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Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle 1) Hardcover – 2 Oct 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 927 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd; First Printing edition (2 Oct. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434008176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434008179
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.6 x 5.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 344,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer, known for his speculative fiction works, which have been variously categorized science fiction, historical fiction, maximalism, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk. Stephenson explores areas such as mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired Magazine, and has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system.

Born in Fort Meade, Maryland (home of the NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum) Stephenson came from a family comprising engineers and hard scientists he dubs "propeller heads". His father is a professor of electrical engineering whose father was a physics professor; his mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, while her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1960 and then to Ames, Iowa in 1966 where he graduated from Ames High School in 1977. Stephenson furthered his studies at Boston University. He first specialized in physics, then switched to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in physics. Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family.

Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic "The Baroque Cycle" (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Quicksilver is a massive, exuberant and wildly ambitious historical novel that's also Neal Stephenson's eagerly awaited prequel to Cryptonomicon--his pyrotechnic reworking of the 20th century, from World War II codebreaking and disinformation to the latest issues of Internet data privacy.

Quicksilver, "Volume One of the Baroque Cycle", backtracks to another time of high intellectual ferment: the late 17th century, with the natural philosophers of England's newly formed Royal Society questioning the universe and dissecting everything that moves. One founding member, the Rev John Wilkins, really did write science fiction and a book on cryptography--but this isn't history as we know it, for here his code book is called not Mercury but Cryptonomicon. And although the key political schemers of Charles II's government still have initials spelling the word CABAL, their names are all different...

While towering geniuses like Newton and Leibniz decode nature itself, bizarre adventures (merely beginning with the Great Plague and Great Fire) happen to the fictional Royal Society member Daniel Waterhouse, who knows everyone but isn't quite bright enough for cutting-edge science. Two generations of Daniel's family appear in Cryptonomicon, as does a descendant of the Shaftoes who here are soldiers and vagabonds. Other links include the island realm of Qwghlm with its impossible language and the mysterious, seemingly ageless alchemist Enoch Root.

As the reign of Charles II gives way to that of James II and then William of Orange, Stephenson traces the complex lines of finance and power that form the 17th-century Internet. Gold and silver, lead and (repeatedly) mercury or quicksilver flow in glittering patterns between centres of marketing and intrigue in England, Germany, France and Holland. Paper flows as well: stocks, shares, scams and letters holding layers of concealed code messages. Binary code? Yes, even that had already been invented and described by Francis Bacon.

Quicksilver is crammed with unexpected incidents, fascinating digressions and deep-laid plots. Who'd believe that Eliza, a Qwghlmian slave girl liberated from a Turkish harem by mad Jack Shaftoe (King of the Vagabonds) could become a major player in European finance and politics? Still less believable, but all too historically authentic, are the appalling medical procedures of the time--about which we learn a lot. There are frequent passages of high comedy, like the lengthy description of a foppish earl's costume which memorably explains that someone seemed to have been painted in glue before "shaking and rolling him in a bin containing thousands of black silk doilies".

This is a huge, exhausting read, full of rewards and quirky insights that no other author could have created. Fantastic or farcical episodes sometimes clash strangely with the deep cruelty and suffering of 17th-century realism. Recommended, though not to the faint-hearted. --David Langford


'... a brilliant, bulging historical novel.' -- Guardian 25th October 2003

'Quicksilver is a great, heaving countryside of a book, massove in scope and littered with treasure.' -- Daily Telegraph 11th October 2003

'Stephenson develops a singularly elegant solution to the perennial problem of finding an approriate voice for a historical novel.' -- Independent 17th October 2003

'Stunning... [it defies] any category, genre, precedent or label - except for genius.' -- Time

‘A breathless ride…the writing gives an immersive sense of time and place.’ -- Face

‘A great, heaving countryside of a book...consistently funny...fluent and elusive, while retaining just the right hint of poison.’ -- Telegraph

‘Dense, witty, erudite, packed with fascinating characters... No novel has been this much fun since The Name of The Rose.’ -- Independent

‘Stephenson mixes a library’s worth of ideas with compulsive derring-do…its scope and inventiveness become addictive.’ -- Time Out

‘a breathless ride’ -- The Face

‘a great, heaving countryside of a book, massive in scope & littered with treasure.' -- Daily Telegraph

