Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle Series #1)

Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle Series #1)

by Neal Stephenson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060593087
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2004
Series: Baroque Cycle Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 960
Sales rank: 126,363
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.53(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.

Hometown:

Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

October 31, 1959

Place of Birth:

Fort Meade, Maryland

Education:

B.A., Boston University, 1981

Read an Excerpt

Quicksilver

Volume One of the Baroque Cycle
By Neal Stephenson

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2004 Neal Stephenson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060748303

The Baroque Cycle v. 1: Quicksilver


Book 1: Quicksilver


Those who assume hypotheses as first principles of their speculations . . .may indeed form an ingenious romance, but a romance it will still be.


-- Roger Cotes,
preface to Sir Isaac Newton's
Principia Mathematica,
second edition, 1713

Boston Common
October 12, 1713, 10:33:52 a.m.

Enoch rounds the corner just as the executioner raises the noose above the woman's head. The crowd on the Common stop praying and sobbing for just as long as Jack Ketch stands there, elbows locked, for all the world like a carpenter heaving a ridge-beam into place. The rope clutches a disk of blue New England sky. The Puritans gaze at it and, to all appearances, think. Enoch the Red reins in his borrowed horse as it nears the edge of the crowd, and sees that the executioner's purpose is not to let them inspect his knotwork, but to give them all a narrow -- and, to a Puritan, tantalizing -- glimpse of the portal through which they all must pass one day.

Boston's a dollop of hills in a spoon of marshes. The road up the spoon-handle is barred by a wall, with the usual gallows outside of it, and victims, or parts of them, strung up or nailed to the city gates. Enoch has just come that way, and reckoned he had seen the last of such things -- that thenceforth it would all be churches and taverns. But the dead men outside the gate were common robbers, killed for earthly crimes. What is happening now in the Common is of a more Sacramental nature.

The noose lies on the woman's grey head like a crown. The executioner pushes it down. Her head forces it open like an infant's dilating the birth canal. When it finds the widest part it drops suddenly onto her shoulders. Her knees pimple the front of her apron and her skirts telescope into the platform as she makes to collapse. The executioner hugs her with one arm, like a dancing-master, to keep her upright, and adjusts the knot while an official reads the death warrant. This is as bland as a lease. The crowd scratches and shuffles. There are none of the diversions of a London hanging: no catcalls, jugglers, or pickpockets. Down at the other end of the Common, a squadron of lobsterbacks drills and marches round the base of a hummock with a stone powder-house planted in its top. An Irish sergeant bellows -- bored but indignant -- in a voice that carries forever on the wind, like the smell of smoke.

He's not come to watch witch-hangings, but now that Enoch's blundered into one it would be bad form to leave. There is a drum-roll, and then a sudden awkward silence. He judges it very far from the worst hanging he's ever seen -- no kicking or writhing, no breaking of ropes or unraveling of knots -- all in all, an unusually competent piece of work.

He hadn't really known what to expect of America. But people here seem to do things -- hangings included -- with a blunt, blank efficiency that's admirable and disappointing at the same time. Like jumping fish, they go about difficult matters with bloodless ease. As if they were all born knowing things that other people must absorb, along with faery-tales and superstitions, from their families and villages. Maybe it is because most of them came over on ships.

As they are cutting the limp witch down, a gust tumbles over the Common from the North. On Sir Isaac Newton's temperature scale, where freezing is zero and the heat of the human body is twelve, it is probably four or five. If Herr Fahrenheit were here with one of his new quicksilver-filled, sealed-tube thermometers, he would probably observe something in the fifties. But this sort of wind, coming as it does from the North, in the autumn, is more chilling than any mere instrument can tell. It reminds everyone here that, if they don't want to be dead in a few months' time, they have firewood to stack and chinks to caulk. The wind is noticed by a hoarse preacher at the base of the gallows, who takes it to be Satan himself, come to carry the witch's soul to hell, and who is not slow to share this opinion with his flock. The preacher is staring Enoch in the eye as he testifies.

Enoch feels the heightened, chafing self-consciousness that is the precursor to fear. What's to prevent them from trying and hanging him as a witch?

