Regular price: $24.95

Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free.
  • 1 credit/month after trial – good for any book, any price.
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love.
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel.
  • After your trial, Audible is just $14.95/month.
  • Get access to the Member Daily Deal
OR
In Cart

Publisher's Summary

A chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of “Half-Cocked Jack” Shaftoe – London street urchin turned legendary swashbuckling adventurer – risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox – and Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent a contentious continent through the newborn power of finance.

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.

Critic Reviews

“Bawdy, learned, hilarious, and utterly compelling, [it] is sprawling to the point of insanity and resoundingly, joyously good.” ( Times of London)
“Thrillingly clever, suspenseful, and amusing.” ( New York Times Book Review)
"Most tales of 'olde' times are replete with castles, robed lords and ladies, and handsome men on horseback. But what about the wretches they pass on the side of the road as they go off to a lively joust? is about those men, the poor, the grifters, whose names are lost to history—the vagabonds. Stephenson's novel tells their story, with the able help of storyteller Simon Prebble. Prebble's witty banter is perfect as the voice of Jack, a knave who is out to prove that even a lowborn can succeed in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. Prebble even does a great job with the historical characters such as Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, and others. Equal parts action and adventure, along with a healthy dose of humor, make this a great listen." ( AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    836
  • 4 Stars
    465
  • 3 Stars
    188
  • 2 Stars
    50
  • 1 Stars
    34

Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    822
  • 4 Stars
    297
  • 3 Stars
    58
  • 2 Stars
    13
  • 1 Stars
    15

Story

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    652
  • 4 Stars
    334
  • 3 Stars
    157
  • 2 Stars
    36
  • 1 Stars
    31
Sort by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Less Math Fiction, More Action

This book, although about Half-Cock Jack (no, that is not "half-cocked"), is really a bridge between Book 1 and 3. Jack finds Eliza at the siege of Vienna, and by the end of the book you start to realize that Eliza is going to be more of a character than Jack will.

Book 1 showed the scientists and mathematicians, and their noble patrons, while this story shifts focus on the poor. So there are vagabonds, soldiers, miners, Satanists, Turks, hareems, the oddities and intrigues of nobles, spies, diplomats, early modern capitalism and more. The action is definitely higher than in book 1. Better yet, Neal Stephenson doesn't shift gears back and forth in time anywhere near as much (or so it seems) as in Book 1, so it is much easier to follow, especially if you are doing something else.

The section on early modern capitalism - focusing mainly on the trading center in Amsterdam - is very interesting. Well worth sitting still and listening to that section. The section in which Jack gets entangled with the Satanists is a bit hard to follow, requiring you slow down and pay attention. All in all a number of "laugh out loud" moments, which makes this yarn a rollicking one. One cautionary note, however: this book is a little more sexually oriented than Book 1, so if you are listening in the car with others - especially children - you are going to have to turn it off unless you want to answer a lot of interesting questions.

The narrator, Simon Prebble, shows that the range of his voices is even greater than in Book 1, and continues to keep me engaged.. Hey, you got through Book 1, and if you ignored the reviews there and listened anyway - and found it interesting - trust me that you will enjoy this one too.

28 of 29 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fun, action packed and nontheless interesting

In Book 2 of The Baroque Cycle is set in the same time period as Book 1, but concerns an entirely different set of characters and wholly different viewpoint than Book 1. The protagonist is Jack, a vagabond, a perfect rouge who could only be compared to the likes of Falstaff or Harry Flashman. Jack sees an entirely different view of the late 17th century than that provided by the moneyed, puritan of Book 1. This is a London where enterprising young boys can make money by clinging to the legs of hanging men (to hasten their deaths), a Paris where the rat catcher is a man of great influence and an Amsterdam so incredibly rich and free from petty corruption that a man like Jack can hardly find a place for himself. This is a viewpoint rarely found in historical novels, that of the least regarded, the poor, peasants, vagabonds, wretches, slaves, and prostitutes. In this book, Stephenson also introduces his most compelling female character. An intelligent, capable and witty young woman, sold into slavery at a young age and determined to both succeed and to gain her revenge. This volume is much more focused on fun, adventure and humor than Book 1. Nonetheless it is brimming with descriptions of the social, political, religious and commercial changes that were transforming Europe at that time.

