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The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3) Paperback – September 6, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
The colossal and impressive third volume (after Quicksilver and The Confusion) of Stephenson's magisterial exploration of the origins of the modern world in the scientific revolution of the baroque era begins in 1714. Daniel Waterhouse has returned to England, hoping to mediate the feud between Sir Isaac Newton and Leibniz, both of whom claim to have discovered the calculus and neither of whom is showing much scientific rationality in the dispute. This brawl takes place against the background of the imminent death of Queen Anne, which threatens a succession crisis as Jacobite (Stuart, Catholic) sympathizers confront supporters of the Hanoverian succession. Aside from the potential effect of the outcome on the intellectual climate of England, these political maneuverings are notable for the role played by trilogy heroine Eliza de la Zour, who is now wielding her influence over Caroline of Ansbach, consort of the Hanoverian heir. Eliza has risen from the streets to the nobility without losing any of her creativity or her talents as a schemer; nor has outlaw Jack Shaftoe lost any of his wiliness. What he may have lost is discretion, since he oversteps the boundaries of both law and good sense far enough to narrowly escape the hangman. In the end, reluctant hero Waterhouse prevails against the machinations of everybody else, and scientific (if not sweet) reason wins by a nose. The symbol of that victory is the inventor Thomas Newcomen standing (rather like a cock crowing) atop the boiler of one of his first steam engines. This final volume in the cycle is another magnificent portrayal of an era, well worth the long slog it requires of Stephenson's many devoted readers.
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.
From Bookmarks Magazine
The conclusion to The Baroque Cycle is a veritable doorstop, but a doorstop perhaps worth its weight in 18th-century gold coinsespecially to those who need a reminder about the dangerous misuses of science and progress. Critics cant heap enough praise on Stephensons eloquent narration, true-to-life characters, and impeccable plotting (generated via Waterhouses Logic Mills, says the San Francisco Chronicle). Stephenson exquisitely unearths Baroque history, too, from mints to gardens to Jacobites. While compelling, youll best appreciate this epic history-romance-science fiction story once you have a solid liberal arts education under your belt (Chronicle). Stephenson mostly gets away with his philosophical pedantry because hes so smart and inventive. If you have the courage to delve in, you wont be disappointed. And if you cant bring yourself to start with Quicksilver, System includes a preface relating the story thus far that reviewers found helpful enough.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
I found the whole series fantastically good. I had read Cryptonomicon already, recommended to me by my daughter, and these books are really prequels (though much better than some prequels you may be familiar with from movies) but don't need to be read before Cryptonomicon. That said, now that I've finished the Baroque Cycle I am reading Cryptonomicon. again, with a different understanding of the characters who are descendants of some characters from the Baroque Cycle.
Most of the characters are well developed and deep, and all with different backgrounds and abilities. They change through the books as years go by, and like flesh & blood they do occasionally rise to (or fall to) occasions as they occur. It is a little jarring when a character is off to someplace and changes while they are gone, but that happens to us too with people we knew and meet again later in life.
The historic time frame is well researched and written, even some details that seemed jarring I found were true once I had done some research. There is an interesting mix of real historical figures and completely fictional characters. Some characters are involved with real historical events, like the Great Plague of London, followed by the Great Fire., and battles around Europe. The locations of the action changes to include much of the world.
Few writers can create the belief you have entered a time far gone. Neal Stephenson recreates the picaresque with events ranging from the decapitation of Charles I, to the siege of Vienna, to the Japanese Shogunate.
You can read this for the pleasure of getting to know Isaac Newton, Louis 14th, and other historical persons. The true enjoyment is in the unforgettable characters of Jack Shaftoe and his love, Eliza de la Zeur, Duchess of Qwhlgm.
And if you've read other works by Stephenson, look for favorites such as Enoch Root and the ancestors of families Waterhouse and Hacklheber.
I'm looking forward to reading again, say, in 4 or 5 years, fate allowing.
If you read Volumes I and II, then you are familiar with the characters and the historical landscape (late 17th, early 18th century). While the historical fiction contained in these works is highly educational and at times fascinating (at others, somewhat confusing), this is not my favorite Stephenson effort. Nevertheless, as in his cyberpunk and sci-fi stories, a certain level of attention and effort is required in order fully grasp the author’s work. Some may not want to put forth the effort, but I appreciate it.
By its conclusion, the Cycle will have consumed between 2,500-3,000 pages; quite an undertaking, especially for a work that demands the reader’s attention and commitment. Having read it in its entirety, I can definitely say that I have a far better feel for the history and events of the period and geographical landscape. While the story certainly includes historical figures of significance (several English monarchs, English and French nobility, Continental rulers, Sir Isaac Newton and others) it also contains an assortment of fictional characters, some of whom are fascinating. Eliza, Jack Shaftoe and Daniel Waterhouse alternate as primary characters, though Eliza fades into the background through the final two books.
Most of the action in this final volume takes place in and around London. If the author’s writing can be believed, London of the period must have been one of the most miserable places ever on the face of the earth. Abominably crowded, absolutely filthy, disease and pest ridden, it would seem that a majority of the inhabitants walked around covered in sewage or industrial waste at all times. While overall, it is very entertaining and educational reading, at times it bogs down into relatively deep philosophical discussions between the characters. However, the final 200 pages are absolutely engrossing. If you have the time and are willing to put in the effort required, it is definitely worth it.
On a personal note, I gained great insight into the turbulent period when William of Orange chased the Jacobites out of Ireland. I had always wondered why my ancestors departed Ireland for Penn's Colony in 1689 until Stephenson documented William's march across Ireland in that same year. My pacifist Quaker ancestors had seen enough.