How must he look to these people? A man of indefinable age but evidently broad experience, with silver hair queued down to the small of his back, a copper-red beard, pale gray eyes, and skin weathered and marred like a blacksmith's ox-hide apron. Dressed in a long traveling-cloak, a walking-staff and an outmoded rapier strapped 'longside the saddle of a notably fine black horse. Two pistols in his waistband, prominent enough that Indians, highwaymen, and French raiders can clearly see them from ambuscades (he'd like to move them out of view, but reaching for them at this moment seems like a bad idea). Saddlebags (should they be searched) filled with instruments, asks of quicksilver and stranger matters -- some, as they'd learn, quite dangerous -- books in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin pocked with the occult symbols of Alchemists and Kabalists. Things could go badly for him in Boston.

But the crowd takes the preacher's ranting not as a call to arms but a signal to turn and disperse, muttering. The redcoats discharge their muskets with deep hissing booms, like handfuls of sand hurled against a kettledrum. Enoch dismounts into the midst of the colonists. He sweeps the robe round him, concealing the pistols, pulls the hood back from his head, and amounts to just another weary pilgrim. He does not meet any man's eye but scans their faces sidelong, and is surprised by a general lack of self-righteousness.

"God willing," one man says, "that'll be the last one."

"Do you mean, sir, the last witch?" Enoch asks.

"I mean, sir, the last hanging."

Flowing like water round the bases of the steep hills, they migrate across a burying ground on the south edge of the common, already full of lost Englishmen, and follow the witch's corpse down the street. The houses are mostly of wood, and so are the churches. Spaniards would have built a single great cathedral here, of stone, with gold on the inside, but the colonists cannot agree on anything and so it is more like Amsterdam: small churches on every block, some barely distinguishable from barns, each no doubt preaching that all of the others have it wrong. But at least they can muster a consensus to kill a witch. She is borne into a new burying ground, which for some reason they have situated hard by the granary. Enoch is at a loss to know whether this juxtaposition -- that is, storing their Dead, and their Staff of Life, in the same place -- is some sort of Message from the city's elders, or simple bad taste.

Enoch, who has seen more than one city burn, recognizes the scars of a great fire along this main street. Houses and churches are being rebuilt with brick or stone. He comes to what must be the greatest intersection in the town, where this road from the city gate crosses a very broad street that runs straight down to salt water, and continues on a long wharf that projects far out into the harbor, thrusting across a ruined rampart of stones and logs: the rubble of a disused sea-wall. The long wharf is ridged with barracks. It reaches far enough out into the harbor that one of the Navy's very largest men-of-war is able to moor at its end. Turning his head the other way he sees artillery mounted up on a hillside, and blue-coated gunners tending to a vatlike mortar, ready to lob iron bombs onto the decks of any French or Spanish galleons that might trespass on the bay.

So, drawing a mental line from the dead criminals at the city gate, to the powderhouse on the Common, to the witch-gallows, and finally to the harbor defenses, he has got one Cartesian number-line -- what Leibniz would call the Ordinate -- plotted out: he understands what people are afraid of in Boston, and how the churchmen and the generals keep the place in hand. But it remains to be seen what can be plotted in the space above and below. The hills of Boston are skirted by endless flat marshes that fade, slow as twilight, into Harbor or River, providing blank empty planes on which men with ropes and rulers can construct whatever strange curves they phant'sy.

Enoch knows where to find the Origin of this coordinate system, because he has talked to ship's masters who have visited Boston. He goes down to where the long wharf grips the shore. Among fine stone sea-merchants' houses, there is a brick-red door with a bunch of grapes dangling above it. Enoch goes through that door and finds himself in a good tavern. Men with swords and expensive clothes turn round to look at him. Slavers, merchants of rum and molasses and tea and tobacco, and captains of the ships that carry those things. It could be any place in the world, for the same tavern is in London, Cadiz, Smyrna and Manila, and the same men are in it. None of them cares, supposing they even know, that witches are being hanged five minutes' walk away. He is much more comfortable in here than out there; but he has not come to be comfortable. The particular sea-captain he's looking for -- van Hoek -- is not here. He backs out before the tavern keeper can tempt him.

