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Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) by…
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Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Neal Stephenson

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6,993107516 (3.94)160
Member:sequelguy
Title:Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)
Authors:Neal Stephenson
Info:Harper Perennial (2004), Paperback, 960 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:pleasure, read

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Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (2003)

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Showing 1-5 of 104 (next | show all)
I’m a scientist by profession and I love history. Thus, I’m fascinated by the history of science, especially the era of Isaac Newton et al. So, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver should be just my thing and I was fully expecting to love this book (it’s been on my list for years), but I’m sad to say that I was disappointed in this first installment of The Baroque Cycle, though I still have high hopes for the remaining books.

Quicksilver is well-researched and well-written and chock full of plenty of stuff I love to read about: 17th and 18th century scholars and politicians exploring the way the world works. What... Read More: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/quicksilver/ ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
[This audiobook contains Book 1 of the print edition of the Quicksilver omnibus. Book 2 is King of the Vagabonds. Book 3 is Odalisque.]

I’m a scientist by profession and I love history. Thus, I’m fascinated by the history of science, especially the era of Isaac Newton et al. So, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver should be just my thing and I was fully expecting to love this book (it’s been on my list for years), but I’m sad to say that I was disappointed in this first installment of The Baroque Cycle, though I still have high hopes for the remaining books.

Quicksilver is well-researched and well-written and chock full of plenty of stuff I love to read about: 17th and 18th century scholars and politicians exploring the way the world works. What an exciting time to be alive! Neal Stephenson successfully captures the feeling of the Baroque world — its architecture, fashion, nobility, plagues, and lack of waste management. He’s done his research, so he clearly and enthusiastically informs us about such diverse topics as alchemy, astronomy, botany, calculus, coinage, cryptography, the Dutch Wars, economics, free will, Galilean invariance, geometry, heresy, international relations, Judaism, kinematics, logic, microscopy, natural philosophy, optics, politics, the Reformation, the Restoration, relativity, sailing, sea warfare, slavery, taxonomy, warfare, weaponry, and zoology... I could go on. Quicksilver will get you half way through a liberal arts education in only 335 pages.

This is quite an accomplishment, but it’s also a problem. I love historical fiction, but great historical fiction uses the context of an exciting plot, engaging characters, and some sort of tension in the form of mystery and/or romance. Quicksilver has none of that. It’s purely what I’ll call (for lack of a better term) “historical science fiction.” Daniel Waterhouse, the character whose eyes we see through (mostly in flashbacks), has no personality, passion, or purpose. In Quicksilver, he exists to look over the shoulders of the men who are the real subjects of the book: the members of the Royal Society.

These men are fascinating, yes, but if the purpose of Quicksilver is to relay a huge amount of information about them in an interesting way, I’d rather read a non-fiction account. Then at least I’d know which of the numerous anecdotes about Isaac Newton (et al.) are factual. I can think of no reason to read this history as a fictional account if it contains none of the elements of an entertaining novel.

As an example, I’ll contrast Quicksilver with Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. I read all 20½ of those novels and was completely enthralled. Not only did I learn a lot about the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, but I was also thoroughly entertained by the fictional stories of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. That is excellent historical fiction.

Quicksilver was funny in places (such as when the Royal Society members talk about time, kidney stones, and opiates during one of their meetings) — and engrossing a couple of times (such as when Daniel Waterhouse and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz discuss cognition, free will, and artificial intelligence), and though I enjoy learning about the invention of clocks, calculators, and coffee, Quicksilver is mostly information overload without a story to back it up.

I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version, which was beautifully read by Simon Prebble (always a treat). Due to its length, Brilliance Audio has split Quicksilver into its three sections: “Quicksilver,” “King of the Vagabonds,” and “Odalisque.” The next audiobook, then, is called King of the Vagabonds, and it shifts focus to a London street urchin who becomes an adventurer. Now that sounds like fun! I’m going to read King of the Vagabonds and hope that the introduction of some non-academic characters will give this saga some life! ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
I liked this trot through the early years of the Royal Academy, and was delighted by NS's evocation of these early scientists. For some reason, I haven't read the other's in this series, but as I've just had contact with Stephen R. Donaldson, I think I really do want some cheering up, and will go to Stephenson's much happier world. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Mar 11, 2014 |
While the lack of a tight, page-turning plot will put some off, it's one of the most useful works of historical fiction I've read. One really begins to get a feel for the time, how people thought and felt (very differently from us) and for someone who has read historical accounts of the beginnings of the scientific revolution in England, it is especially satisfying. ( )
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
It was okay. I will continue with the series, but it wasn't among the best I have ever read. ( )
  AutumnTurner | Dec 29, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neal Stephensonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gold, LisaFamily Treessecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kim, Jane S.Illustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aquan, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sarkar, ShubhaniDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Springer, NickCartographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Those who assume hypotheses as first principles of their speculations ... may indeed form an ingenious romance, but a romance it will still be.

— Roger Cotes,

Preface to Sir Isaac Newton's

Principia Mathematica,

second edition, 1713
There is, doubtless, as much skill in pourtraying a Dunghill, as in describing the finest Palace, since the Excellence of Things lyes in the Performance; and Art as well as Nature must have some extraordinary Shape or Quality if it come up to the pitch of Human Fancy, especially to please in this Fickle, Uncertain Age.
Memoirs of the Right Villanous John Hall, 1708
In all times kings, and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independency, are in continual jealosies, and in the state and posture of gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms; and continual spies upon their neighbors; which is a posture of war.
— Hobbes, Leviathan
Dedication
To the woman upstairs
First words
Enoch rounds the corner just as the executioner raises the noose above the woman's head.
Quotations
"Crying loudly is childish, in that it reflects a belief, on the crier's part, that someone is around to hear the noise, and come a-running to make it all better. Crying in silence, as Daniel does this morning, is the mark of the mature sufferer who no longer nurses, nor is nursed by, any such comfortable delusions."
"'As I'm now beginning to understand–you are something of a virtuoso when it comes to manipulating men's mental states,' Monmouth said.
'You make it sound ever so much more difficult than it really is,' Eliza answered. 'Mostly I just sit quietly and let the men manipulate themselves.'"
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is the first volume of the three-volume edition. Please don't combine with the first volume of the eight-volume edition with the same title.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060593083, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:48 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledgein the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe, in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight. It is a chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe--London street urchin turned swashbuckling adventurer and legendary King of the Vagabonds--risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox. And it is the tale of Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidate, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent Europe through the newborn power of finance" --Cover, p. 4.… (more)

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