Book review: The Signature of All Things

Dear friends,

It’s a rare experience to finish a book and to be sad when it’s over.  I wasn’t expecting this.

I’m familiar with Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoirs (Eat, Pray, Love, and Committed) and her nonfiction (Big Magic), but I had never read any of her fiction.  Before she achieved fame as the author of EPL, she was primarily a writer of short stories and novels, and in Signature, she returns to those roots.

The book tells the story of Alma Whittaker, a botanist in 1800s Philadelphia.  It begins with her birth, ends with her nearing death, and in between, covers the sweeping scope of an extraordinary life.  Alma is a woman of education and achievement, in a world that does not value those qualities in females.  In the story, we accompany Alma on a lifelong journey of learning, seeking love, and finding meaning.


It’s a long book, and can seem slow at times, as it is very character-driven.  For the first 2/3 (maybe 3/4) of the book, Alma rarely leaves her home estate of White Acre.  In late adulthood, she embarks on a quest that takes her to Tahiti, and later, to the Netherlands, where she meets her mother’s family.  While she has adventures, the story is mostly focused on her inner life, much of which consists of unfulfilled longing.

If you are looking for a good long, deep read that will move you emotionally, I recommend this book.  I’ll remember Alma Whittaker for a long time.

Winnie and the Professor

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2 thoughts on “Book review: The Signature of All Things

  1. I finished this yesterday and also felt very emotional during the last few pages. It was such a great read – and I feel that I shall be carrying a little bit of Alma with me for a good while yet.


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