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The Signature of All Things 

By Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking)


It's not easy to make botany exciting, but somehow Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) manages it. Her sprawling new novel follows the life and family history of the equal parts blessed and cursed Alma Whittaker in the 1800s. Blessed because she's born to the richest family in Philadelphia, educated within an inch of her life and given free reign over an impressive grounds, but cursed because she's unavoidably hideous–and after her family adopts the luminescent young orphan Prudence–never allowed to forget it. As she grows and suffers heartbreak after heartbreak (no spoilers here) Alma develops an expertise in botany and more specifically moss, that takes her on a worldly adventure she never thought possible–from the jungles and beaches of Tahiti to Amsterdam and beyond, Gilbert's portrait of a tenacious woman on the cutting edge of science struggling with the big questions of family, love, religion and evolution will have you contemplating why she ever made that switch from fiction to memoir in the first place.

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Vol 25, No 52
May 24, 2018

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