The Confusion (Baroque Cycle Series #2)

The Confusion (Baroque Cycle Series #2)

by Neal Stephenson


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The Confusion (Baroque Cycle Series #2) by Neal Stephenson

In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves — including one Jack Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-Cocked Jack — devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues — a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver ... nay, gold ... nay, legendary gold.

In Europe, the exquisite and resourceful Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, is stripped of her immense personal fortune by France's most dashing privateer. Penniless and at risk from those who desire either her or her head (or both), she is caught up in a web of international intrigue, even as she desperately seeks the return of her most precious possession.

Meanwhile, Newton and Leibniz continue to propound their grand theories as their infamous rivalry intensifies, stubborn alchemy does battle with the natural sciences, dastardly plots are set in motion ... and Daniel Waterhouse seeks passage to the Massachusetts colony in hopes of escaping the madness into which his world has descended.

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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060733353
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/14/2005
Series: Baroque Cycle Series , #2
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 848
Sales rank: 143,539
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.35(d)

About the Author

Neal Stephenson is the bestselling author of the novels Reamde, Anathem, The System of the World, The Confusion, Quicksilver, Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac, and the groundbreaking nonfiction work In the Beginning . . . Was the Command Line. He lives in Seattle, Washington.


Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

October 31, 1959

Place of Birth:

Fort Meade, Maryland


B.A., Boston University, 1981

Read an Excerpt

The Confusion LTD

Barbary Coast

October 1689

He was not merely awakened, but detonated out of an uncommonly long and repetitive dream. He could not remember any of the details of the dream now that it was over. But he had the idea that it had entailed much rowing and scraping, and little else; so he did not object to being roused. Even if he had been of a mind to object, he'd have had the good sense to hold his tongue, and keep his annoyance well-hid beneath a simpering merry-Vagabond façade. Because what was doing the waking, today, was the most tremendous damned noise he'd ever heard -- it was some godlike Force not to be yelled at or complained to, at least not right away.

Cannons were being fired. Never so many, and rarely so large, cannons. Whole batteries of siege-guns and coastal artillery discharging en masse, ranks of 'em ripple-firing along wall-tops. He rolled out from beneath the barnacle-covered hull of a beached ship, where he had apparently been taking an afternoon nap, and found himself pinned to the sand by a downblast of bleak sunlight. At this point a wise man, with experience in matters military, would have belly-crawled to some suitable enfilade. But the beach all round him was planted with hairy ankles and sandaled feet; he was the only one prone or supine.

Lying on his back, he squinted up through the damp, sand-caked hem of a man's garment: a loose robe of open-weave material that laved the wearer's body in a gold glow, so that he could look directly up into the blind eye of the man's penis -- which had been curiously modified. Inevitably, he lost this particular stare-down. He rolled back the other way, performing one and a half uphill revolutions, and clambered indignantly to his feet, forgetting about the curve of the hull and therefore barking his scalp on a phalanx of barnacles. Then he screamed as loud as he could, but no one heard him. He didn't even hear himself. He experimented with plugging his ears and screaming, but even then he heard naught but the sound of the cannons.

Time to take stock of matters -- to bring the situation in hand. The hull was blocking his view. Other than it, all he could see was a sparkling bay, and a stony break-water. He strode into the sea, watched curiously by the man with the mushroom-headed yard, and, once he was out knee-deep, turned around. What he saw then made it more or less obligatory to fall right on his arse.

This bay was spattered with bony islets, close to shore. Rising from one of them was a squat round fortress that (if he was any judge of matters architectural) had been built at grand expense by Spaniards in desperate fear of their lives. And apparently those fears had been well founded because the top of that fort was all fluttery with green banners bearing silver crescent moons. The fort had three tiers of guns on it (more correctly, the fort was three tiers of guns) and every one of 'em looked, and sounded, like a sixty-pounder, meaning that it flung a cannonball the size of a melon for several miles. This fort was mostly shrouded in powder-smoke, with long bolts of flame jabbing out here and there, giving it the appearance of a thunderstorm that had been rammed and tamped into a barrel.

A white stone breakwater connected this fort to the mainland, which, at first glance, impressed him as a sheer stone wall rising forty or feet from this narrow strip of muddy beach, and crowded with a great many more huge cannons, all being fired just as fast as they could be swabbed out and stuffed with powder.