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Mar. 2004
Format: Hardcover
I admit Stephenson, aong with James Ellroy, is one of the few authors I buy as soon as a new book is released. I've enjoyed every book he's written, even his earlier stuff such as The Big U where he was crafting his trade. Cryptonomicon is a fantastic read which goes flying off on tangents such as cryptography, politics of the Phillipines, dot com business and the perfect way to eat breakfast cereal. As a result, I waited with bated breath for Quicksilver.
I was not disappointed. Set in the reigns of Charles II, James I (of England, if you're Scottish) and William and Mary, it traces the lives of Daniel Waterhouse, Bob and Jack Shaftoe and Eliza, a freed Turkish slave. Walk-on parts go to Isaac Newton, Gottfried Liebniz, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Christiaan Huygens, Samuel Pepys, Judge Jeffreys, Christopher Wren and John Churchill, to name but a few.
As in his other books, there are several stories going on at once, which he moves between regularly, but there is an underlying central theme involving the politics of Europe in that era. I read the book once and immediately read it again, the second time picking up the classic Stephenson detail about the creation of the banking system, the Puritan movement, the gigantic scientific strides taken in the period and the intrigues which took place in the courts of England, France and the Netherlands. It is not surprising Stephenson takes so long between books as the research he does in diverse subjects is enormous. For instance, he has clearly studied Winston Churchill's biography of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, which is a humungous collection of letters, etc covering the period that could have been converted into a novel on its own. But this would have covered perhaps 10% of what this story is about.
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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Green Alien on 11 Jan. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Quicksilver is the first part of The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, a magnificent historical romp that explores the Age of Enlightenment with a humerous, intelligent and well-researched mix of fact and fiction. When originally published it was as 3 volume hardback set; however, each hardback book contains 2 or 3 sub-books and these have been published separately by some paperback publishers such as Harper Torch, so the paperback version of the complete cycle can consist of 7 separate books! My advice would be to check what you are getting before parting with your cash as some of the paperbacks on sale aren't the bargains they seem to be.

For example, the first hardback volume of Quicksilver consists of Quicksilver, The King of the Vagabonds, and Odalisque, and runs to nearly 1000 pages; the paperback that just contains Quicksilver is only 456 pages. Buyer beware!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. Hind on 18 Dec. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It irritates me intensely that Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is frequently classed as Science Fiction, even in bookshops. It is quite straightforward Historical Fiction (or Faction as it mixes real with imagined characters). It seems if you write one SF novel in your life, you are forever tainted with that label! This cycle of books will appeal to anyone interested in history, particularly the history of ideas. Stephenson's great talent, also evidenced in his Cryptonomecon, is his ability to infiltrate a surprisingly deep and sophisticated educational experience into a really good novel.

I have just finished reading the complete cycle again and for the first time in order (more than two thousand pages in total). It is a stonking good read, with only the odd page or six tending to drag a little. It is easy to say it needs an editor, but the problem is that an editor would probably cut far too much, and the wrong bits. Stephenson can make a conversation about philosophy between two princesses in a garden into a really exciting page-turner, but his action passages tend to drag badly. These can feel like a scene-by-scene description by a nine-year-old boy of a movie he's just watched!

Stephenson's trick is to tell the story from the perspective of three invented characters who have a modern outlook on life (while not being glaringly anachronistic). This enables him to render characters like Leibnitz and Newton accurately as only partly modern figures (Newton is an alchemist and Leibnitz something of a religious obscurantist), whilst allowing them to be viewed and interpreted by characters we can identify with.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By spoonofmilk on 19 Dec. 2006
Format: Paperback
How many times have you read a book and you are half way through and you realise that within a few days it'll all be over... and that thought depresses you. You want to continue exploring the world the author has created, to read more about the characters within and find out all the small bits that have been hinted at. Well, most of the reviews of Quicksilver on here complain of the length of the book and talk of it as a weakness. Personally, I see it as a strength. You get hooked into the story Stephenson weaves and the length of the book ensures maximum satisfaction. There are two more after this and both are bigger. It's a sprawling magnum opus for Neal Stephenson. The culmination of years of work and deserving of every accolade the industry throw at him.

The story is 90% fiction with a liberal dashing of fact thrown in for good measure. Set in the 17th century, we follow the predecessor of Neal Stephenson's other heroes (the Waterhouses and Shaftoes of Cryptonomicon) as he becomes a narrator for a tale of royal intrigue, scientific warfare waged between Liebniz and Newton and the beginnings of the fictional Shaftoe legend.

This truly is one of the very best books I have had the pleasure to read in the past ten years. The inclusion of real historical figures, such as Robert Hook, Isaac Newton, Liebniz and various Kings of Britian and France just added to the whole atmosphere of the book. My particular favourite character is the enigmatic rogue, Jack Shaftoe. Deserter from the English army and turned mercenary he sets out with fortune hunting in mind and ends up becoming King of the Vagabonds. The story of his rise, fall and rise again and the clever way that Stephenson has weaved all the pieces of his puzzle together makes for the best reading of a not-really-that-sciencey fiction story I've encountered. Read it and rejoice.
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