The Signature of All Things

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Botany, Exploration, Love

Fiction

Published by Bloomsbury

Shortlist 2014
The Signature of All Things

The Signature of All Things is a big novel, about a big century. It soars across the globe from London, to Peru, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam. Peopled with extraordinary characters - missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses and the quite mad - most of all it has an unforgettable heroine in Alma Whittaker, a woman of the Enlightened Age who stands defiantly on the cusp of the modern.

5th January 1800. Alma Whittaker is born into a perfect Philadelphia winter. Her father, Henry Whittaker, is a bold and charismatic botanical explorer whose vast fortune belies his lowly beginnings as a vagrant in Sir Joseph Banks Kew Gardens and as a deck hand on Captain Cook's HMS Resolution. Alma’s mother, a strict woman from an esteemed Dutch family, is conversant in five living languages (and two dead ones). An independent girl with a thirst for knowledge, it is not long before Alma comes into her own within the world of botany. But as Alma’s careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction.

Read our shortlist post about one of the true stories behind The Signature of All Things, written by Christopher Mills (Head of Library, Art and Archives at Kew).