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Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) Paperback – September 21, 2004
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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
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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"
"... 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.Read more ›
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
That said, Quicksilver in specific, and The Baroque Cycle in general, is brilliant writing. I'm lucky that there is a Neal Stephenson out there to write like this because otherwise I would have to do it myself... and I wouldn't be good at it. Stephenson writes the kind of books that I want to read. Quicksilver successfully mixes politics, science, romance, travel, intrigue and any number of other genres and in the mix gives us an exciting view into 16th century life, both for the upper classes and the lower. Like all of Stephenson's work, I laughed out loud at the absurdity of certain events in the story while reluctantly admitting that, yes, that could have actually happened. It bogs down in places with what you might take as a bit too much detail, but by now that is an intrinsic element of Stephenson's style and this book would be incomplete without it. I hated my history classes in school, but I love reading this sort of historical fiction. Why? It's written from a modern perspective and filled with wit and humor.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The start of a great tale! Jack is unpredictable and seems to have the best luck of any rogue around. Loved the historical references. Read morePublished 9 days ago by JB
Quicksilver is like an intellectual history of the scientific revolution, but told with Stephenson's trademark energy, humor, attitude and focus. Read morePublished 25 days ago by Paul D. Goodwin
This book is too long (972 pp)! The author has an encyclopedic knowledge of European history in the 17th and 18th centuries, and seems determined to share it ALL with his readers,... Read morePublished 29 days ago by Winston LeChat
Amazingly researched and written, a clear work of genius - but not Stephensons best or most enjoyable! Read morePublished 3 months ago by Christian Lønberg
if you're a neal stephenson fan, then this book is the beginning of a long, enjoyable journey. bon voyage!Published 3 months ago by Moses Gaster
Wonderful start to the trilogy. Stephenson has a way with words that makes the book very amusing, and has clearly done his research on the people and time. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Amazon Customer