- Series: The Baroque Cycle (Book 3)
- Paperback: 928 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 6, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060750863
- ISBN-13: 978-0060750862
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 201 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #276,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3) Paperback – September 6, 2005
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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.
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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.
The first two books were a great back story. System of the World picks up the story in the present (as "present" as 1714 is). Many things have changed, but many have stayed the same. Seeing the relationships that were built in the last 2000 pages come to a peak was satisfying. I will not debate that there were some end stories that were just a little too convenient, nor will I argue that there were some standard Stephenson "Wha...?" moments, but the story ends well and has enough twists and turns that I had no clue where it was going to go. In fact, I thought things more or less wrapped up about 60% in and wondered if the remaining 40% was an index or something. So go through all 3000 pages. It was worth the time and money.
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.