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Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) Paperback – September 21, 2004


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Product Details

  • Series: P.S. (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 917 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (September 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060593083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060593087
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (481 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Quicksilver, the first volume of the "Baroque Cycle," Neal Stephenson launches his most ambitious work to date. The novel, divided into three books, opens in 1713 with the ageless Enoch Root seeking Daniel Waterhouse on the campus of what passes for MIT in eighteenth-century Massachusetts. Daniel, Enoch's message conveys, is key to resolving an explosive scientific battle of preeminence between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over the development of calculus. As Daniel returns to London aboard the Minerva, readers are catapulted back half a century to recall his years at Cambridge with young Isaac. Daniel is a perfect historical witness. Privy to Robert Hooke's early drawings of microscope images and with associates among the English nobility, religious radicals, and the Royal Society, he also befriends Samuel Pepys, risks a cup of coffee, and enjoys a lecture on Belgian waffles and cleavage-—all before the year 1700.

In the second book, Stephenson introduces Jack Shaftoe and Eliza. "Half-Cocked" Jack (also know as the "King of the Vagabonds") recovers the English Eliza from a Turkish harem. Fleeing the siege of Vienna, the two journey across Europe driven by Eliza's lust for fame, fortune, and nobility. Gradually, their circle intertwines with that of Daniel in the third book of the novel.

The book courses with Stephenson's scholarship but is rarely bogged down in its historical detail. Stephenson is especially impressive in his ability to represent dialogue over the evolving worldview of seventeenth-century scientists and enliven the most abstruse explanation of theory. Though replete with science, the novel is as much about the complex struggles for political ascendancy and the workings of financial markets. Further, the novel's literary ambitions match its physical size. Stephenson narrates through epistolary chapters, fragments of plays and poems, journal entries, maps, drawings, genealogic tables, and copious contemporary epigrams. But, caught in this richness, the prose is occasionally neglected and wants editing. Further, anticipating a cycle, the book does not provide a satisfying conclusion to its 900 pages. These are minor quibbles, though. Stephenson has matched ambition to execution, and his faithful, durable readers will be both entertained and richly rewarded with a practicum in Baroque science, cypher, culture, and politics. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Stephenson's very long historical novel, the first volume of a projected trilogy, finds Enoch Root, the Wandering Jew/alchemist from 1999's Cryptonomicon, arriving in 1713 Boston to collect Daniel Waterhouse and take him back to Europe. Waterhouse, an experimenter in early computational systems and an old pal of Isaac Newton, is needed to mediate the fight for precedence between Newton and scientist and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, both of whom independently invented the calculus. Their escalating feud threatens to revert science to pre-empirical times. Root believes Waterhouse, as a close friend to both mathematicians, has the ability to calm the neurotic Newton's nerves and make peace with Leibniz. As Waterhouse sails back to Europe (and eludes capture by the pirate Blackbeard), he reminisces about Newton and the birth of England's scientific revolution during the 1600s. While the Waterhouse story line lets readers see luminaries like Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton at work, a concurrent plot line follows vagabond Jack Shaftoe (an ancestor of a Cryptonomicon character, as is Waterhouse), on his journey across 17th-century continental Europe. Jack meets Eliza, a young English woman who has escaped from a Turkish harem, where she spent her teenage years. The resourceful Eliza eventually rises and achieves revenge against the slave merchant who sold her to the Turks. Stephenson, once best known for his techno-geek SF novel Snow Crash, skillfully reimagines empiricists Newton, Hooke and Leibniz, and creatively retells the birth of the scientific revolution. He has a strong feel for history and a knack for bringing settings to life. Expect high interest in this title, as much for its size and ambition, which make it a publishing event, as for its sales potential-which is high.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer, known for his speculative fiction works, which have been variously categorized science fiction, historical fiction, maximalism, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk. Stephenson explores areas such as mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired Magazine, and has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system.
Born in Fort Meade, Maryland (home of the NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum) Stephenson came from a family comprising engineers and hard scientists he dubs "propeller heads". His father is a professor of electrical engineering whose father was a physics professor; his mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, while her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1960 and then to Ames, Iowa in 1966 where he graduated from Ames High School in 1977. Stephenson furthered his studies at Boston University. He first specialized in physics, then switched to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in physics. Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family.
Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic "The Baroque Cycle" (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Customer Reviews

I don't have time to read 900 pages of the first book in a 2700 page trilogy.
Larry Furman
Delightful historical novel, full of both fictional and historic characters, well developed and appealing.
Walter Bouldin
This is easily the weakest of the 3 books as it gets bogged down in far too much detail.
willyg