Beyond the wall rose a white city. Being as he was at the base of a rather high wall, he wouldn't normally expect to be able to see anything on the opposite side thereof, save the odd cathedral-spire poking out above the battlements. But this city appeared to've been laboriously spackled onto the side of a precipitous mountain whose slopes rose directly from the high-tide mark. It looked a bit like a wedge of Paris tilted upwards by some tidy God who wanted to make all the shit finally run out of it. At the apex, where one would look for whatever crowbar or grapple the hypothetical God would've used to accomplish this prodigy, was, instead, another fortress -- this one of a queer Moorish design, surrounded with its own eight-sided wall that was, inevitably, a-bristle with even more colossal cannons, as well as mortars for heaving bombs out to sea. All of those were being fired, too -- as were all of the guns spraying from the several additional fortresses, bastions, and gun-platforms distributed around the city's walls.

During rare intervals between the crushing thuds of the sixty-pounders, he could hear peppery waves of pistol-and-musket-fire rolling around the place, and now (beginning to advert on smaller things) he saw a sort of smoky, crowded lawn growing out of the wall-tops -- save instead of grass-blades this lawn was made up of men. Some were dressed in black, and some in white, but most wore more colorful costumes: baggy white trousers belted with brilliantly hued swathes of silk, and brightly embroidered vests -- frequently, several such vests nested -- and turbans or red cylindrical hats. Most of those who were dressed after this fashion had a pistol in each hand and were firing them into the air or reloading.

The man with the outlandish johnson -- swarthy, with wavy black hair in a curious 'do, and a knit skullcap -- hitched up his robe, and sloshed out to see if he was all right. For he still had both hands clamped over the sides of his head, partly to stanch the bleeding of the barnacle-gashes, and partly to keep the sound from blowing the top of his skull out to sea.

