Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

The Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver [5/5]
by Neal Stephenson
(William Morrow, hardcover September 2003)

Against the vividly imagined historical backdrop of Europe in the 1600′s, Stephenson unfolds a compelling story of politics and brings to life the birth of the scientific revolution. But this is no dry treatise on days past; no tedious textbook to drain all the interest from the dramatic events of history. Using multiple interwoven storylines, Stephenson creates a rich tapestry of the lives of historical figures such as Newton and Hooke, while adding his own perspective via characters Daniel Waterhouse, Jack Shaftoe and Eliza. The latter, as one of the few powerful women in the story, was particularly of interest to me, as I followed her evolution from rescued Turkish slave to devious spy and confidante of nobility.

The pace stumbles a handful of times in the latter half of the book. But, even so, there are few words wasted — impressive in a book that weighs in at 916 pages. References to Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (which I enjoyed very much in the summer of 2002) appear throughout the book, giving it an added depth in terms of scope and the sense that it was only the first course in the ambitiously prepared feast of the works as a whole. With two more volumes to come, this is certainly not a story for those who aren’t prepared to invest heavily in the pursuit of an exceptional reading experience. But I would certainly recommend it without reservation to those who are not easily intimidated. Waiting with anticipation for “The Confusion” in April 2004 and “The System of the World” in October 2004…

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