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Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle (Baroque Cycle 1) [Paperback]

Neal Stephenson
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Oct 2004 Baroque Cycle 1
Neal Stephenson follows his international bestseller, the WWII thriller Cryptonomicon, with a novel set in the 16th and 17th centuries, in a world of war, scientific, religious and political turmoil. With a cast of characters that includes Newton, Leibniz, Christopher Wren, Charles II, Cromwell and the young Benjamin Franklin, Stephenson again shows his extraordinary ability to get inside a place and time; as he did for the futures of his science fiction (Snowcrash,The Diamond Age) and for WWII (Cryptonomicon), here he does for the England of the Civil War and the Europe of the Wars of Religion and the Scientific Revolution. Quicksilver is yet another tour-de-force from a writer who is simply unique.

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Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle (Baroque Cycle 1) + The Confusion (Baroque Cycle 2) + The System Of The World (Baroque Cycle 3)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (7 Oct 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099410680
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099410683
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 65,592 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An astonishing achievement" (Sunday Telegraph)

"A great, heaving countryside of a book...consistently funny...fluent and elusive, while retaining just the right hint of poison" (Telegraph)

"Stephenson mixes a library's worth of ideas with compulsive derring-do.its scope and inventiveness become addictive" (Time Out)

"A breathless ride.the writing gives an immersive sense of time and place" (Face)

"a brilliant, bulging historical novel" (Guardian)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Different but the same 28 Mar 2004
By A Customer
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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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's Baroque - there's a clue in the title... 10 Jun 2010
To all those lost souls who've complained that there's too much detail, or it goes on and on without having a story, let me explain: Baroque: of or relating to or characteristic of the elaborately ornamented style of architecture, art, and music popular in Europe between 1600 and 1750. So think of Les Invalides. Does it need all that decoration on the dome? Not to keep the rain out, certainly, but the purpose of that roof is a bit more extensive than that. So with this story. The digressions, the detail and the care and attention to minor points are what makes it 'Baroque', not just the period in which it's set.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good book, but this item isn't the one to buy! 6 Mar 2006
By Brian
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Not really a review, more a caution - this item is in fact the first book in the Baroque cycle, but is ONLY the first book (of 9)! You really want to buy the same named book that contains the first 3 bits together (ISBN 0099410680 I think), as otherwise its hard to buy the 2nd and 3rd bits (King of the Vagabonds, Odalisque).
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than we deserve 5 July 2004
By Sulis
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I must confess up front that I love this book, I love the next one (The Confusion), and I love everything else (in greater or lesser amounts) that Neal Stephenson has written. Cryptonomicon was fantastic, an effortless weaving of multiple strands. The Baroque Cycle (of which Quicksilver is the first) is more ambitious but just as successful.
I cannot understand those who complain that there's no plot. Apart from the vast, overarching plot of the development of the modern world, Stephenson chucks out a multitude of plots, schemes, machinations and ideas, any of which would have served as the basis of an entire book for his lesser contemporaries. It's true there is no simple dramatic thread, but that's like complaining that there's no disco beat in Mozart (though a more resonant comparison would be Bach). Anyone with any interest in this period of history would appreciate that allusion and discursion are part of the mechanics of telling a story, their initial irrelevence merely a way of determining the most critical distinction of that time: who understands what is really going on and who does not. If you like Tom Stoppard, you'll like this.

Similarly, there seems to be a moan from those who want it to be more like Snow Crash - you know, proper SF. Grow up - Stephenson has. This has all the intellectual thrills of Snow Crash, but made far more resonant by being embedded in a time of true intellectual discovery. Yes, there are contrivances galore, but they are so charmingly lobbed in that they produce something that does not fit an any pigeonhole I would care to define.
Like Stoppard's plays, this book makes you feel cleverer than you are. However, Stephenson's huge range, his wit and clarity of vision make this one of the most humbling books I have ever read. In this dumbed-down world we do not deserve this man.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Don't know what else to say. The breadth of this man's knowledge and creativity is breathtaking. If you like a long complicated fantastical historical novel, go for it!
Published 3 months ago by Rasselas
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant
This is one of three and they're all brilliant, the level of detail is simply astonishing - all 800 pages too! See my review of the Baroique Cycle
Published 6 months ago by Jules Chervis
5.0 out of 5 stars My second read of this
I read this in paperback a few years ago. I was so fascinated by the Enlightenment section on Newton, Hook, Liebnitz and the Fire of London, etc, that I'm constantly referring to... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Anna C
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
A really good read and I am looking forward to the next one. Hope it is just as good as this one
Published 7 months ago by Mrs. Mary Cobain
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece fun: Newton, The Royal Society, Pirates, Politics, Money -...
This trilogy is one of those rarest of things, an entertaining masterpiece. It combines a story which is rich and strange with characters who are fun to follow around and... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Frank 9
1.0 out of 5 stars Not focused enough
I had high hopes for this book, the opening chapter hooked me (which is always a good sign), and then it meandered suddenly and dreadfully. Read more
Published 8 months ago by A. Frid
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever - maybe too clever
And possibly too long, but intelligent and well worked. Pity he lets a few accidental Americanisms (pinky!) spoil the 17th century effect
Published 9 months ago by P. Millar
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious
I love books, I read loads of them. This is the most difficult book to read since Chris Patten's biography "The Last Govenor" by Jonathan Dimbleby.
Published 11 months ago by Playacanela
3.0 out of 5 stars This book has had "rave "reviews.
A difficult book to review,- the author has dredged a profusion of detail from history - especially scientific history - to flesh out the characters and situations. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Bob, Fareham.
5.0 out of 5 stars A very delightful fine wine that needs to be enjoyed without haste
The erudition, writing and just the sheer pleasure and joy from these books needs to be savoured with time and definitely not hurried. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Amazon Customer
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