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Quicksilver: Volume One of the Baroque Cycle Paperback – Sep 21 2004

3.3 out of 5 stars 203 customer reviews

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  • Quicksilver: Volume One of the Baroque Cycle
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 960 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; 1 edition (Sept. 21 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060593083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060593087
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 3.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 771 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars 203 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #136,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

In Quicksilver, the first volume of the "Baroque Cycle," Neal Stephenson launches his most ambitious work to date. The novel, divided into three books, opens in 1713 with the ageless Enoch Root seeking Daniel Waterhouse on the campus of what passes for MIT in eighteenth-century Massachusetts. Daniel, Enoch's message conveys, is key to resolving an explosive scientific battle of preeminence between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over the development of calculus. As Daniel returns to London aboard the Minerva, readers are catapulted back half a century to recall his years at Cambridge with young Isaac. Daniel is a perfect historical witness. Privy to Robert Hooke's early drawings of microscope images and with associates among the English nobility, religious radicals, and the Royal Society, he also befriends Samuel Pepys, risks a cup of coffee, and enjoys a lecture on Belgian waffles and cleavage-—all before the year 1700.

In the second book, Stephenson introduces Jack Shaftoe and Eliza. "Half-Cocked" Jack (also know as the "King of the Vagabonds") recovers the English Eliza from a Turkish harem. Fleeing the siege of Vienna, the two journey across Europe driven by Eliza's lust for fame, fortune, and nobility. Gradually, their circle intertwines with that of Daniel in the third book of the novel.

