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Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle No. 1) Mass Market Paperback – January 31, 2006
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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
Starred Review. Adventure, romance, politics, history, theology, magic, science, money and calculus: this audiobook has it all, and it astonishes on several levels. Never mind that it is only the first third of a trilogy or that this massive audiobook consists of "selections approved by the author" (the reading is punctuated with phrases like "here follows a brief summary of pages 167 to 182" or "pages 653 through 677 have been eliminated"). Stephenson's (Snow Crash; Cryptonomicon) masterfully complex and entertaining plot braids the life of Daniel Waterhouse, a colleague of Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, with that of the "king of the Vagabonds," Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe, and Eliza, a harem slave turned powerful financier. It is a tale of the pursuit of knowledge in Baroque Europe, peppered with taut action, knee-slapping humor and head-scratching science. BBC announcer/Shakespearean actor Prebble's performance is wonderfully nuanced. His authoritative narration, combined with his chameleon-like facility for character and accent, is nothing short of enchanting. Though he performs both male and female parts, Nielsen reads Eliza's copious letters; initially, this seems like a strange choice, but the shift from storytelling to that of reading merits the transition, and Nielsen's contribution enriches the whole. The experience of listening to this audiobook is something rare, as it's a literary tale that brings history, science and philosophy to life in a heartily entertaining fashion.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Much like Cryptonomicon, there is a lavish dedication to historical detail and a good bit of science.
It is enjoyable, but not in quite the same way as Cryptonomicon was. Quicksilver is more leisurely in pace, and the storylines do not appear as intricately interwoven (yet - I have not yet finished the book). It doesn't grab you like Cryptonomicon... it doesn't urge you to keep coming back for more asap.
Not to mention Stephenson's actual writing; it's very pleasant to read a writer in these latter days of the empire who can still find their way around grammar, punctuation and usage and drag out of English more resonance and wit than I, at least, have come to expect. It's apparent that the age of editing is over in the publishing business; well, at least, good editing at any rate. So, the voices we hear when we read are very likely more and more the uncut, unexpurgated voice of the authors. Sometimes, as with Stephenson, that's great.
Plus, he has a weird, modern sense of humor that makes for some clever and really entertaining anachronisms here and there. Clearly, it's not meant to be a history book, it's meant to be entertaining and to make entertaining things that you'd never imagine could be entertaining. Hmmm... I wonder if this series was written in response to a bet?
I can imagine the scene... bar table full of grubby thumbed-over half-empty pints, overflowing ashtrays, remnants of something disgusting with cheese-food in it and a bunch of noisy, sort of shabby writerly types all laughing madly because someone's about to make a sucker bet about being able to make the story of how the calculus was invented fun to read. Yeah, right! Have another, beard boy!
Anyway, I like it very much and re-read it at least once every couple years.
Like most of Stephenson's work, this is a humorous, well-written, thought-provoking novel with a definite tilt to geek culture and libertarian politics. This trilogy is definitely his longest and most sprawling work so be prepared for a slightly slow start as the back-story is established. If you are new to Stephenson then I would suggest starting with Cryptonomicon or Diamond Age to warm up.