Back in America and among Puritans, he enters into narrower streets, and heads north, leading his horse over a rickety wooden bridge thrown over a little mill-creek. Flotillas of shavings from some carpenter's block-plane sail down the stream like ships going off to war. Underneath them the weak current nudges turds and bits of slaughtered animals down towards the harbor. It smells accordingly. No denying there is a tallow chandlery not far upwind, where beast-grease not fit for eating is made into candles and soap.

The foregoing is excerpted from Quicksilverby Neal Stephenson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022



Continues...

Excerpted from Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson Copyright © 2004 by Neal Stephenson. 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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Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle Series, Parts 1-3) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 176 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thusfar all the 'complaints' regarding this book are that it's too long, the dialog is too stiff, and that there's no plot. History doesn't have a plot. Life doesn't have a plot. This book is a portrait of what life was like in the 1600's. It's not a neatly packaged story with a clear beginning and ending. Think of the Baroque Cycle books as a history lesson with personality. If you don't like history, or don't care about how aspects of our lives came to pass, then this isn't the book for you. As for the 'passivity' of the characters in the story... in order to maintain the historical integrity of real world events the *fictional characters* kinda need to be passive. Daniel Waterhouse doesn't do anything of consequence because Daniel Waterhouse didn't really exist... what would you have him do? Invent something? Cure something? Kill someone? Daniel Waterhouse is the camera-man through which we can watch Neal Stephenson's retelling of real-world history. If you want pure fiction, look elsewhere. This is a masterfully disguised history lesson.
Golfer76 More than 1 year ago
Although this is fictional and staged during one of the greatest periods of scienctific discovery, it is not science fiction. The many historical characters act and perform as they did in their exciting times. Questioning everything, from science to religion to financial systems to governmental forms, the delightfully real and fictional characters live each day to learn, educating the reader at the same time. Lest this 1000 page volume 1 of the Baroque Trilogy sound daunting, rest assured that the creative inclusion of lovable scoundrels keep you laughing and wondering what mess is around the next corner. A sure bet for avid readers with scientific, financial, historical, or philosophical interests.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Stephenson fan, I opened this book with high hopes. Alas, they were quickly dashed. He shovels up mountainous descriptions of landscapes and architecture and period costumery, religious and political and scientific intrigues, but all to no purpose in advancing the action. A second flaw is that he pastes much of this description into dialogue form, making conversations between the characters stilted and artificial. Stephenson is undeniably brilliant; but he needs to cut more and write tighter. What might have been a decent 400-page story unfortunately balloons to 900+ pages.
Victoria Sazani More than 1 year ago
this and its two sequels are the a great way to escape into a past that might have been with a touch here and there of 'hmmm' and a lot more hilarity. Go Neal Go
Thermnd More than 1 year ago
I'm floored! At my age, I'm learning new vocabulary, more about the 1600's than I can believe, and can put down my Nook. Neal Stephenson will have my attention while I read all he has written. I recommend this book to all my friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very detailed work that accurately depicts life in 17th century Europe and North America. At times hard to follow as there seems to be no central story line other than following a variety of characters through a series of events. Regardless, Stephenson has put tremendous care and vividness to this book and time period.
sunjata on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Brilliantly conveys the excitement and confusion of the birth of scientific and financial modernity. Some passages are brilliant: the work of the Royal Society, the misadventures of Jack Shaftoe and the extended pirate chase involving the aged Daniel Waterhouse. But there is so much historical detail that a plot never fully emerges - or perhaps the plot is the entire 17th century. Either way, the novel is frustrating: hard work, hard to love but still very much worth reading. Cut down to half the size it would be brilliant.
timjones on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Too much! Too big, too long, too slow, too complex. It's like Neal Stephenson took a look back at The Cryptonomicon and thought "What's wrong with this book? I know - it's not long and complicated enough!" He proceeded to remedy this 'oversight' in writing Quicksilver. The book still has many of the strengths of his writing - the humour, the fascinating digressions - but in the end, this book was just too much for me.