The book courses with Stephenson's scholarship but is rarely bogged down in its historical detail. Stephenson is especially impressive in his ability to represent dialogue over the evolving worldview of seventeenth-century scientists and enliven the most abstruse explanation of theory. Though replete with science, the novel is as much about the complex struggles for political ascendancy and the workings of financial markets. Further, the novel's literary ambitions match its physical size. Stephenson narrates through epistolary chapters, fragments of plays and poems, journal entries, maps, drawings, genealogic tables, and copious contemporary epigrams. But, caught in this richness, the prose is occasionally neglected and wants editing. Further, anticipating a cycle, the book does not provide a satisfying conclusion to its 900 pages. These are minor quibbles, though. Stephenson has matched ambition to execution, and his faithful, durable readers will be both entertained and richly rewarded with a practicum in Baroque science, cypher, culture, and politics. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Stephenson's very long historical novel, the first volume of a projected trilogy, finds Enoch Root, the Wandering Jew/alchemist from 1999's Cryptonomicon, arriving in 1713 Boston to collect Daniel Waterhouse and take him back to Europe. Waterhouse, an experimenter in early computational systems and an old pal of Isaac Newton, is needed to mediate the fight for precedence between Newton and scientist and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, both of whom independently invented the calculus. Their escalating feud threatens to revert science to pre-empirical times. Root believes Waterhouse, as a close friend to both mathematicians, has the ability to calm the neurotic Newton's nerves and make peace with Leibniz. As Waterhouse sails back to Europe (and eludes capture by the pirate Blackbeard), he reminisces about Newton and the birth of England's scientific revolution during the 1600s. While the Waterhouse story line lets readers see luminaries like Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton at work, a concurrent plot line follows vagabond Jack Shaftoe (an ancestor of a Cryptonomicon character, as is Waterhouse), on his journey across 17th-century continental Europe. Jack meets Eliza, a young English woman who has escaped from a Turkish harem, where she spent her teenage years. The resourceful Eliza eventually rises and achieves revenge against the slave merchant who sold her to the Turks. Stephenson, once best known for his techno-geek SF novel Snow Crash, skillfully reimagines empiricists Newton, Hooke and Leibniz, and creatively retells the birth of the scientific revolution. He has a strong feel for history and a knack for bringing settings to life. Expect high interest in this title, as much for its size and ambition, which make it a publishing event, as for its sales potential-which is high.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
~I loved Cryptonomicon, and felt like Neal Stephenson was a bloody genius. Rather than a sequel, he has embarked on an epic prequel. After reading Quicksilver, the first of a trilogy set in late 17th Century Europe, I still think he's bloody brilliant, but felt that I should develop a measuring system for whether folks will like this book. Give yourself the indicated number of points if you agree with the following statements. At the end, total your points, and I'll provide a scale as to~~ whether you will like/love/dislike/hate this book.
You love European history: +3 points
You love lots of details in what you read: +3 points
You're into Newton/Leibniz and things scientific: +2 points
You think Neal Stephenson is bloody smart: +2 points
You loved Cryptonomicon for its detail: +1 point
You loved Cryptonomicon for its style: +1 point
You loved Cryptonomicon for its wit: -1 point
You get bored by endless detail: -2 point
You like a strong plot in the novels you read:~~ -1 point
You like a plot, however strong, at least clearly stated: -1 point
You are turned off by graphic descriptions: -1 point
You like a lot science in your science-based novel: -1 point
You like an easy read that flows well: -2 point
Score: >=10 You'll love this book!. 6-9 You'll like the book but find some of it tedious. 1-5 You'll like minor parts, but wonder if it was worth it. -1 to -5 You'll dislike this book. <-5 You'll hate this book.
I usually read trilogies after all the~~ books are published. But I made an exception here because I love Stephenson and because I am also coincidentally reading Isaac Newton's PRINCIPIA (translation by Cohen).
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Format: Hardcover
The ironically named _Quicksilver_ is the most disappointingly leaden
book it has been my displeasure to read in recent years.
After _Cryptonomicon_ my expectations were high. Early on in
_Quicksilver_ I realized that there was no way this book could be as
good as the earlier one, so I adjusted my hopes downward
accordingly...and even then, I was disappointed.
The flaws are numerous.
The one thing that everyone knows about the book is that it contains a
frantic pile of trivia. I was actually looking forward to this aspect
of the book, given that I enjoy random learning opportunities as much
as the next geek, and given that this is one part of _Cryptonomicon_
that I was enthused about. _QS_ disappoints in this regard. To my
mind there are two main bins that trivia are sorted in to: (1) those
random items that are capable of clicking in an interesting way into
the knowledge structure I already have; and (2) utterly random
tidbits. NS delivered a few of the former, and a few truck-loads of
the latter. In so far as the trivia was interesting, I already knew
it (Germanic witch trials, etymology of the word "dollar", the broad
outlines and purposes of the various 16th century political
structures), and in so far as the trivia was not something I already
knew, I found it dreadfully boring (hail-storms of random names of
royalty, many of them playing minimal roles in the plot, etc.).
Ah. I used the word "plot", so I've segued onto the next region of
disappointment. _QS_ does not have a plot, in the conventional sense.
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Format: Paperback
I should probably preface this review by saying that I am a Neal Stephenson fan. I have read and enjoyed all of other books prior to reading this one, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed this novel as well.
It did however take me about 50 or 70 pages to get in to the novel. At first I found the plot to be very slow moving, with lots of confusing names and not a lot happening. Dull and boring are two words that come to mind. But if you can get past the first 70 pages, the novel slowly starts to develop a story line that by the time the book is finished has left you eagerly looking forward to the next book.
I do not want to give away too much of the novel and spoil it for any of the readers out there. But I will say this. Don't be discouraged by the size of the novel (900+ pages). Do stick it out, and read the whole novel, as you will be rewarded for it. And finally, if any of the history that took place in England in the 1600s is of interest to you, then this book should definitely make it on to your reading list.
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Format: Hardcover
The book promises to span 'decades and continents' and it does -- with the reader feeling that much older for having read through this brick-like tome. There is much labouring over minute and tedious events as we are forced to look ponderously into the thought process and the non-fictional and fictional events that led the great minds of the late 17th and 18th century.
I'm almost embarrassed of Stephenson and his childish delight in revealing the inventions of Hooke, Newton et. al. as if discovering them for the first time. Those that may be even somewhat familiar with the leaders in the age of invention or may already have picked up sophomoric bits of trivia like the etymology of the word 'dollar' will find little enjoyment here.
The prose is strangely static and often terse with abbreviations instead of full sentences. It's as if the author just wants to get the point across and move on to other things giving the feeling that the chapters were originally written as a collection of e-mails on a Blackberry handheld device. Metaphors are blunt tools for Stephenson here and always heralded by 'like' and 'as'.
After the first four hundred pages things start to improve when the focus switches to Jack, a vagabond of increasing status. The pace picks up and the reader starts to get a small bit of that sense of enjoyment that made 'Snow Crash' and 'The Diamond Age' such delights. Unfortunately, this portion of the book is developed hurriedly and the characters are thin gruel and only appear more hearty because of the switch in pace. On reflection, I felt little connection to the far-to-clever Jack and scarcely believed Eliza's intelligence let alone her motivation for staying with Jack beyond it 'being a man's world' (or whatever the precise cliché trundled out). Why this man?
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