The System of the World (Baroque Cycle Series #3)

The System of the World (Baroque Cycle Series #3)

4.6 56
by Neal Stephenson

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England, 1714. London has long been home to a secret war between the brilliant, enigmatic Master of the Mint and closet alchemist, Isaac Newton, and his archnemesis, the insidious counterfeiter Jack the Coiner. Hostilities are suddenly moving to a new and more volatile level as Half-Cocked Jack hatches a daring plan, aiming for the total corruption of Britain's

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England, 1714. London has long been home to a secret war between the brilliant, enigmatic Master of the Mint and closet alchemist, Isaac Newton, and his archnemesis, the insidious counterfeiter Jack the Coiner. Hostilities are suddenly moving to a new and more volatile level as Half-Cocked Jack hatches a daring plan, aiming for the total corruption of Britain's newborn monetary system.

Enter Daniel Waterhouse: Aging Puritan and Natural Philosopher, Daniel has been on a long and harrowing quest to help mend the rift between adversarial geniuses. As Daniel combs city and country for clues to the identity of the blackguard who is attempting to blow up Natural Philosophers, political factions jockey for position while awaiting the impending death of the ailing queen, and the "holy grail" of alchemy, the key to life eternal, tantalizes and continues to elude Isaac Newton.

As Newton, Waterhouse, and Shaftoe each circle closer to the object of Daniel's quest, everything that was will be changed forever ...

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The colossal and impressive third volume (after Quicksilver and The Confusion) of Stephenson's magisterial exploration of the origins of the modern world in the scientific revolution of the baroque era begins in 1714. Daniel Waterhouse has returned to England, hoping to mediate the feud between Sir Isaac Newton and Leibniz, both of whom claim to have discovered the calculus and neither of whom is showing much scientific rationality in the dispute. This brawl takes place against the background of the imminent death of Queen Anne, which threatens a succession crisis as Jacobite (Stuart, Catholic) sympathizers confront supporters of the Hanoverian succession. Aside from the potential effect of the outcome on the intellectual climate of England, these political maneuverings are notable for the role played by trilogy heroine Eliza de la Zour, who is now wielding her influence over Caroline of Ansbach, consort of the Hanoverian heir. Eliza has risen from the streets to the nobility without losing any of her creativity or her talents as a schemer; nor has outlaw Jack Shaftoe lost any of his wiliness. What he may have lost is discretion, since he oversteps the boundaries of both law and good sense far enough to narrowly escape the hangman. In the end, reluctant hero Waterhouse prevails against the machinations of everybody else, and scientific (if not sweet) reason wins by a nose. The symbol of that victory is the inventor Thomas Newcomen standing (rather like a cock crowing) atop the boiler of one of his first steam engines. This final volume in the cycle is another magnificent portrayal of an era, well worth the long slog it requires of Stephenson's many devoted readers. Agent, Liz Darhansoff at Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman Literary Agents. 6-city author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Responding to a request from Hanoverian Princess Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach, Royal Society Fellow Daniel Waterhouse leaves his Boston home to travel to London to mediate a volatile dispute between Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz and Sir Isaac Newton over the origin of the calculus. There, Waterhouse becomes embroiled in the search for a clandestine group of terrorists who are attempting to assassinate prominent proponents of Natural Philosophy including Waterhouse himself. Set against the vibrant cacophony of the early 1700s, this conclusion to Stephenson's stunning "Baroque Cycle" (Quicksilver; The Confusion) stands out as a masterwork of time, place, and people. Familiar characters reappear: Jack Shaftoe acquires an even greater reputation as a rogue extraordinaire, and Eliza, the Duchess of Arcachon-Qwghlm, makes her presence felt in high society. In a style both conversationally modern and atmospherically reminiscent of the period, Stephenson captures the spirit of an age of great discoveries, high "technology," and resourceful individuals. Highly recommended for general and historical fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.] Jackie Cassada, Asheville-Buncombe Lib. Syst., NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Baroque Cycle crosses the finish line: somewhat winded but still spry. One thing that becomes obvious on reading this third and final volume in Stephenson's genre-defying historical reinvention (Quicksilver, 2003; The Confusion, p. 107) is that the author was right to say the work wasn't a trilogy, but just one long (nearly 3,000-page) novel. Another thing is that it's a hell of a way to finish things off. We're in the early 1700s now, and the characters are a bit older (Quicksilver started in the 1640s) but no less active, physically or mentally. The loquacious Daniel Waterhouse is still serving England as a member of the Royal Society, and the bulk of this last installment follows his attempts to stop a plot threatening the lives of his fellow scientists with a nefarious invention: the time bomb. As prolix as Waterhouse and his comrade-in-long-windedness, Isaac Newton, can be in their scientific discourses, it's nothing compared to the mind-boggling stew of conspiracy that's London, with Tories and Whigs battling for position and civil war threatened over the possible ascension of the Hanoverian Princess Caroline to the throne. While the back-and-forth can be dizzying, Stephenson's droll humor (he even tosses in an anachronistic Monty Python joke) and knack for thrilling set-pieces-the meticulously plotted escape of a Scottish rebel from the Tower of London is a tour de force of its own-act as guiding lights through the political murk. On the periphery, the onetime slave and now Duchess Eliza uses her own considerable diplomatic skills to advance her shadowy goals, and after far too long a delay comes the return of the fabled Jack Shaftoe, the Indiana Jones of the series. Stephensonknows that the inimitable Shaftoe is ultimately the star and provides him with a crowd-pleasing exit as heart-poundingly exciting as it is surprisingly emotional. Learned, violent, sarcastic, and profound: a glorious finish to one of the most ambitious epics of recent years.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Baroque Cycle Series, #3
Edition description:
with Insights and Interviews
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.48(d)

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The System of the World Ltd

By Stephenson, Neal

William Morrow & Company

ISBN: 0060599359

Book 6
Solomon's Gold


15 january 1714

In life there is nothing more foolish than inventing.
-- James Watt

"Men half your age and double your weight have been slain on these wastes by Extremity of Cold," said the Earl of Lostwithiel, Lord Warden of the Stannaries, and Rider of the Forest and Chase of Dartmoor, to one of his two fellow-travelers.

