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Quicksilver

by Neal Stephenson

Other authors: Lisa Gold (Family Trees), Jane S. Kim (Illustrator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Baroque Cycle (Vol. I, Books 1-3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8,461151758 (3.9)231
Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledge in 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, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent Europe through the newborn power of finance. A gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive novel that brings a remarkable age and its momentous events to vivid life, Quicksilver is an extraordinary achievement from one of the most original and important literary talents of our time. And it's just the beginning ... Performed by Simon Prebble and Stina Nielsen.… (more)
  1. 40
    Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (ateolf)
  2. 10
    Water Music by T. C. Boyle (lyzadanger)
    lyzadanger: Similar buffoonish, humorous treatment of English historical figures.
  3. 00
    An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears (ehines)
    ehines: Both interesting contemporary books set amidst the scientific enlightenment, Pears is a bit more historical where Stephenson is more flashily contemporary, but fans of one certainly should look at the other.
  4. 00
    The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson (Mind_Booster_Noori)
    Mind_Booster_Noori: Neal Stephenson retelling History with his excellent writing skills...
  5. 00
    Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan (Othemts)
  6. 00
    Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (uncultured)
    uncultured: Quicksilver is to Mason & Dixon as Agatha Christie is to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  7. 01
    Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (YossarianXeno)
    YossarianXeno: Both are compellingly written historical novels
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» See also 231 mentions

English (145)  German (4)  All languages (149)
Showing 1-5 of 145 (next | show all)
https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/3784740.html

I must say I was dismayed as I contemplated the 916 pages, but it actually flew past rather well; the narrative, rambling between the late 17th century in Europe and the early 18th century in America, pulls in all kinds of intellectually stimulating thoughts about the geopolitics, economics and scientific theories of the day, with flashes of nerdy humour. Now that I'm a bit more of a Samuel Pepys fan than when I first read it, I wished we'd heard more from him, but you can't have everything. By glorious coincidence, as I reached the final chapters I was spending a weekend in The Hague, staying a stone's throw from the Huygens House (now demolished) and the Binnenhof (very much still there) where a substantial part of the story is set. It's rather a borderline call as to whether it's really SF (indeed, it may not even be clearly a novel), but the Clarke jury seems to have been satisfied. ( )
  nwhyte | Oct 24, 2021 |
The first time I tried it, I bogged down partway ... this time, though, fresh off a re-read of Cryptonomicon, I got right into and through it. I sighed a little at Stephenson being cute by having it be about still more forebears of the families he introduced in Cryptonomicon, but okay, whatever. He's an author who's occasionally too clever, and I knew that going in.

The plot's as Baroque as the title would imply, and the amount of fictitious history threaded through what's obviously obsessively-studied real history makes for a book that requires an investment of attention ... but it's Stephenson, so it's funny and smart-alecky in enough places to keep it lively, over all. ( )
  qBaz | May 28, 2021 |
Returning to Quicksilver to finally put the Baroque Cycle to bed once and for all, I have to admit that it's a lot better than I remember. I'd probably throw four and a half stars at it if I could.

The first third of the book, also entitled Quicksilver, is a great ride through both 1600s London and 1700s ocean travel (the 1700s bit being a frame story for the rest). Daniel Waterhouse, reluctant Puritan and nascent scientist, is a bit hard to get a read on at first, but quickly grows into an interesting character. This section probably has the most "fictional character was present for a historical event/coined a modern idea" to it of the entire book, but Stephenson handles these well and they tended to get more of a smile from me than a groan.

The second third, King of the Vagabonds, is almost entirely an adventure/road, following Jack Shaftoe, Vagabond extraordinaire, and Eliza, a woman he rescues from certain death. This has the infamous Stephenson ending (i.e. things just drop), but it does feel somewhat earned and not just poorly written.

Finally, Odalisque ("a female slave or concubine in a harem, esp. one in the seraglio of a sultan of Turkey" - a title choice I'm still ruminating over) drops Jack to switch between Daniel (now something of an advisor to the king) and Eliza (now something of a financial guru/spy). This is the part of the book where the wheels start to come off, I think. Stephenson doesn't convey a lot of the action happening in Eliza's story very well, despite inserting a map of central Europe right there in the book, and his decision to skip over parts of the run-up to the Glorious Revolution makes Daniel's story feel really disjointed.

Overall, really, that's probably the worst thing I can say about the book is that it feels like Stephenson had 3 really good books in him but there's just a little bit of connective tissue missing that would elevate this entire thing and make it really great. On my first pass, I was really unsure of how I felt about the fact that so much of the book was returning to territory from Cryptonomicon (Waterhouse, Shaftoe, Eliza, Qwglhm, etc) -- I don't really mind most of it, although I'm really sick of Stephenson's pet character Enoch Root. It's a really fascinating, really fun ride with some memorable characters, and I guess that's all I really ask for. ( )
  skolastic | Feb 2, 2021 |
This is how you do historical fiction! A wide-ranging tale covering the history of royal families, court intrigue, early espionage and cryptography, scientific invention, finance, etc. Epic in every way. ( )
  donblanco | Jan 4, 2021 |
tried 2x and couldn't finish
  steveportigal | Dec 31, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 145 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephenson, Nealprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gold, LisaFamily Treessecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kim, Jane S.Illustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aquan, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gräbener-Müller, JulianeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sarkar, ShubhaniDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Springer, NickCartographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stingl, NikolausTranslatorsecondary 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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Wikipedia in English (1)

Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledge in 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, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent Europe through the newborn power of finance. A gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive novel that brings a remarkable age and its momentous events to vivid life, Quicksilver is an extraordinary achievement from one of the most original and important literary talents of our time. And it's just the beginning ... Performed by Simon Prebble and Stina Nielsen.

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