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The Confusion by Neal Stephenson

The Confusion (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Neal Stephenson

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5,13956870 (4.2)42
Title:The Confusion
Authors:Neal Stephenson (Author)
Info:Arrow (2005), London, Paperback, 815p.
Collections:Your library, eBooks, Read, Read 2012, Favorites, Buy and Get 2010, Readable
Tags:historical fiction, history, france, uk, netherlands, paris, london, 1600s, fiction, locus

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The Confusion by Neal Stephenson (2005)

  1. 20
    Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World by Timothy Brook (Othemts)
    Othemts: Vermeer's Hat contains a good description of Manilla as a trading port in the 17th century. Chinese merchants settled on the outskirts of the city to sell silks. In return they received silver that arrived from New Spain on a galleon once each year.

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English (54)  German (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
The Confusion is Volume II of the author’s Baroque Cycle. Volume I contains the first three “books” of the cycle, while The Confusion contains Book 4 (Juncto) and Book 5 (Bonanza). These two books were originally published separately, but when combined in this volume, the “chapters” are alternated so as to maintain chronological order. That is because the two books deal with two completely separate story lines.

Juncto is set in northern Europe and features Eliza, Duchess of Arcachon and Qwhglm, and Daniel Waterhouse. Bonanza follows the adventures of Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe from his days as a galley slave along the Barbary Coast through Egypt, the Indian sub-continent (Hindoostan), the Far East, New Spain (Mexico) and ultimately back to England.

If you read Volume I, Quicksilver, or the three books that were encompassed therein, 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. ( )
  santhony | Nov 24, 2014 |
Continuing my reread (listen) of The Baroque Cycle, The Confusion feels very well balanced to me. It mixes (con-fuses) two tales. One is the tale of a noblewoman who relates to us the growth of money and finance in Europe. The other is the tale of a diverse crew of Barbaby slaves who swashbuckle their way to stealing a trove of alchemical treasure and circumnavigate the globe.

The Baroque Cycle is science fiction written about history. It makes me feel smart reading it and it a damn good time as well. ( )
  nnschiller | Sep 18, 2014 |
This is two interleaved books. Bonanza, book 4, follows the story of Jack Shaftoe who is sold to the Barbary pirates, and Junto, book 5, which follows the story of Eliza to Holland, France, and other places in her quest to make herself financially secure. I really enjoyed this book. More than the first. Not for those who don't enjoy long tangents and it really requires a good basic knowledge of European history as he doesn't slow down to explain much. ( )
  stuart10er | Nov 5, 2013 |
This is by far the best of the Baroque Cycle novels, and that's saying a lot. Greatly enjoyed every minute of reading this book. ( )
  wweisser | Jul 6, 2013 |
*The Confusion* is the second part of Neal Stephenson's *The Baroque Cycle.* It collects two smaller novels, *Bonanza* and *Juncto.* If you've made it to the second volume, you are likely already sold on Stephenson's fascinating and amusing combination of historical fiction, adventure and science fiction. The basic arc of the entire set of novels is a massive intellectual shift in the early Modern period, where classical ideas (such as those of Aristotle) were waning and the emergence of the new science and philosophy changed Europe. Stephenson tells this story through a vast number of characters, including many actual people such as Newton, Leibniz, Louis XIV, William of Orange, etc., and three principal fictional characters.

Daniel Waterhouse comes from a family of Puritans and sits between Newton and Leibniz as a member of the Royal Society. Eliza is a former slave whose brilliant grasp of trade and modern economy has led her to the heights of power and intrigue in Europe, and Jack Shaftoe is a vagabond with the uncanny ability to make the most of just about any pickle he finds himself in. In this way, Stephenson's main cast gives us insight into the world of science and philosophy, the world of nobility, the world of finance and economy, and the lives of those with lesser means. This is only the barest synopsis, however, as these are novels of staggering narrative complexity which cover the globe over a long span of time. While at times it reads as a ripping good adventure story with a light and easy to follow narrative, really investing in the books requires keeping track of many characters, locations and plots. It is not a difficult read, but it is a read that requires close attention.

