I'm not going to say very much about the plot of Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderfully engaging historical novel The Signature of All Things because to do so would be to spoil its leisured unfolding, but I will say that in Alma Whittaker it has one of the most unlikely and unusual heroines of this or any other genre!
Alma is born in Philadelphia in 1800, the daughter of a renowned botanical explorer who has become a very wealthy man. Growing up on the family's White Acre estate, her privileged existence is also one of scholarship, for Alma is a cerebral girl for whom the life of the mind - in part compensating for a lack of emotional sustenance - is everything. She becomes a scientist, a natural philosopher, happy peering into a microscope or devouring the new thought contained in the books of her father's unique library, and when her interest in botany develops into a study of the little known field of mosses, a whole new world opens up to her.
I'll say no more than that about Alma's life story except that it takes the reader far and wide, through almost a century and across the globe, into the questions of evolutionary theory and life itself, and down deep into what lies beneath our feet; and its portrayal of an intellect and an obsession, of human strengths and frailties, is infused with such joie de vivre that you will turn the final page with a satisfied smile. Full of warmth and wit, researched with such breadth and depth of understanding and attention to detail, this is quite a book!
Here's Elizabeth herself to tell you more: