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

( 55 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The System of the World, the third and concluding volume of Neal Stephenson's shelf-bending Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver and The Confusion), brings the epic historical saga to its thrilling -- and truly awe-inspiring -- conclusion.

Set in the early 18th century and featuring a diverse cast of characters that includes alchemists, philosophers, mathematicians, spies, thieves, pirates, and royalty, The System of the World follows Daniel Waterhouse, an unassuming philosopher and confidant to some of the most brilliant minds of the age, as he returns to England to try and repair the rift between geniuses Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. After reluctantly leaving his family in Boston, Waterhouse arrives in England and is almost killed by a mysterious Infernal Device. Having been away from the war-decimated country for two decades, Waterhouse quickly learns that although many things have changed, there is still violent revolution simmering just beneath the surface of seemingly civilized society. With Queen Anne deathly ill and Tories and Whigs jostling for political supremacy, Waterhouse and Newton vow to figure out who is trying to kill certain scientists and decipher the riddle behind the legend of King Solomon's gold, a mythical hoard of precious metal with miraculous properties.

Arguably one of the most ambitious -- and most researched -- stories ever written, Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is set in one of the most turbulent and exciting times in human history. Filled with wild adventure, political intrigue, social upheaval, civilization-changing discoveries, cabalistic mysticism, and even a little romance, this massive saga is worth its weight in (Solomon's) gold. Paul Goat Allen

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

  • ISBN-13: 9780060750862
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/6/2005
  • Series: Baroque Cycle Series , #3
  • Edition description: with Insights and Interviews
  • Pages: 928
  • Sales rank: 182,305
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Neal  Stephenson

Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem; the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World); Cryptonomicon; The Diamond Age; Snow Crash, which was named one of Time magazine's top one hundred all-time best English-language novels; and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Biography

In Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash, human beings can immerse themselves in a computer-generated universe, and computer viruses can infect human bodies. This blurring of the boundaries between silicon and flesh seems characteristic of Stephenson, a writer whose interests in technology and engineering are inseparable from his skills as a storyteller.

Here is a novelist who talks about the "data management problem" of writing a historical novel, and who apologizes for not responding to fan mail by explaining that he has an "irremediable numerical imbalance between outgoing and incoming bandwidth."

Indeed, Stephenson seems to have a computer metaphor for almost every aspect of the writing life, even when he's not using a computer to write. He wrote the manuscript for Quicksilver in longhand, using a fountain pen. With this slower method of putting words to paper, he explained in an interview with Tech Central Station, "It's like when you're writing, there's a kind of buffer in your head where the next sentence sits while you're outputting the last one."

"Paper," Stephenson adds, is "a really good technology."

As the author of Snow Crash, Stephenson became a cult hero to cyberpunk fans and an inspiration to Silicon Valley start-ups. His Metaverse was the Internet as cutting-edge carnival, a freewheeling digital universe where a pizza-delivery driver could become a samurai warrior. "This is cyberpunk as it ought to be, and almost never is," wrote David Barrett in New Scientist.

Stephenson followed Snow Crash with The Diamond Age, which Publishers Weekly described as "simultaneously SF, fantasy and a masterful political thriller." Stephenson then broke out of the science fiction genre with Cryptonomicon, a 928-page doorstop of a book that drew comparisons to Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Cryptonomicon interweaves two cryptography-themed plots, one set in the 1990s and the other during World War II. "What cyberculture needs right now is not another science-fiction novel but its first great historical novel, and Cryptonomicon is it: an intimate genealogical portrait of the 20th century's computer geeks, great and small, and of the technosocial landscape they have more and less knowingly shaped," wrote Julian Dibbell in The Village Voice.

Hefty though it is, Cryptonomicon is a quick read compared to Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which begins with Quicksilver and continues in two more volumes, The Confusion and The System of the World.

In Quicksilver, a historical novel set in the 17th century, Stephenson explores many of the roots of modern science, mixing meditations on calculus, chemistry and cryptography with a cast of oddball characters (and many of the real-life historical figures, including Isaac Newton, turn out to be very odd indeed).

"At first it feels like Stephenson is flaunting how much time he spent at the library, but the lure of the next wisecracking history lesson becomes the most compelling reason to keep going," wrote Slate reviewer Paul Boutin.

So how did Stephenson manage all that historical data?

"I started with a bunch of notebooks, just composition books, in which I would write notes down in chronological order as I read a particular book, or what have you," he explained in an interview on his publisher's Web site.

"Those are always there, and I can go back to them and look stuff up even when it's otherwise lost. Then, I've got timelines and timetables showing what happens when in the story. I've spent a while monkeying around with three ring binders, in which I glue pages here and there trying to figure out how to sequence things. It's a big mess. It's a big pile of stationery. Many trips to the office supply store, and many failed attempts. But in the end, as long as you can keep it in your head, that's the easiest way to manage something like this. You can move things around inside your head more easily than you can shuffle papers or cross things out on a page and rewrite them."

The three-pound processor inside the author's head, as it turns out, is a really good technology.

Good To Know

Stephenson comes from a family of scientists: His father is a professor of electrical engineering, and his mother worked in a biochemistry lab. Both his grandfathers were science professors. Stephenson himself majored in geography at Boston University, because the geography department "had the coolest computers."

Stephenson co-wrote two political thrillers, Interface and The Cobweb, under the pseudonym Stephen Bury with his uncle George Jewsbury (whose own nom de plume is J. Frederick George). "The whole idea was that 'Stephen Bury' would be a successful thriller writer and subsidize my pathetic career under the name Neal Stephenson," he told Locus magazine. "It ended up going the other way. I would guess most of the people who have bought the Stephen Bury books have done so because they know I've written them. It just goes to show there's no point in trying to plan your career."

