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.
Listen to more titles in the Baroque Cycle.
©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)
In keeping with its title and the cycle of which it is a part, this book is exemplary of Neal Stephenson's inimitable style, though this time wrought in a Baroque form. Great prose beautifully written, outstanding plot, diverse subject matter and realistic, breathing characters, historical fact filigreed with invented fancy. The work itself is almost flawless, typical of Stephenson's handiwork.
I read these books as they were released, and was afraid that the dozens of characters, each with different countries as their home and of differing levels of literacy might prove confounding to any narrator. Happily I found the narrator Simon Prebble equal to the task.
Although the characters are numerous, Mr. Prebble makes each one distinct. Even the young and old Daniel Waterhouse get different voices. Mr. Prebble somehow manages to make it obvious they are the same character, albeit one is a version 40 years younger than the other.
The fact that the characters might be English, Irish, French, Dutch, American, German, African, etc. might present a problem for a lesser narrator, but portraying these diverse accents doesn't seem to be any problem for Mr. Prebble. For instance, switching from Jack's East London to Leibniz's German accent is done easily and transparently, even when they are conversing with each other. Sometimes I think Mr. Prebble might be having a little fun at the French character's expense by making their accents a little outrageous at times. Where there are songs, Mr. Prebble sings; when speaking a fictitious language (the native tongue of Eliza's home Qwghlm) he sounds like a native.
Mr. Prebble's diction is generally superb, only a few times did I find a muddled word here or there and, since I listen mostly in the car or airplanes, quite possibly due to the environment and not the narration.
The recording itself is quite good. Constant fiddling with the volume knob isn't necessary on this recording as it is on other audio books. Unfortunately, there is one annoying production issue concerning the narration of the excerpted works at the beginning of each chapter. The difference in the timbre of the recording is quite noticeable, and seems to suffer from undue amounts of digital aliasing. Possibly these were recorded in a different studio? The narrator is different for these, Kevin Pariseau, though the lapse in quality is not his. All in all, a minor flaw that hardly detracts from an otherwise overwhelmingly good production of an outstanding piece of literature.
This is not "Quicksilver" the first volume of the three volume Baroque Cycle.
This is "Quicksilver" the first *book* of the first volume. The first printed volume, also conveniently called "Quicksilver", contains "Quicksilver", "King of the Vagabonds", and "Odalisque". Theses are separate purchases on Audible.
So, other than being a bit disappointed to find out that I bought "Quicksilver" instead of "Quicksilver", it's a quite enjoyable story. If you're a science geek like me, you'll enjoy the fictionalized account of Newton, Hooke, Leibnitz and other key players in this key point our history.
The audio quality and narration is also particularly good, though the Dutch, German and French accents all sound a bit similar.
How on earth can I have listened to the same book as some of the other reviewers? This book transported me to England during some of the most eventful decades of modern history. The characters would be sci fi heroes if it weren't for the fact that they lived. The times were so charged! The black death, the great fire, the birth of modern science and America. I have no idea how anyone could read this and not be dazzled. Simon Prebble is as always a master. If you like to learn and think when you read this will be a revelation. If you want mindless fluff, pass on.
Short on story, long on details; somehow, I still liked it. The narration was excellent.
There's a lot going on in this series of historical novels, most especially the birth of modern science and finance. There's also a lot of adventure and political intrigue. I was a bit daunted by the first volume when I first read it, but I boned up a bit on the history (the Restoration and the Royal Society for the first book) and when I revisited it via audiobook I got much more out of it and enjoyed it immensely. I do think that the narration makes it easier, but it could also be that I'm a bit better informed.
The writing is, incidentally, gorgeous. This is not just a book of ideas, although sometimes it gets a bit too expository when Stephenson has to make the characters explain what's going on. Otherwise, the prose is very fine.
Learned some interesting things but, WOW, hard to get through. Still working on it, actually. I keep this one around when I want to engage my inner brainy nerd self.
I found this book to be interesting and entertaining, and enlightening of the period. It makes me want to read up on the history of the period. The biggest problem is that it leaves you in the middle of the story, with no conclusion at all, so you have to read the rest if you want to know what's going on. This seems to be a trend in some of the recent scifi/fantasy series I've been "reading," and I don't much like it at all.
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
While I thought I should have waited for reviews prior to spending a credit on this book, it probably would not have saved me. Stephenson generally gets such good reviews that I probably would have eventually succumbed and regretted only later.
The publisher review states that the book defies description and genre. I disagree. This is quite simply, a Fictionalized History of Science and frankly, for me, not a great one. If Science History is what you are looking for, try A Short History of Nearly Everything by, Walk In the Woods, Bill Bryson. It's witty, charming and will hold your attention much more than this tome.
QS is well narrated but, for me, quite frankly the compliments cease there. The book rambles, there is little continuity except chronological that I could glean. While I endured the agony, I finished it but never found any part of it that drew me in and held me captivated. I am a scientist by education and studied science history which is interesting to me. But this book? Be warned my fellow reader. Some folks rate books highly because they think that they should and not because the book actually deserves it. But they are mistaken. I truly believe this is the case here. My only saving grace: it was just one credit.
Not a mainstream reader.
I don't understand why some listeners are having a hard time getting through "Quicksilver." We all need to remember that this is just the first book of eight in The Baroque Cycle series. If you haven't read anything from Neal Stephenson before, please stop reading this review and go get some of his other titles to get familiarize with his style of writing.
That being said, I found "Quicksilver" to be excellent with the quirky math and the overall history of the 17th and 18th centuries in the European era. The characters are not all strict and serious. In fact, they are pretty humorous.
Like a five course meal, you start with a soup and salad. In the Baroque Cycle, there are seven more courses to go. I really enjoy at understanding the premise and hungry for more plates.
Just think as "Quicksilver" as an eight course meal that you just started.
Confusing which characters were talking and who the story was about.
Narrator had a good voice.
Frustration, very difficult to follow who was talking and where the story was going.
I like the honest description of how the time period was, the story was just too jumbled with little or no direction.
"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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