I strongly recommend this to anyone who enjoys Stephenson or good historical novels.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Tim
  • United States
  • 02-21-14

Have Nots

In "Quicksilver" it was all about learning the elitist and the upper class, but in "King of the Vagabonds" it's all about understanding the have nots. I will keep this review short just because I cannot wait to continue with the series. In this book there is a lot more action than intellectual conversation between the classes. The best way to describe the Baroque Cycle series so far, think Ken Folliet and historical fiction, but from a cyber punk, Neal Stephenson.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful books

Too bad the first book (Quicksilver) turned off so many Audible listeners. If they had continued on to this book and the rest of the series many of them would have changed their minds. The books combine a history of an interesting period in Europe, the origins of mechanics and calculus, the development of modern money, markets and banking, and a look at Cairo and India in the late 17th Century with great adventure yarns. Neal Stephenson is amazing and these books are some of his best.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • David
  • Halifax, NS, Canada
  • 02-01-13

Swashbuckling and rambling

Book 2 of the Baroque Cycle is a lot more fun than Book 1.

That doesn't mean it doesn't have the same flaws. There is still very little approaching a plot. The narrative is still merely an device that enables Stephenson to describe at great length the politics, economics and science of 17th century Europe. There are only the vaguest gestures toward narrative progression, there are numerous entirely extraneous incidents, and the novel stops rather than ends.

But as long as you can tolerate the above, this is an enjoyable work. Jack and Eliza are extremely entertaining protagonists - seeing the glories and horrors of baroque Europe through the eyes of a cheeky cockney vagabond and a hyper-intelligent courtesan is a lot more fun than the rather anonymous protagonist of Book 1. And unlike the previous novel, this one has an astonishing geographic and social range, spanning the muddy slums of London, the silver mines of Germany, the wars between the Turks and the Austrians, the banking cities of the Netherlands, the palaces of France, and the slave galleys of North Africa.

And while there is verbiage aplenty and the usual ridiculously detailed explanations and descriptions from Stephenson, some of them are absolutely wonderful - I particularly enjoyed his surreal, dreamlike description of the siege of Vienna and of Eliza's byzantine plotting with various crowned heads of Europe.

These novels are not for everyone but this one requires considerably less patience and its charms are more immediately evident to the reader interested in a turning point in world history.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Memorable for introducing a great female character

This book I found considerably less interesting than Quicksilver, dealing as it does primarily with the decidedly picaresque adventures of a vagabond. He hooks up with Eliza, the only female character of the book, who quickly establishes herself as the brains of their partnership. Once she gets to Amsterdam and begins to manipulate both men and their money, she becomes one of the most interesting female characters I have come across in quite some time.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 07-02-18

One Star for Making me Buy (1/3) of a Book

"Jack had been presented with the opportunity to be stupid in some, way that was much more interesting than being shrewed would've been. These moments seemed to come to Jack every few days."
- Neal Stephenson, King of the Vagabonds

Stephenson continues his Quicksilver Volume with Book 2: King of the Vagabonds. Where Book 1: Quicksilver dealt primarily with Isaac Newton and Daniel Waterhouse, King of the Vagabonds centers around the adventures of "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe*, Doctor Leibniz, and Eliza. It seems to have taken stock of Joseph de la Vega's .
'Confusion de Confusiones (1688), and perhaps also Charles Mackay's later Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and even Frances and Joseph Gies' Life in a Medieval City. Much of the book involves the adventures of two or three of the above Jack, Liebniz, Eliza making their way across many of the markets and cities of Europe. It allows Stephenson to discuss not only the politics of the age of Louis XIV, but also the changing markets (Leipzig, Paris, London, Amsterdam), politics, religion, and birth of the Age of Resaon.

Stephenson has said in Book 1 he was primarily dealing with nobility and the top-end of the economic ladder. So, in Book 2 he wanted to spend a bit of time at the bottom of the ladder (hence Vagabonds).