In the Beginning... Was the Command Line, Stephenson's book-length essay on computer operating systems, complains that graphical user interfaces distort the user's understanding of computer operations. On his current Web site, Stephenson dubs the essay "badly obsolete" and notes: "For the last couple of years I have been a Mac OX user almost exclusively."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Bury (co-author pseudonym, with J. Frederick George)
    2. Hometown:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 31, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Fort Meade, Maryland
    1. Education:
      B.A., Boston University, 1981
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

The System of the World Ltd


By Stephenson, Neal

William Morrow & Company

ISBN: 0060599359

Book 6
Solomon's Gold

Dartmoor

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.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

The System of the World LTD

Book 6
Solomon's Gold

Dartmoor

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," answered the 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."

The System of the World LTD. Copyright © by Neal Stephenson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 55 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 55 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2011

    Excellent

    I can't tell you how impressed i am with this series.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2004

    Word Alchemy

    In 1714, Daniel Waterhouse finishes his long trip from America to England. He is prepared to mediate a vicious argument between Newton and Leibniz about who invented calculus first. But he is quickly caught up in diverse adventures: building a logic mill, sleuthing out a bomb maker, playing shell games with gold, and planning jailbreaks. Jack Shaftoe pops in here and there sowing mayhem and counterfeit coins. Eliza, the Countess de la Zeur by way of being 'Good with Money', continues her behind-the-scenes royal intrigues and her efforts to end slavery. Conflicts galore weave together into a complex tapestry: the power struggle between the Whigs and the Tories, the battle between Newton the Minter and Jack the Coiner, the feuding calculus inventors, and the clash between alchemy and science. In the end it all boils down to this: will the new system of the world be based on free markets and science? Or feudalism and alchemy? The third and final book in the Baroque Cycle is just as weighty as the first two. It features a quick synopsis of Quicksilver and The Confusion for those who need a refresher. Even with the summary, I wouldn't advise starting with the third book. Each of the books in the series has its own character. Quicksilver was all about set-up, so while it was rich in detail and characters, it could be slow and a bit disjointed at times. The Confusion was full of madcap adventures and the pieces just flew around the board. The System of the World wraps all of the previous threads together and strikes a nice balance between philosophy, intrigue, and action. Stephenson keeps up the expected torrent of words, but as with the other two books, he keeps your attention with an iron fist of plot in a velvet glove of delightful prose. Stephenson manages to seamlessly combine serious discussions, obscure trivia, and profound silliness. As a reader, you have to pay the same attention to all, because you never know what small detail the plot is going to hang on next. Daniel Waterhouse is the driving character for most of this book. If you loved The Confusion because it centered on Jack and Eliza, you might be disappointed in the smaller roles they play in the third book. But if you can get past that disappointment, you will find that Daniel has evolved into a more interesting and active character than he was in Quicksilver. The Baroque Cycle requires a substantial investment of time and attention, but it is well worth the effort. The System of the World is a satisfying end to a great series. With Stephenson, as in life, the journey is more important than the destination, and he definitely gives you a lot of journey in the 3000-or-so page trilogy.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    terrific climax to the fantastic Baroque Cycle trilogy

    In 1714 Daniel Waterhouse arbitrates the irrational dispute between the aging mathematical giants Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, both angrily insisting they invented the calculus. However as the two greats brawl like street kids, Queen Anne nears death. The Jacobyte supporters contend with the Hanoverian sympathizers over the succession. Waterhouse fears for the future due to the monarchy dispute potentially harming intellectual pursuits and the math argument shredding collaborations.--- Meanwhile street schemer turned noble schemer Eliza de la Zour influences Caroline of Ansbach, consort of the heir to the English throne furthering her desires; while outlaw Jack Shaftoe struggles to avoid the hangman. As the world seems heading towards madness, Waterhouse tries to keep the rising chaos from turning the world back into another Dark Ages. His hope lies in technology and that rationale people will seek a reasonable solution irregardless of the Newton-Leibniz war, but he fears for the future though he sees a glimmer of light through brilliant inventions that will keep society from totally reversing itself.--- This final epoch to an incredible look at the beginning of the modern age is a terrific climax to the fantastic Baroque Cycle trilogy. The story line is packed with insight into the early eighteenth century especially a deep glimpse at some the most influential people of the age. Waterhouse is the glue that keeps the tale together though sidebars with Eliza and Jack stretch the hero¿s skills to the max. Satirically, as the throne contenders battle and the mathematical crown co-champions argue (ironically without logic) the inventors are the ones left standing alone keeping the light shimmering in a Shakespearean-like climax.--- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2004

    An Absolute Triumph!

    'The System of the World,' the last volume in Neal Stephenson's weighty and hugely idiosyncratic 'Baroque Cycle,' brings to a close what is nothing short of a contemporary literary masterpiece. Stephenson's glorious geek historical fiction is as meticulous and beefy as an encyclopedia (and sometimes reads like one), but as he weaves the patterns of this multitudious plot to a triumphant and ambitiously constructed finale, it's hard not to recognize how extraordinary an achievement this 'Baroque Cycle' represents. It is essentially one 2,636-page novel made up of eight books spread over three volumes, and despite its heft the story is never at any point unengaging - Stephenson is a master of pacing, and just when things start to glide into the bland, he jumpstarts the whole show with either portentious metaphysical combustion between historical characters such as Isaac Newton or Gottfried von Leibniz, or a blazing action sequence (volume 3 features a stunning, 30-page assault on the Tower of London). I cannot recommend a novel more highly than this trilogy!

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