father did teach him the one thing that changed his life, which was botany. Henry is a self-made man and is now one of the wealthiest men in America. Both he and Beatrix are very unconventional parents.  Scientific in nature, they encourage their daughter to explore their large estate—as long as she is doing something to further her intellect. Like her father, Alma becomes obsessed with botany and is doing incredible experiments at a very young age. Her parents are not warm or loving as they really don't like most things that regular children do. For these reasons, Alma looks at things through only one lens and goes through life missing out on things like friendship and love, although love is a strong force in her life. She ends up concentrating on the study of mosses, which leads her to incredible and important discoveries throughout her career.

Normally, a 500-page book on a woman botanist that studies mosses would not be a page-turner, but the author does an incredible job with the research and detail.  There were a few times, however, when the detail got to be a bit too much for me and I felt like abandoning the book. But each time, just around the corner, the book would change directions and pick up, and in the end, I'm so glad that I stuck with it.

Reviewed by Colleen O.
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