* "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe, Daniel Waterhouse, and Eliza (of Qwghlm) are all ancestors of characters from Stephenson earlier book, Cryptonomicon. Enoch Root appears in this book as well as in Quicksilver AND Cryptonomicon. He is like a Zelig for science. Always appearing just where he needs to be to give the wheel a turn, the cart a push, the clock of progress a wind.

If you notice with this audiobook, I gave it one-star for performance because I HATE the trend of breaking big books (and Stephenson WRITES big books) into sub-books on audiobook. Charge me more, require me to use two credits, etc., but breaking books into blocks irritates the heck out of me. So, this is my passive response. Meh.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Odd mix of fiction and non-fiction, acquired taste

3.5 stars. I'm really conflicted about this book and this series. I keep reading. I am interested. It can be funny and cutting and satirical. But it is truly an acquired taste, and one that I'm not 100% sure I love. There is more plot and action in this volume than there was in the first. But that is still leavened with copious amounts of history and science -- as I read a lot of nonfiction on those topics, this does not entirely turn me off, but I could see it being tedious to many readers. Perhaps my biggest issue with the book is that I usually turn to my reading with a distinct mood for either fiction or nonfiction, and the blending of the two in such obvious ways (with entire passages dealing with finance or history, with chemistry or physics) can be very jarring. I think I'll continue as I respect Stephenson and loved Cryptonomicon (which stars the descendants of many of the major players in this series). But I have to say my feelings are mixed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

As always Stephenson delivers a Big Bang.

I listening to the series - this time in the order the books were written - two years after the first listen. I don't do this often and never with a gap of only two years. But the content of Stephenson's books is so dense and some of his best lines so subtle that the material feels fresh and worth paying attention to.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • BRADLEY
  • MONTICELLO, GA, United States
  • 08-14-12

great story

Where does King of the Vagabonds rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

near the top

What did you like best about this story?

the characters, more of a story than the first installment.

Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

yes, Simon Preble was great reading 1984.

If you could rename King of the Vagabonds, what would you call it?

?

Any additional comments?

no

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Christopher
  • 03-24-11

Introducing Jack and Eliza

If you have read "Quicksilver" and were not put off by the negative reviews for the first book your efforts will be rewarded and you will soon find the narrative gaining momentum as Jack enters to reak havok across Europe. The sections that relate Jack's adventures are certainly the most fun parts of this excellent novel. Nothing less than 5 stars for this extraordinary and highly entertaining work. See my reviews for the other parts.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Doug
  • 07-08-18

Book Two...

Not my favourite of the works but whatever you don don't miss any of them out!!

I just never tire of listening to this entire series. I loved Neal Stephenson's Sci-Fi and was unsure about starting on this epic series but I must have listened the whole thing through 3 times now and it just never gets tired. The ways the story runs take a little getting used to but once you are in the swing it is an absolute joy. Do the whole set. Wonderful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • J. Rogerson
  • 12-04-17

Very funny and creative.

Find here the rawness and stench of low life in the 17th century. Some great scenes, horrible events jostling with the bizzare and humorous.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • mrmalaya
  • 10-19-17

fancyful mutch?

I enjoyed book one because it had some facts in it. I understand this is supposed to be viewed from the bottom rung of the social ladder, but it didn't seem to be anything more than a modernised version of what might have been. perhaps I am to dry? On to book three, and hopefully the reader will take some time to read the passage before it is recorded....

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jim
  • 05-24-15

A deeply smart swashbuckler

Stephenson likes ideas, adventure and smart dialogue. In the first volume we got a lot of the history of science at the expense of plot. Having set the scene this volume swings into action from the outset with the introduction of Jack and Eliza, who take us on a brilliantly conceived romp across the Europe of the early 18th century. Not sure this would work if you haven't listened to volume one but if you have reached this far the thing really seems to click into gear.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Richard Taylor
  • 03-17-15

ace

I'm utterly in love with these books. Well worth a listen. you won't be disappointed.