mmtz on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Volume One of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson is a mind-boggling novel. I don¿t know how to categorize it. Maybe an historical novel of science and politics. Whatever. This tale of 17th century Europe features appealing characters caught in historical events, illuminating them from a fascinating and humorous insider perspective. In spite of the fact that the book is enormous, it is mesmerizing. The second volume is out. I¿ll be reading it.Published in hardcover by William Morrow.
lisahistory on LibraryThing 8 months ago
An excellent tale, particularly of the science and scientists of the 16th century in England, and gets into the plague and great fire of London in the 17th, plus religious dissidents and royal courts of France and England. Steampunk in its sensibility, an effort to combine Baroque science with some modern language and attitudes while still retaining the feel of the era.
davidabrams on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Earnest readers approach new books like a relationship. They size up the heft of the tome, the thickness of spine, the cosmetics of the cover, and they think to themselves, "Should I get involved? Do I really want to commit?" After all, for three days or three weeks, they will be wedded to these pages. Maybe it will be a good marriage with staying power all the way to the final breath of the last page; or, if the book's especially bad, the reader will opt for a quick divorce, leaving the poor book wondering what it did wrong, what it could have done better. Neal Stephenson's novel, Quicksilver, requires some serious marital commitment. At more than 920 pages and weighing a few ounces shy of three pounds, Quicksilver can be a draining experience¿like having a 300-pound bride sit on your chest and demand your full attention¿and along about page 730, you're really starting to ponder those words "to have and to hold." The novel, the first of a trilogy Stephenson is calling The Baroque Cycle, is set in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and is stuffed with a museum's worth of miscellany. Cameos are made by historical and literary figures like Samuel Pepys, Mother Goose, D'Artagnan the Musketeer, Blackbeard the Pirate, William Penn and Winston Churchill (no, not that Winston, but one of his ancestors). Here in these pages, readers will also find such diverse topics as the beginnings of the stock market, French politics, metaphysics, mathematics, archeology, etymology, cryptology, metallurgy, genealogy, high-seas piracy, purloined letters, torture, the medicinal use of manure and scientific discussions involving the gravitational pull of billiard balls and the architecture of snowflakes. I'm sure I've left at least a dozen subjects off the list. Quicksilver weighs as heavy on the mind as it does the hand. The densely-packed pages are filled with characters sitting around having conversations about God, gravity and alchemy¿characters like Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke and Gottfried Leibniz, who is known for believing all knowledge could be coded and numbered. If that was true, he postulated, then determining the mysteries of the universe would be a simple matter of calculation. This appears to be one of Stephenson's chief aims as well. The novelist has built a reputation, and a devoted legion of fans, with cyberpunk literature like Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. His most recent novel, Cryptonomicon, centered around World War Two code-breaking. It, too, weighed in at more than 900 pages, which of course begs the question "Did Stephenson's editor lose his red pen?" The author is well aware of the stir his heavy-handed volume will cause and has even written in a couple of self-referential winks. Here's an excerpt from a play-within-the-novel (Quicksilver is filled with diagrams, genealogical charts, letters and plays): WATERHOUSE: Here, m'lord, fresh from Cambridge, as promised, I give you Books I and II of Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton¿have a care, some would consider it a valuable document. APTHORP: My word, is that the cornerstone of a building, or a manuscript? RAVENSCAR: Err! To judge by weight, it is the former. APTHORP: Whatever it is, it is too long, too long! WATERHOUSE: It explains the System of the World. APTHORP: Some sharp editor needs to step in and take that wretch in hand! While Quicksilver doesn't exactly explain the system of the world, it goes to great pains and lengths to show us where the basis for much of our modern scientific and philosophic thought originated: the fervid minds of the Natural Philosophers and members of the Royal Society, a men's club which puzzled over everything from dog anatomy to snowflake geometry. Stephenson masterfully shows us how raw and uncharted science was three centuries ago: "Lately, every time Mr. Hooke peers at something with his Microscope he finds that it is divided up into small compartments, each one just like its neighbors, like bricks in a wall," Wilkins confided. "W
5hrdrive on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Lots of interesting stuff here from natural philosophy to the Restoration to the Glorious Revolution, but the tedious bits are almost overwhelming. The letters of the third book are the most tedious of all - but I'm glad I made it through to the end, it feels like quite an accomplishment to say the least. Part of me wants to jump right into the next book, The Confusion, but most of me is just too exhausted to even think about it right now.