The wind had paused, as though Boreas had exhausted his lungs and was drawing in a new breath of air from somewhere above Iceland. So the young Earl was able to say this in matter-of-fact tones. "Mr. Newcomen and I are very glad of your company, but -- "

The wind struck them all deaf, as though the three men were candle-flames to be blown out. They staggered, planted their downwind feet against the black, stony ground, and leaned into it. Lostwithiel shouted: "We'll not think you discourteous if you return to my coach!" He nodded to a black carriage stopped along the track a short distance away, rocking on its French suspension. It had been artfully made to appear lighter than it was, and looked as if the only thing preventing it from tumbling end-over-end across the moor was the motley team of draught-horses harnessed to it, shaggy manes standing out horizontally in the gale.

"I am astonished that you should call this an extremity of cold," answeredthe old man. "In Boston, as you know, this would pass without remark. I am garbed for Boston." He was shrouded in a rustic leather cape, which he parted in the front to reveal a lining pieced together from the pelts of many raccoons. "After that passage through the intestinal windings of the Gorge of Lyd, we are all in want of fresh air -- especially, if I read the signs rightly, Mr. Newcomen."

That was all the leave Thomas Newcomen wanted. His face, which was as pale as the moon, bobbed once, which was as close as this Darth mouth blacksmith would ever come to a formal bow. Having thus taken his leave, he turned his broad back upon them and trudged quickly downwind. Soon he became hard to distinguish from the numerous upright boulders -- which might be read as a comment on his physique, or on the gloominess of the day, or on the badness of Daniel's eyesight.

"The Druids loved to set great stones on end," commented the Earl. "For what purpose, I cannot imagine."

"You have answered the question by asking it."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Dwelling as they did in this God-forsaken place, they did it so that men would come upon these standing stones two thousand years after they were dead, and know they had been here. The Duke of Marlborough, throwing up that famous Pile of Blenheim Palace, is no different."

The Earl of Lostwithiel felt it wise to let this pass without comment. He turned and kicked a path through some stiff withered grass to a strange up-cropping of lichen-covered stone. Following him, Daniel understood it as one corner of a ruined building. The ground yielded under their feet. It was spread thin over a shambles of tumbledown rafters and disintegrating peat-turves. Anyway the angle gave them shelter from the wind.

"Speaking now in my capacity as Lord Warden of the Stannaries, I welcome you to Dartmoor, Daniel Waterhouse, on behalf of the Lord of the Manor."

Daniel sighed. "If I'd been in London the last twenty years, keeping up with my Heraldic Arcana, and going to tea with the Bluemantle Pursuivant, I would know who the hell that was. But as matters stand -- "

"Dartmoor was created part of the Duchy of Cornwall in 1338, and as such became part of the possessions of the Prince of Wales -- a title created by King Edward I in -- "

"So in a roundabout way, you are welcoming me on behalf of the Prince of Wales," Daniel said abruptly, in a bid to yank the Earl back before he rambled any deeper into the labyrinth of feudal hierarchy.

"And the Princess. Who, if the Hanovers come, shall be -- "

"Princess Caroline of Ansbach. Yes. Her name keeps coming up. Did she send you to track me down in the streets of Plymouth?"

The Earl looked a little wounded. "I am the son of your old friend. I encountered you by luck. My surprise was genuine. The welcome given you by my wife and children was unaffected. If you doubt it, come to our house next Christmas."

"Then why do you go out of your way to bring up the Princess?"

"Only because I wish to be plain-spoken. Where you are going next it is all intrigue. There is a sickness of the mind that comes over those who bide too long in London, which causes otherwise rational men to put forced and absurd meanings on events that are accidental."

"I have observed that sickness in full flower," Daniel allowed, thinking of one man in particular.

"I do not wish you to think, six months from now, when you become aware of all this, 'Aha, the Earl of Lostwithiel was nothing more than a cat's paw for Caroline -- who knows what other lies he may have told me!' "

"Very well. For you to disclose it now exhibits wisdom beyond your years."

"Some would call it timidity originating in the disasters that befell my father, and his father."

"I do not take that view of it," Daniel said curtly.

He was startled by bulk and motion to one side, and feared it was a standing-stone toppled by the wind; but it was only Thomas Newcomen, looking a good deal pinker. "God willing, that carriage-ride is the closest I shall ever come to a sea-voyage!" he declared.

"May the Lord so bless you," Daniel returned. "In the storms of the month past, we were pitched and tossed about so much that all hands were too sick to eat for days. I went from praying we would not run aground, to praying that we would." Continues...

Excerpted from The System of the World Ltd by Stephenson, Neal Excerpted by permission.
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