ISBN #: 978-0670024858
Page Count: 512
Copyright: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Viking Adult
(Taken from dustjacket flaps)
Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this sweeping novel follows the fortunes of the Whittakers - a family of botanical explorers, led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker, a poor-born Englishman who makes his fortune in the South American quinine trade and swiftly becomes the richest man in the New World. His daughter, Alma, born into great luxury in 1800, ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. She is brilliant and insatiable, driven by an unquenchable sense of wonder, and also by a desperate need to understand the hidden mechanisms behind all life itself. But as Alma's research takes her deeper into the central mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man who draws her in the opposite direction - into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical.
Exquisitely researched and told at a breathless pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe - from London and Peru to Philadelphia, Tahiti, 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 is Alma Whittaker - a true and tireless seeker who stands at an 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 spellbinding tale will capture the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.
Alma, born into privilege to a self-made millionaire, was not the best-looking female ever born. Her parents raised Alma to be knowledgeable, not playful. They taught Alma to use her brain. They taught her to be self-sufficient. It was never said (that I recall), but it was implied that Alma's parents believed knowledge to be power and Alma grew up as one of the most knowledgeable females of her time. A person raised such as Alma has very few friends, if any at all. Surprisingly, Alma never really felt lonely for she had her scientific research to keep her occupied.
I appreciated Alma, but I don't know if I would've befriended her. Her stubborn insistence on questioning everything would have annoyed me. Alma questioned situations to the point that she often missed out on opportunities that would've created recognition for her, which was extremely difficult for a woman scientist to come by during the 18th and 19th centuries. I think she often hid behind her questions and studies, scared to leave their comfort zone. Alma, brilliant scholar and scientist, was fearful of anything emotional and unexplainable. It's actually quite sad.
As far as the book in its entirety, I believe The Signature of All Things will become one of the classics of our generation. Forty or fifty years down the road, high school students will be reading and discussing this novel in their Literature classes. Great job, Ms. Gilbert.
*A hardcopy of this novel was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.