readafew on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This was a BIG book. It is the 1st book in the Baroque Cycle and it was itself split into 3 parts. The first part I found to be slow and a little tedious, though very interesting, it bounces back and forth between the early 1700's on a ship being chased by pirates and 50 years earlier when the main character was going to school. The ship scenes I think were mostly there to give the book some action to help along the boredom of the early story. The second part was much more action packed and I found to be much more fun and faster reading. This is also where we meet Jack "Half-Cocked" Shaftoe, Vagabond extraordinaire and we follow him on his many adventures throughout Europe in his quest to collect a legacy for his twin boys. This one was much better and many places had me laughing out loud.The 3rd book was mostly back to the main character from the first book, Daniel Waterhouse, with a bit of tie-in from the second. This one slowed down again but was still better than the first part.Overall I found the book a decent though long read and very interesting. I actually learned quite a bit about 17th Century Europe and England and a few other things. Quite a few ends and hints were left for the next book in the series.
asciiphil on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Quicksilver is probably one of the dullest books I've read in some time. I can see that it might be interesting to someone with a deep interest in European history of the late 17th century, but perhaps not even then.Quicksilver is the first book in Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, a trilogy of historical fiction novels covering European history of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, focusing specifically on the political maneuverings of the time and the development of science as we know it today. It involves such people as Isaac Newton, Gottfried Liebnitz, Robert Hooke, Charles II, Louis XIV, and William of Orange. The main characters are, however, completely fictional: Daniel Waterhouse, Jack Shaftoe, and Eliza. (Readers of Cryptonomicon may notice the reuse of family names. Also reappearing are Enoch Root and Qwghlm.)As I mentioned above, I found the pace of the book to be exceedingly dull, despite the fact that I actually have an interest in the history of science in that period. (And no such interest in that period's politics, so the science was merely dull, while the politics were excruciatingly dull.) That's really my biggest complaint. I do feel that the book could have been more interesting if it had been edited down a lot.Still, I did gain some things from the book. For one, I have a lot clearer picture of the history of the area (and, as far as my research can tell, the history in Quicksilver is quite accurate). But I can't really bring myself to recommend it to anyone other than raving history fans. Almost everyone I know found the book very tedious, and most never managed to finish it.Steganography and ending spoilers below.The steganographic cypher that Eliza used really bugged me for most of the book. At first, I thought that the plaintext that Stephenson shows was supposed to be derived from the other visible portions of the letter. Which didn't make much sense, because the proportions of the two texts did not match at all the stated 5:1 ratio for cyphertext and plaintext. Later things implied that we were not shown the cyphertext, which is a little more believable, but runs into the problem of boundaries--sometimes the hidden text forms its own paragraphs, but sometimes Eliza appears to insert bits into otherwise cleartext sentences. Said sentences appear to flow naturally with both the hidden text and without any text, but there must be some steganographic text that is there in the undecyphered letter. The only way I could deal with the cypher, given the various problems I perceived with it, was to regard it as an unexplained author's vehicle for plot and try not to think about how it worked. I don't like having to do that with a story.And the ending. For Stephenson (with whose novel endings I've generally been displeased), it's quite good. It works very well for this particular book (as one that leads into another such) and, with minor tweaks, would do well as the closing to a standalone novel. Too bad I probably won't read the final two books in the Baroque Cycle to see how the whole thing turns out.
Gwendydd on LibraryThing 8 months ago
As often happens with Neal Stephenson books, I had the sneaking suspicion throughout the series that I'm not quite smart enough to really understand everything that's going on, but I still had a rip-roaring great time reading this book. The characters are typical Stephenson characters (he often has the self-deprecating, adventurous, dumb-yet-geeky male and the witty, hyper-intelligent, sexy, manipulative female - I can't help but think these are two sides of Stephenson's own personality). I love the science fiction approach to historical fiction. Really amazing stuff.
LJT on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I love the idea of this book. I love the subject matter (all of it!) And I loved earlier books by Stephenson, especially "Cryptonomicon." And I could not get through this book. And that is rare.
