Review: The Signature of All Things

Title: The Signature of All Things

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Published 2013 by Penguin

501 pages

Source: Library

signature of all things

Reviewed by Holly 

I can’t talk about this book without talking about my experience with Eat, Pray, Love – and that is this: I really loved Eat, Pray, Love. And then I read a whole bunch of negative comments on the book, complaining that Elizabeth Gilbert was narcissistic and spoiled and that it was incredibly unfair that she got to go on this sojourn around the world while processing her first world problems. Even my mom called her a whiner.

Whatevs – I dug it.

And then The Signature of All Things came out, and all I’ve heard about this book is great praise – which sort of left me wondering, would I have the opposite reaction as the critics this time, and hate this book? So, I picked this up (from the library, yo!) with some trepidation.

And – I loved it. I wanted to start recommending it to people before I was even done.

The Signature of All Things is set in the nineteenth century, in Philadelphia and (way) beyond.. It starts with the story of Henry Whittaker, who grew up poor in England and then rises to great fortune through a combination of hard work, moxy, and circumstance, and then turns to his daughter Alma, born in 1800. The story of the family runs alongside the story of nineteenth-century scientific progress, with a heavy dose of repressed desire throughout. The 500 pages ebb and flow, with times where a great deal of action happens in quick succession, followed by times where nothing seems to happen for years on end. It’s a long book – and drags on a bit at the end – but it did not take me long to finish.

In summary, highly flawed characters + weird and random adventures + interesting scientific details make for an enjoyable read. Throw in broader themes about abolition, colonialism, and what families are made of, and I found parts of this story sticking with me. And, if nothing else, you’ll learn Victorian slang for ladyparts, as well as some facts about plants.

Rating: 5 Stars

Parting Words:

Beatrix admired the useful over the vapid, the edifying over the entertaining. She was suspicious of anything one might call “an innocent amusement,” and quite detested anything foolish or vile. Foolish and vile things included: public houses; rouged women; election days (one could always expect mobs); the eating of ice cream; the visiting of ice cream houses; Anglicans (whom she felt to be Catholics in disguise, and whose religion, she submitted, stood at odds with both morality and common sense); tea (good Dutch women drank only coffee); people who drove their sleighs in wintertime without bells upon their horses (you couldn’t hear them coming up behind you!); inexpensive household help (a troublesome bargain); people who paid their servants in rum instead of money (thus contributing to public drunkenness); people who came up to you with their troubles but then refused to listen to sound advice; New Year’s Eve celebrations (the new year will arrive one way or another, regardless of all that bell-ringing); the aristocracy (nobility should be based upon conduct, not upon inheritance); and overpraised children (good behavior should be expected, not rewarded).



  1. I’ve been wondering if I should read this or not. I also (mostly) loved Eat, Pray, Love. (If we’re being honest, I tuned out a bit during the Pray section…) I ended up reading her book about marriage, Committed, and really liked it. But her foray into fiction…I wasn’t sure. This post is definitely making me sway more towards reading it than skipping.

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