It's unfortunate that "Quicksilver" will turn so many listeners off the Baroque Cycle, because the other volumes are much more fun. "Quicksilver" is hard work, and is best thought of as an extended atmosphere-builder rather than a story. It is very rewarding though, if you know what you're getting into.
To enjoy "Quicksilver", you need three things:
* You need to be content with the fact that there's no plot. At all. All that happens is that a guy called Daniel wanders around London in the 1660s and 70s and chats with the leading scientific figures of the age. That's it. Oh, and there's some stuff about piracy in Massachusetts. Don't get me wrong,it's amazing writing and you will learn so much. You will get an amazing sense of the texture and atmosphere of the era. But there's barely a shred of story. Some people won't be able to deal with that. I didn't mind.
* You need a basic familiarity with the history of the 1660s and 70s and with the aforementioned scientific figures. Complete newbies will be baffled. Get prepared to do a lot of Wikipedia-ing.
* You need to want to listen to insanely detailed explanations of baroque science and the birth of economics. It's fascinating stuff ... if you like that kind of thing.
I enjoyed the listen, on the whole, although the wordiness and lack of forward progression does make it a struggle at times. And it undoubtedly is of extremely limited appeal. You might be better advised to start with Volume 2 if you'd like a story rather than a scene-setter.
The reader is brilliant.
I rarely write reviews, but this situation seems to demand it. I am amazed at both how few reviews have been posted and how many have been negative. It is not surprising that some did not enjoy Quicksilver, but where are the reviews from those that did? It is hard to believe that this rich, original and quirky book has not found an extensive audience.
Strictly speaking this is a "secret history". That is, it faithfully covers a historical period but creates characters and events that fit neatly in the cracks between what is known and what is not about this period. Into these cracks, Stephenson inserts Daniel Waterhouse, a fiction college mate of Newton and early member of the Royal Society. He is a puritan, a member of sect at the fringe of English society. Through his eyes we receive an intelligent and intimate understanding of his time--a time when culture, science, religion and commerce where changing radically--were becoming modern.
This might sound dry, but it is not. It is the coming of age story of man in the Restoration Court of Charles I. It is filled action including one of the most perfectly described pirate battles I have ever encountered. It has a cast of compelling characters, both real and imagined; scientists, both mad and brilliant. Running though all is a vein of wit and often hysterical humor. The prose itself is first-rate, far better than we have the right to expect in a historical novel. Add to all of this an excellent narrator with a perfect ear and voice for the accents and cadences of the time.
If you enjoy Stephenson or a well written historical novel, you should not miss this. By the way, Quicksilver is the first of several volumes in the Baroque Cycle. I have only read the second book, but I can already guarantee that there is much more to look forward to.
A review on Amazon calls this "math" fiction (as opposed to science fiction), which ought to give you a good idea of the sort of book it is. That said, it IS good, rip roaring geek fun with the math and science "heroes" of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. There's the English Civil War, Wars of the Spanish Succession, Malburian Wars, pirates, members of the Royal Society of Philosophers, Issac Newton, Gottfried Liebnitz, and more.
Sometimes too much more. This book is certainly not an audio book you can play while doing something else which takes too much brain power; you will quickly lose the thread and find yourself rewinding. This problem is especially acute as the author jumps back and forth between the 1660s and the 1710s following one character.
The narrator is excellent, with a range of voices, allowing you to distinguish between the characters in the book. He does a great British Lord "harumph!" voice. :) There is a second narrator, but he simply reads period quotes at the beginning of each chapter. It would have been nice if he had read the lead-ins that announced the change of time and locale, as it would give you an audible cue that the story is leaping forward and back in time, helping your mind shift gears again.
If you do not like long books (i.e. value for your Audible credit), you should probably move on, because this is only the first audio book of three that used to be what was book one in hardback.
I really loved this book...and the sequels...I'm up to the third one and I find them all big fun! It's going to be one of those series that I will be sad to have it finish. I look forward to my commute time so I can catch up on my listening. I guess I'm a bit of a girl-geek who loves history...maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much. It reminds me of the Ken Follet books about the middle-ages, which I enjoyed as well!