camillahoel on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Judging by the first book, The Baroque Cycle is well named. Not only because that of the historical period it treats, but because it itself contains the key characteristics to such an extent. It does not come to expression so much in a particularly ornate language, but in a wealth of detail which is there, I think, not so much in order to create any sort of reality effect, but for its own sake. It could be he overdoes it a little at times, but if you are writing a Baroque Cycle I suppose you might as well write a Baroque cycle.This can be exhausting. Certainly if, like me, you reach for books to check whether these historical ``facts'' are indeed facts or just facts of the fictional variety. This is the frustrating bit. Stephenson makes no secret of his novels having a fictional element, which means that it occasionally feels like reading a text book without the added bonus of being allowed to trust the information that textbook offers. The majority of the book, however, was so well researched, I was delighted. I had to force myself to stop checking up on it all after a while, and someone really could have told me that there was an appendix containing a list of dramatis personæ in which the fictional were distinguished from the real (or as Stephenson puts it, some are historical, others might ``produce confusion, misunderstanding, severe injury, and death if relied upon by time travelers visiting the time and space in question''). He sometimes makes use of some rather stretched devices in order to include this research, and at other times he makes too much of information that is really common knowledge, but I won't quibble too much. Stephenson gets stars aplenty for his research. I have always been vaguely insulted by authors who felt it was all right to riddle their novels with inaccuracies. It suggests, or states flat out, that they believe their readers will be too ignorant to notice the difference. Checking up on obscure facts and finding they were accurate made me very happy. The real strength of the book is craftsmanship. Not just in terms of research, but also in the variety of literary styles. I am a little annoyed that this is not done in a coherent way, but the styles fit their subject so well, I have no real issue with it. He starts off playing with time, presenting the opening of the story as a series of protracted flashbacks from an old man trapped on a ship attacked by pirates, runs off into history and frolics about (there is no other word for it) with the Royal Society for a while, before changing the style completely into a semblance of the picaresque (which, of course, also has the picaresque novel as a participant). He also uses occasional bouts of drama to good effect, and large portions of the last third of the book take the epistolary form. The book is divided into three sections. The first focuses on Daniel Waterhouse (fictional), a close friend of Isaac Newton (not so fictional) and a great and lovely cast of Royal Society members like Hooke, Wilkins, Boyle, Oldenburg and that lot in 1660s and 1670s London. The second is the picaresque, mainly focused on Jack Shaftoe, a Vagabond (also fictional). I wonder to what extent it is a coincidence that the portrayal of Daniel's youth is shown in apparently objective flashbacks, whereas Jack is allowed to tell his own story to a beautiful woman, with the truth value that entails. The third and final part is not so easily connected to one character, but it is closely tied to Eliza, a former harem slave (and fictional to the extent that she comes from a fictional country) picked up by Jack in part two. Leibniz, rather than Newton, dominates the latter two halves, as the question of Leibniz and Newton and the Calculus hovers in the background throughout. Historical figures like Huygens, Rossignol, Charles II, James II, William of Orange, Louis XIV and any number of others gravitate (oh dear) around these three protagonists with va
magemanda on LibraryThing 8 months ago
It is so very hard to classify this book - the first in an extremely weighty trilogy (this book alone weighs in at over 900 pages!) Is it fantasy? Is it science fiction? It is historical? It most certainly is dense, dull, delightful and dry.The book is split into three different sections. The first of these looks back on Daniel Waterhouse's early life in London and his association with the Royal Society and the pre-eminent philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers and scientists of that time, including Isaac Newton. This period of the book can be extremely difficult reading, and needs intense concentration. Even with that, I found myself struggling with the esoteric vocabulary used and the overwhelming amount of science on display. I find science and maths difficult at the best of times, and this book did nothing to ease me - often I found myself understanding only one paragraph in three and had to really persevere to get through this section. There was light relief periodically from present-day Daniel, travelling by ship back to England and being pursued by pirates. One thing I enjoyed immensely about this part of the book - science aside - was the way that Stephenson conveyed the wonder and mystery of the discoveries that were coming thick and fast, driven by certain people whose ideas have not been surpassed even now.The second part of the book dealt with Eliza and Jack Shaftoe. This section flew past in a flurry of giggles and adventure, including an amusing interlude with an ostrich and a Turkish harem. Jack is a lively character, seemingly destined to die from the French pox (syphilis), but determined to make a life for himself and generate an inheritance for his two boys. Eliza is enigmatic, alluring and tom-boyish by turns - both