This volume largely follows the stories of Eliza and Jack. They have long since parted ways, and while there are a number of connections between their stories, they largely are involved in independent adventures. I found that the Jack passages were far more interesting in this novel than they were in the first volume, *Quicksilver.* In reading that one, I often found myself wanting to get back to Daniel and Eliza, because they were more directly engaged in the world of ideas than Jack. Jack's story here picks up for two reasons. One is that he becomes part of a Cabal of enormously entertaining characters, most particularly Dappa, Moseh de la Cruz, Otto van Hoek and Gabriel Goto. The second is that his adventures have expanded in scope, both in their daring and their geographical coverage. The expansive story of Jack's adventures is a nice counter-balance to Eliza's story. I still find Eliza's chapters to be riveting, but they mostly take place within Europe, and within the intrigues of court society.

One aspect of Eliza's story that is particularly well done is the reaction to the novel views of currency and finance that are developing at the time. We generally think that we are pretty comfortable with ideas like credit, and the fluidity of the market. We get it that money does not need to acquire its value solely from the materials used in it. However, these are radical ideas at the time, and Stephenson does a wonderful job making us feel the confusion (and see that ideas which might seem intuitive to us are anything but!). This is nicely illustrated in a memorable scene where Eliza uses the various members of the court as props in an elaborate demonstration of financial operations. The economic ideas take center stage in *The Confusion,* and they are handled with aplomb.

This does mean that we have to forgo the adventures of Daniel, which is a bit disappointing (particularly given how we left him at the end of *Quicksilver*!). I generally find Daniel's chapters the most interesting, as his academic pursuits most closely mirror my own (as a philosophy professor!). However, even without Daniel, the story continues on with the same wit and wonderful plotting.

It does also retain some of the weaknesses of the prior volume. The dialogue can occasionally be clunky. Characters are, more often than not, trying to talk with a great deal of wit and nuance. Whie this generally works, it does occasionally become difficult to imagine real people saying some of these things. This can also happen when characters make gratuitious references to the academic matters at hand. Stephenson wants to show us these ideas percolating into the culture as an entirely new way of looking at the world, but these references can occasionally be strained. These passages seem off for two reasons. The first is that it makes brilliant characters like Waterhouse look as if their grasp of the ideas is incomplete, and second, it can make for clunky, expository writing. These are the exceptions, however, and far from the norm. Stephenson generally shows a very strong grasp of the ideas he is discussing, and is able to work most of them into the text quite successfully.

If you enjoyed the first volume, there is no reason not to read *The Confusion.* It's more of the same, and that's quite a compliment.
  jeff.maynes | Jul 3, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neal Stephensonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aquan, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kellgren, KatherineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pariseau, KevinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Van De Velde, WillemCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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So great is the dignity and excellency of humane nature, and so active those sparks of heavenly fire it partakes of, that they ought to be look'd upon as very mean, and unworthy the name of men, who thro' pusillanimity, by them call'd prudence, or thro' sloth, which they stile moderation, or else through avarice, to which they give the name frugality, at any rate withdraw themselves from performing great and noble actions.
— Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri,
A Voyage Round the World
The Commerce of the World, especially as it now carried on, is an unbounded Ocean of Business; Trackless and unknown, like the Seas it is managed upon; the Merchant is no more to be follow'd in his Adventures, than a Maze or Labyrinth is to be trac'd out without a Clue.

— Daniel Defoe

A Plan of the English Commerce
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He was not merely awakened, but detonated out of an uncommonly long and repetitive dream.
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This is the second volume of the three-volume edition. Please don't combine with the fourth or fifth volume of the eight-volume edition with the same title.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060733357, Paperback)

In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves -- including one Jack Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-Cocked Jack -- devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues -- a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver ... nay, gold ... nay, legendary gold.

In Europe, the exquisite and resourceful Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, is stripped of her immense personal fortune by France's most dashing privateer. Penniless and at risk from those who desire either her or her head (or both), she is caught up in a web of international intrigue, even as she desperately seeks the return of her most precious possession.

Meanwhile, Newton and Leibniz continue to propound their grand theories as their infamous rivalry intensifies, stubborn alchemy does battle with the natural sciences, dastardly plots are set in motion ... and Daniel Waterhouse seeks passage to the Massachusetts colony in hopes of escaping the madness into which his world has descended.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:39 -0400)

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"In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves -- including one Jack Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-Cocked Jack -- devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues -- a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver ... nay, gold ... nay, legendary gold" --Cover, p. 4.… (more)

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