Also learned a valuable lesson -- I shouldn't put too much stock in reviews, since this book got such bad ones and if I'd read those before I bought the book I might not have.
The first volume is very good, and I understand from friends that it gets even better. It is the first half of the printed volume 1 of the Baroque Cycle. The original 3 volumes, published as 3 books have been turned into 7 book credits. I listen to many long books from Audible, much longer than the 1st and 2nd Baroque Cycle books combined. So why not present and sell it as it is in the printed form, as a volume. I hope this is not a new trend.
Four stars because the story does ramble a bit, although very interesting, I found that I could "space out" a bit here and there and not miss anything crucial, unlike other books where I have to be more attentive in my listening. This can be considered a positive or negative. Looking forward to the next 6 books.
While clearly not for everyone, this book is beautifully and believably written and beautifully read. It is a small window into a fascinating time and place. Ideas, taken for granted now, but novel at the time, presented in historical context (as opposed to, say, in one's college math class) can elicit quite a different reaction. And it is written with humor. I have loved every minute and am looking forward to the next book in the series.
"Quicksilver" is but book one of "The Baroque Cycle", a story of multiple intrigues across social, financial, scientific, political and alchemical happenings centered in England, but encompassing all parts of the world in 1760s through the early 1800s. To be more specific than to say it is eclectic would take more time than I am willing to spend on this recommendation. Suffice it to say that I have it in hard bound 1st editions, in my Kindle and originally read it in a "Palm". Listening to it is a joy and reveals additional nuance that I didn't pick up in my 1st two readings. I give this series the highest rating of any book or series of books I have ever read.
I couldn't stop listening. Although I'm not a science buff and didn't understand much about science, I enjoyed Stephenson's rich and detailed portrayal of a bygone era - and one that is the backdrop of much historical fiction. I loved the way he played with time by depicting his character Daniel Waterhouse backward and forward - as a young man destined for the new world and an old man going back to the old world. By ordinary standards, Waterhouse is brilliant; by the standards of his peers (Isaac Newton, Godfrey Leibniz) he is ordinary. Having just finished listening to "The Three Musketeers" and Captain Blood," this novel fit right in - about the same time and with many of the same political figures. It is worth mentioning that Quicksilver is the "prestory" to other novels in the cycle, not entirely an independent novel in its own right. Stephenson is a great storyteller and has a wonderful sense of humor. Narrator Simon Prebble is excellent - as usual. I'm completely hooked.
I almost missed this witty historcal novel because it was hard to relate to the narrative in the first two chapters, which consume 1 hour 27 minutes, and introduce a long-lived character named Enoch the Red. My suggestion is to listen to the author-read introduction and then skip to chapter three, set in 1716 in Newtown, Massachusetts, which introduces the book's affable, accommodating, and somewhat child-like (in terms of wonder, devotion, and curiosity) protagonist, Daniel Waterhouse. Return to the first 2 chapters at the end of the book, where their significance to the Baroque Cycle series will be immediately apparent. I deduct one star from the story for this structural flaw, but rate the overal audiobook 5 stars.
Quicksilver is not a mere exposition of the development of "natural philosophy" into what we call modern scientific reasoning. It sincerely captures the falacious reasoning and original assumptions-- most of which seem absurd and superstitious from today's standards-- of early scientists, and charitably explains how their life experiences, social status, and the prevailing dogmas of the day made their "quaint" ideas, such as the spontaneous generation of flies from filth, understandable. As a caveat, if animal cruelty is particularly distressing to you, as it is to me, I suggest visualizing only the scientists--not their animal subjects--much the way many TV medical dramas do not show the open incisions of surgical patients. Notwithstanding the book tempting the reader to slide into visualization of painful animal experiments, I am eager to read book 2.
This reading breathes life into each and every character in this monumental novel. The amazing texture and wit of Stephenson's writing is fully done justice to by this great adaptation. Thank you audible.com for completing this huge but wonderful project!