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

Table of Contents

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The Confusion (Baroque Cycle Series, Parts 4 and 5) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't imagine one writer putting this together. This is the most powerful read I have ever experienced. At times I was engrossed and other times totally frustrated. His verbosity is method to his madness. Keep at it, you will not be dissapointed. And keep your tongue in your cheek while reading this historical unravelling of fact and fiction.
mefnord on LibraryThing 6 days ago
The Confusion feels a lot like what it actually is - the middle part of a trilogy. Stuff happens, mainly to Eliza and Jack (two of the protagonists of the first book) and keeps happening and happening. (I missed Newton and Waterhouse quite a lot, although they do have their cameos). Sometimes a tiny bit of a crescendo would have been nice. Something more driven than the never ending schemes and counter-schemes. The successes and failures became kind of predictable in the end: at first they succeed than someone is even cleverer and they fail, only to find a way out of their predicament - this goes for all the main charachters. Thus, the adventures of Jack and Eliza often seems like, well, filler. Filler for the last book.Still an entertaining read and I absolutely adore Stephenson for the amount of research he has put into the book. Knowing a little bit of your European history in the 17th and 18th century will certainly help to keep the Kings and Queens straight *g* Sadly enough, I had to look up a lot of it.I will definitely pick up the last book of the trilogy, but only after some light and short books inbetween.
danbarrett on LibraryThing 6 days ago
The Confusion is where Stephenson's Baroque trilogy really reaches it's apex of mind-boggling complexity. As I've said before, his work is idea-rich, sometimes (okay, often) hard to follow because of it's intricacy. That said, this is another excellent novel of ideas and an extremely fun one to boot. Pirates? Come on, pirates are awesome.
daschaich on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Worth the Weight: "The Confusion" is the second weighty volume in Neal Stephenson's gigantic "Baroque Cycle." "Quicksilver" (2003) got the Cycle off to a solid (if slow) start, and if the concluding volume ("The System of the World," to be published in the fall of 2004) is anything like "The Confusion," it will be a story worthy of its size. Neal Stephenson comes through on this volume, and those of us who were concerned by "Quicksilver" can give a sigh of relief."The Confusion" covers the years 1689-1702 and consists of two interlocking books, "Bonanza" and "The Juncto." Since events in each book influence those in the other, they are con-fused so that the volume as a whole is less confusing; we switch back and forth between the two books, reading a few chapters in one before turning to the other. The approach works well. Instead of jumping back to 1689 in the middle of the volume, the whole story unfolds more or less chronologically. There are occasionally gaps of an entire year or two in the narrative, which is a little disconcerting, but helps to keep the plot moving.At the beginning of "Bonanza," we rejoin Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds, some four years after he was enslaved by the Barbary Corsairs. A fever has cured his pox and restored his sanity, but at the same time removed all his memories of the past four years. Jack learns that he is part of a group of galley slaves - the Cabal - plotting to steal a boatload of silver from the Spanish and use part of the proceeds to buy their freedom. There is only one problem: the silver they capture turns out to be gold. Even worse, this gold has incredible alchemical powers - or, at least, so the alchemists believe. Terrified that their alchemical gold will be spent and thus con-fused with the common metal, the Esoteric Brotherhood will pursue the Cabal to the ends of the earth to get it back - or, failing that, to get revenge.Eliza, meanwhile, has involuntarily donated her considerable fortune to the French war effort after being captured by privateer Jean Bart while fleeing to England . As she tries to recover, the European economy is thrown into confusion by a series of bad loans and bad harvests coupled with the seemingly endless wars that have sucked up all of the continent's money. Eliza, along with "The Juncto," a powerful group of English politicians, has the task of rebuilding Europe 's financial system on the basis of trade, laying the groundwork for modern economics. Her task is not made any easier by the alchemists, who know of her connection to Jack Shaftoe, and hope to get to him through her.As I hoped, I found "The Confusion" more entertaining than "Quicksilver." The pace is much quicker, and the action and actual plot development makes the volume much more engrossing. I occasionally got the feeling that more happened in particular scenes in "The Confusion" (for example, the Duc d'Arcachon's birthday party) than in the whole of "Quicksilver." There's still plenty of interesting errata (as we expect in a Stephenson book), though Daniel Waterhouse is largely missing - he doesn't appear until about 2/3rds of the way through the volume, and scampers off to Massachusetts pretty quickly after that. Finally, the conclusion does a wonderful job setting up the final volume; I can hardly wait until it's out.Those who have made their way through "Quicksilver" owe it to themselves to move onto "The Confusion" so that their efforts can be rewarded. If you were hesitant about starting "The Baroque Cycle" after reading mixed reviews of the first volume, you can rest assured that "The Confusion" makes it all worthwhile. If "The System of the World" is up to the standard set by "The Confusion" (and I suspect it will be), "The Baroque Cycle" will end up as a masterpiece of massive historical fiction.
jmvilches on LibraryThing 6 days ago
The pace picks up considerably in this continuation of the intertwined stories of Jack Shaftoe, Daniel Waterhouse, and Eliza, Countess de la Zeur. The plot set in motion in Quicksilver continues to twist into fiendishly complex patterns. Piracy and quests, political and financial intrigue, and the evolution of scientific thought; you'll find all of this and more in the hefty second volume of the Baroque Cycle. Read Quicksilver first in order to not be confused by The Confusion.Jack Shaftoe, now a galley slave in Algiers, joins a conspiracy to pirate a Spanish treasure and escape slavery. He and nine other oar-mates embark on their adventure burdened with Jack's usual mix of good and bad luck. Sea battles, land battles and general havoc follow the cabal of misfits across oceans and continents.Daniel has a smaller role in this volume, but the role of Jack's more socially integrated brother Bob waxes into a remarkable war-filled journey to free his enslaved love, Abigail. Eliza, in the meantime, has lost her fortune and her firstborn son and must tread carefully to keep her head amid the perils of the French court. Eliza works to recover her son and wreak havoc on the financial markets of Europe.Jack's adventures from South America to Japan and Eliza's maneuverings in Europe draw you along at breathtaking speed with enough momentum to propel you through the 800+ pages. The pace rarely falters and Stephenson continues to make even the secondary characters interesting. He also maintains the obvious attention to research and detail found in Quicksilver. The Confusion neatly sets the scene for the third and final book as divergent plots start to converge, and I can't wait to see where Stephenson will take us next.4 Stars
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am an avid fan of all of Stephenson's books. In the Baroque cycle this book is my favorite. Lots of time with Jack Shaftoe in this one. A must read.
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Victoria Sazani More than 1 year ago
Great characters, great story, moves your mind thru this period of history like a winning hockey puck. Very funny very slick