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Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle Book 1) by [Stephenson, Neal]
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Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle Book 1) Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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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

Review

"Sprawling, irreverent, and ultimately profound." -- Newsweek

"Genius . . . You'll wish it were longer." -- Time magazine

"A sprawling, engrossing tale." -- Seattle Times

"An astonishing achievement." -- Sunday Telegraph

An astonishing achievement. --Sunday Telegraph

A sprawling, engrossing tale. --Seattle Times

"[A]n awe-inspiring book, stuffed with heart-stopping action scenes ... and a treasure trove of forgotten historical lore."--Book

"Genius . . . You'll wish it were longer."--Time magazine

"Stephenson's new machine is a wonderment to behold. A-"--Entertainment Weekly

"[QUICKSILVER] explores the philosophical concerns of today . . . through thrillingly clever, suspenseful and amusing plot twists."--New York Times Book Review

"Sprawling, irreverent, and ultimately profound."--Newsweek

"[O]ften brilliant and occassionally astonishing ...[QUICKSILVER] has wit, ambition and ... moments of real genius."--Book World

"An astonishing achievement."--Sunday Telegraph

"Dense, witty, erudite ... and gripping ... a far more impressive literary endeavor than most so-called "serious" fiction."--Independent

"[QUICKSILVER] is a rare thing: a 1,000-page book that you don't want to end.--San Antonio Express-News

"A sprawling, engrossing tale."--Seattle Times

Genius . . . You ll wish it were longer. --Time magazine"

[QUICKSILVER] explores the philosophical concerns of today . . . through thrillingly clever, suspenseful and amusing plot twists. --New York Times Book Review"

Sprawling, irreverent, and ultimately profound. --Newsweek"

A sprawling, engrossing tale. --Seattle Times"

Stephenson s new machine is a wonderment to behold. A- --Entertainment Weekly"

An astonishing achievement. --Sunday Telegraph"

[QUICKSILVER] is a rare thing: a 1,000-page book that you don t want to end.--San Antonio Express-News"

[O]ften brilliant and occassionally astonishing ...[QUICKSILVER] has wit, ambition and ... moments of real genius. --Book World"

[A]n awe-inspiring book, stuffed with heart-stopping action scenes ... and a treasure trove of forgotten historical lore. --Book"

Dense, witty, erudite ... and gripping ... a far more impressive literary endeavor than most so-called serious fiction. --Independent"

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 7464 KB
  • Print Length: 956 pages
  • Publisher: Cornerstone Digital; New Ed edition (31 May 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0080K3J6E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #16,979 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
When I first started this book I found it opaque and thought it had too many storylines which seemed completely unconnected with too many characters that I didn't particularly like. I ended up setting it aside for several months and only picked it up again in order to finish it so that I could get rid of the terrible thing. However, evidently the break was exactly what I needed, as this time around I found it fascinating and everything clicked into place, and now I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the Baroque Cycle.

The book was still confusing and was by no means an easy read. It is written in several different forms: regular prose, playscript style and in letters where the real message is hidden in italics among the main body of the missive. The narrative skips about from one character to another, in between countries and passing over chunks of time, so Stephenson keeps you on your toes constantly. But this time I enjoyed the challenge rather than being frustrated by it. I think part of the reason that it feels so difficult is that it's such a large book that it can be easy to find it overwhelming. I noticed that the novel is in fact divided into three books, and I think that when I approach The Confusion, the rather appropriately named second volume of the Baroque Cycle, I will take a break to read something palate cleansing in between the composite books so that I don't become fatigued and disillusioned as I did with Quicksilver. This seems a far more sensible way to tackle these massive, dense books and I would recommend this approach to anyone else.

Although there were lulls in between the good bits, when Stephenson gets it right his writing is perfectly pitched, wry, deadly accurate and very quoteable.
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