drawn to Jack and repelled by him. They travel together across a lot of Europe and end up in Amsterdam, where Jack leaves Eliza to make his fortune in Paris and ends up on a ship bound for deepest Africa. I loved this part of the book, and it more than made up for the dryness of the first section.The last part draws all the threads of the story together, culminating in the revolution that Waterhouse has spent his life working towards. There is intrigue, and gripping letters between Leibniz and Eliza, who, by now, is the Countess de la Zeur. James II is overthrown and Daniel suffers a spell in prison. So, all in all, a massive book with massive ideas and massive characters. It should have been unbelievable and unforgettable, but I was left feeling a little as though it were too much work. I will read the other two volumes in the trilogy for completeness, but I don't embark on them with a lightness of spirit!
simondavies on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Gave up on this book. Boring and tortuous reading.
Phrim on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Finally finished slogging through Neal Stephenson's 3,000-or-so-page Baroque trilogy. Took me like six months, but it was definitely worth it. Leave it to Stephenson to make history both incredibly real-seeming and utterly ridiculous at the same time. If you liked Cryptonomicon and have any interest in Enlightenment-era London, Baroque is certainly worth a read. Just make sure to leave yourself plenty of time.
mainrun on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I had a hard time with the 'first book' of Quicksilver. I didn't like the characters. The story was dry/boring to me. I enjoyed the 'second book' of Quicksilver. The characters were more enjoyable. The end was horrible.The 'third book' went back to the characters from the beginning of the book. I almost got to page 700, but decided to cut my losses. The book is over 900 pages long.The book seemed like a series of events rather than a mystery/event/epic tale that I thought would eventually appear. I started to reread Cryptonomicon at the end of book one. I thought that may help me enjoy it more. Nope. Reading a chapter of Quicksilver (bopping around the late 1600's), and then a chapter of Cryptonomicon (mid to late 1900's) was challenging. The focus required is not something I can handle.
silentq on LibraryThing 8 months ago
While I was reading this, my brain was happily churning on thoughts about optics and physics and astronomy and numeric theory and history. I'd put off starting the Baroque Cycle for years as I wanted to have enough brain power to devote to it, and it was a good decision. My only quibble is that in the "present" of the story line not much happens, Daniel Waterhouse departs for England. That's it, really. The description of 1700's Boston was fascinating though. Lots and lots of historical name dropping, I liked the new take on Isaac Newton (I'd done a project on him in school). The political hijinks felt a bit opaque to me, but it was more than balanced out by the curious minds and spirit of discovery and invention that most of the Royal Society fellows displayed.
mamazee on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is my favourite book/series/author. Period. I wish Stephenson had already written a zillion more books because as soon as my husband and i had devoured this trilogy, we found everything else he'd written and read it all. I love his word choice, turns of phrase, his believable (but never treacly or predictable) characters, love how i can almost believe i understand that time period just by reading this extremely entertaining novel. I know i'm extremely prejudiced - but you know, when you finish a book and you just ache, wishing there were more? It's pretty amazing to finish three 900 page books in a row and feel that! I actually bought the hardcover books for my husband for Christmas as they are such favourites. I do wish i could bring myself to edit them so our younger children could read them (i'd just take out the hilarious and integral-to-the-plot sex scenes), but they are such masterpieces of language, ingenuity, thinking, and have such gorgeous fast pacing, that i can't bring myself to deface them... My husband is reading them again right now and keeps quoting bits out loud to me... These are wonderful books! They really epitomize the epigraph by Walpole : "The world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel".
briandarvell on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Quicksilver was a huge undertaking of a book. At times I found it amazing, at other times drawn-out and meandering. Overall I'm happy to have read it. It really was unlike any other book I've ever read in scale, historical depth and diversity. I will eventually like to read the sequels but I'll wait a while before attempting such another long haul read like this. It still shocks me that the author wrote this and the next two books all by hand.
yarmando on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I keep trying, but I just can't make it through this. Stephenson is one of my favorite authors: a brilliantly imaginative mind, a stunning facility with language. But I just can't make myself care about anything in this book: the characters, the plots, the themes...I'm doing all the work, and getting no enjoyment out of it. I thought the audiobook would help -- Simon Prebble is one of my favorite performers -- but even he isn't up to faking enthusiasm or interest in the story.