In this first volume of Neal Stephenson’s genre-defying epic, Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and courageous Puritan, pursues knowledge in the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight.
The Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson’s award-winning series, spans the late 17th and early 18th centuries, combining history, adventure, science, invention, piracy, and alchemy into one sweeping tale. It is a gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive historical epic populated by the likes of Isaac Newton, William of Orange, Benjamin Franklin, and King Louis XIV, along with some of the most inventive literary characters in modern fiction.
Audible’s complete and unabridged presentation of The Baroque Cycle was produced in cooperation with Neal Stephenson. Each volume includes an exclusive introduction read by the author.
©2003 Neal Stephenson (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
“[The “Baroque Cycle”] will defy any category, genre, precedent, or label – except genius….Stephenson has a once-in-a-generation gift: he makes complex ideas clear, and he makes them funny, heartbreaking, and thrilling.” (Time)
“A book of immense ambition, learning, and scope, Quicksilver is often brilliant and occasionally astonishing in its evocation of a remarkable time and place.” (Washington Post Book World)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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!
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.
"excellent book but.."
This is an excellent audiobook, very well written and narrated, which I enjoyed very much but prospective listeners need to bear in mind two points.
First this is not so much a historical novel and a novelisation of actual history: that is, the main characters are true historical figures and the events are, by and large, true events. This means that although the picture painted on 17th and 18th century England is both fascination and convincing, the book lacks a strong storyline and a clear narrative momementum. This means you need to concentrate when listening otherwise you lose the plot pretty fast!
Second, to really enjoy the book, I think you need a fairly reasonable knowledge of the history of the period, and the history of scientific development - in particular the feud between Newton and Leibnitz on who invented the calculus - otherwise the allusive and subtle style of the book will lose you completely. Little time is spent by the author setting the scene, as it were.
I'm going to check out the next in the series as I think the books improve judging by amazon reviews, and whilst I did enjoy this one, it wasn't what I expected - hence this rather lengthy review!
"Ambitious and entertaining"
The Baroque Cycle is a hugely ambitious work, sweeping across 17th century history. Quicksilver, the first book in the cycle, is centred on the early days of the Royal Society and the Enlightenment. Taking in the power struggles of Europe, the Plague and the Great Fire, it's a great read and makes a particularly good audiobook. Highly recommended.
"A excellent start to a very ambitious series"
One of the best, most inventive and mind bending books I've read in years.
If you like your fiction formulaic, procedural and devoid of complexity; then move on - nothing to read here! However, if, you want a challenge, then this is definitely the series for you.
Quicksilver is a seamless blend of; historical themes, locations, religion, philosophy, world changing events, mixed with a who's who of scientific greats from the 17th century. All of these components blended into a plot which revolves on; intrigue, commerce and power.
The book follows the life of Daniel Waterhouse a scientist, member of the Royal Society, friend of Isaac Newton, and son of a religious fanatic.
The true genius of this book is that the reader is never allowed to drift, with Stephenson constantly changing characters, locations and even jumping forward and backward in time. He manages all of this without breaking the flow of the narrative.
In the hands of a lesser author this mix could result in a boring historical tomb. In Stephenson's hands the book brims with interest. There is action aplenty, particularly during an engagement with pirates off the coast of Massachusetts and in the desperate search of a son for his mad father during the great fire of London. Drama and political intrigue with the mystery of French silver flowing into London. Despair and tension as Daniel walks across a deserted London cleared of people by the black plague on an elaborate scavenger hunt.
Quicksilver is also very funny - from explosions caused by mistaken identity to hilarious Puritan moral dilemmas resulting from condoms made from sheep intestines.
Simon Prebbles narration is top notch. Simon has the ability to give each person a slightly different accent or inflection making character identification easy, without turning the story into a pantomime of silly voices. The excellent voice work really shines through in the new enhanced audio format.
"A glorious and enchanting tale"
Having just completed the final book of Stephenson's cycle I am drawn to add a few words here (in view of the poor rating of some negative reviews) as only now can I appreciate the true scale of achievement of this wonderful book. Don't judge the work from a superficial reading of the first part. The sheer length and complexity of the plot makes demands on the reader, and especially in audio format the narrative races on, characters multiply and the inattentive listener will soon lose the plot; but persevere, put the time in, re-read if necessary and your efforts will be rewarded. In this first volume Stephenson gives a detailed account of Newton's early days as a student; the narrative proper takes off slowly which is befitting in a work that is ten times as long as a standard modern novel. But none of this is superfluous- details from these pages return, mulitiply and resonate in the later story just as the experiences of youth return to us in our maturity; and the depth of biographical detail allows us to come to know and love the characters in the book as if they were real. Also check out my reviews for the final three sections.
"Better than the book"
When I read The Baroque Cycle it was 10 nominal books packed as 3 actual books, sweeping in a way that Ben Hur got credit for (but, by comparison, just is not) and hugely engaging and entertaining. The audio book is SO Much Better! While 2 timelines are addressed, this is done much better than in the books where, alas, 2 seperate central characters had independant timelines addressed in parralel. In short, the audiobook is a much more sensible depiction of this genuinely world class tale. 'Epic' is, frankly, too minor a term to cover its scope, ranging as it does all over the globe and encompassing applications of power at every level in society. It is by turns heartwarming and horrific, educational and appaling. As a primer in history, philosophy, geography, politics, science and maths it is second to none, and more entertaining by far than education is generally allowed to be.
"Good but plodding"
I've basically given up with this book, after about 6 hours very little has happened and I just don't feel engaged enough to continue. I know Neal Stephenson novels are very rewarding and you sometimes have to persist but whether it was the narrator or the pace of the story this one just didn't do it for me.
"Science History comes to Life"
I personally loved this book. It does jump around a little bit in time but it needs to in order to explain the story, and it isn't hard to work out where you are up to, unlike some other books I've listened to recently.
I've never had much of an interest in history, but this work really brings it to life. Whether or not it accurately follows history doesn't matter, because the storytelling is masterful.
It does feel like it needs a better ending, and as this is the first of the long series I have read, I assume it will follow. I know I learned something whilst I read this and enjoyed it thoroughly too.
This was my first audiobook. I never thought I would get used to the idea of not reading a book. However I found this great for driving, the pace of the reading is about right and I didn't find myself struggling to concentrate.
The Book itself was great. I will be getting the next 2 in this series.
"A slow-burner that may come to astound you"
I am currently on The Confusion, books 4/5 of the series and looking back I can see that this was a bit of a difficult start with so many characters and ideas being thrown at you. I didn't try and follow every twist but just soaked up the atmosphere. As the series progresses, characters keep returning and you will get to know some of them very well so don't be put off. It only lost a star for me for this reason, 5 stars for everything from now on :)
"Oh my , thank god that's over"
There's little point in adding to many comments regarding the phenomenal length of this story. Stephenson obviously knew what he wanted. But I just can't take it any more. In parts fascinating, funny, clever and engaging , but often a tedious trawl - especially towards the end with Leibnitz when the story drags to no seeming end point. Now even though I've read ahead with reviews - and it appears the story picks up dramatically it is going to eat away another 1000 hours of my life to get to what I am sure with be a brilliant last minute. My main criticisms are that there is little seeming narrative drive, (a disputation about the originator of calculus doesn't do it for me) and the principal character, Waterhouse, is not the most engaging of heroes to follow. I can't I just can't go on with it. I'm sure it's very clever in the end but life is too short and there are snappier works to engage with. It has encouraged me to pick up a history book and review the period.
I just cannot trawl down endless metaphorical and physical byways with this author. I'm getting off the bus
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