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

146 of 149 people found the following review helpful By Molly Johnson on November 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed the book once I accepted that it is primarily about systems and concepts, not people and events. I call it "math fiction" (as opposed to science fiction). Some of the systems he writes about are: the logic behind all those beheadings and imprisonments, the reasons for seemingly pointless invasions and alliances, Dutch vs. French business practices and why Amsterdam businessmen were so rich, the difference between different religious factions in England, motivations behind French court etiquette, why fashion exists, how to make hangings less painful, etc. He continually asks why and how rather than who what when, and in that sense he gives a math perspective to history.
Nowhere else have I read such careful (and enlightening) descriptions of capitalist systems such as money-minting, banks, stock exchanges, and the selling and transport of goods. Stephenson shares with us not just the intrigues and excesses of the nobility of 17th century Europe but also his analysis of the systems that made all that wealth (and war) possible.
More importantly, he reveals the day-to-day work of Royal Society scientists. In describing the failed experiments, fires, smells, persecutions, and other dramas of their quest for knowledge he gives a human face to the development of science. And he shows how one might think mathematically and scientifically to solve problems in the real world.
Is it great fiction? No. Stephenson needs editing, but no one is capable of quite keeping up with him enough to dare shorten what he has to say. Is he an interesting author? Absolutely! Think of the book as an extended, wide-ranging dinner conversation. You won't get a word in edgewise, but exhausted as you are at the end, you'll be up all night thinking.
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496 of 530 people found the following review helpful By Customer on January 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had a fantastic time reading Stephenson's latest book. Yes, I found it an extremely long read, but every page contained a wonderful nugget which made the journey worth the effort.
Here are two examples of Stephenson's unique ability to whip up a powerful brew of humor, science, and history:
"Penn did not take his gaze away from the window, but squinted as if trying to hold back a mighty volume of flatulence, and shifted his focal point to a thousand miles in the distance. But this was coastal Holland and there was nothing out that window save the Curvature of the World"
and...
"... I am seated near a window that looks out over a canal, and two gondoliers, who nearly collided a minute ago, are screaming murderous threats at each other... The Venetians have even given it a name: 'Canal Rage'."
Which isn't to say that the book doesn't have its share of flaws - I'll talk about the two major ones here. First, if you've read Stephenson before, you are undoubtedly aware of his tendency to use 1000 words to do where 100 would have worked just fine. So, sometimes you begin to think "where was the editor?", but most of the time he is able to pull all the threads (long as they are) together into a cohesive, compelling whole. But overall, the extreme length ends up being a plus.
The other major flaw stems from Stephenson's seemingly bottomless reservoir of creativity: this book contains not one, not two, but three lead characters. But, you say, you can't have more than one lead character, no? Exactly! All three main characters are compelling in their own way, and you want to keep watching each one grow and change. As was the case with Cryptonomicon, Stephenson could easily have written an entire book just about the character Shaftoe.
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162 of 172 people found the following review helpful By D. Brouwer on November 26, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Here's the complete list to help people avoid buying something they already have:

Quicksilver, Vol. I of the Baroque Cycle
Book 1 - Quicksilver
Book 2 - The King of the Vagabonds
Book 3 - Odalisque

The Confusion, Vol. II of the Baroque Cycle
Book 4 - Bonanza
Book 5 - The Juncto

The System of the World, Vol. III of the Baroque Cycle
Book 6 - Solomon's Gold
Book 7 - Currency
Book 8 - The System of the World
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By John in Tokyo on February 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Neal Stephenson's understanding and creativity are simply mind-blowing and in Quicksilver he has crafted another masterpiece. This book rocks! Like Umberto Eco's famous book (and movie) about a medieval monestary "The Name of the Rose," Quicksilver attempts to get inside of the history of ideas, as well as the history of religions, empires, culture and people, with a multi-genre story highlighting the major events and trends, as well as the tiny, every-day details of the historical period in which it is set. This is all accomplished within the framework of a compelling story/drama/adventure. (Actually, Eco's book the "Island of the Day Before" is probably a better comparison since the period in which it is set, the early 17th Century is closer to Quicksilver which is set in the late 17th and early 18th Century.)
Stephenson's literary pretentions are fairly minimal, and as a result, his work may lack some of the stylistic richness of Eco, or some of the other famous writers of historical fiction. But he makes up for this and more with the awe-inspiring historical breadth and conceptual scope, the complexity of the plot, the action, the humor and, most of all, the insight.
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