Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, #1)” as Want to Read:
Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle #1)

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  28,037 Ratings  ·  1,643 Reviews
Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing 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.

It is a chronicle of the breathtaking exp
Paperback, P.S. Edition (USA), 927 pages
Published September 21st 2004 by Harper Perennial (first published September 23rd 2003)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Quicksilver, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Pete Harris It's obviously BOTH historical fiction and fantasy. There is a small amount of magical realism: alchemy works, there's a special kind of…moreIt's obviously BOTH historical fiction and fantasy. There is a small amount of magical realism: alchemy works, there's a special kind of physically-impossible gold and there is at least one immortal walking about, possibly two.

Depends where you draw the line between ordinary fiction (didn't happen) and fantasy (couldn't happen).(less)
Ready Player One by Ernest ClineThe Martian by Andy WeirOld Man's War by John ScalziThe Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsAnathem by Neal Stephenson
Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century
29th out of 524 books — 5,254 voters
Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardDune by Frank Herbert1984 by George OrwellFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books
255th out of 5,478 books — 18,274 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Apr 25, 2010 Bryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is just too vast to give justice to it in the few lines of this review that I might come up with now.

If you are ready to read this, here are some suggestions:

1) Start with Cryptonomicon first. You don't need to read this first, but it will help you get used to Stephenson's style, and you'll appreciate Quicksilver better having done so.

2) Before reading Quicksilver, spend some time brushing up on some basic English history. (Did you know that London burned? Do you know what the Monmouth
Jul 30, 2011 Kemper rated it really liked it
(The following is an excerpt from the journal of Neal Stephenson.)

After the success of Cryptonomicon, I’m having some problems narrowing down my next project. The issue is that I have far too many ideas, and I can’t decide which plot to use for my next book.

I know that I want do something set during the late 17th century in Europe. It was an amazing time with huge changes in politics, culture, commerce and science, but there was just so much going on that I can’t seem to make up my mind and pic
Jan 23, 2009 WK rated it it was amazing

It's the Moby-Dick question.

The plot's about an angry guy chasing a whale. There's not a lot of variation on this theme: he catches it, or he doesn't. Maybe he catches it and wishes that he didn't, maybe he doesn't and regrets that he failed. But this basic plot, a straightforward quest for revenge, is such thin gruel that you'd have to be on the lower end of the intellectual spectrum to fail to realize that the book's about something a little bit more than hunting a big fish.

Even so, the
I received an unexpected visit yesterday evening from a Mr. Nosnehpets, who told me he was a time-traveller and writer from the early 25th century. He had just published a historical novel, and wondered if I would do him the service of reviewing it.

"Why me?" I asked, bemused.

"Well," replied my visitor with an insinuating smile, "You appear in it more than once. You don't know it yet, but you're one of your period's major authors."

I snatched the book, Mercury, from his hands, and it was even as h
Oct 27, 2015 Jamie rated it did not like it
I think it's official: I hate Neil Stephenson's books. I hated his so called cyberpunk classic Snow Crash --a fact that sets me apart from most of the nerdegalian-- and I really hated Quicksilver.

Quicksilver is kind of hard to classify, if you in fact insist on classifying it. It's kind of historical fiction in that it's set in the 17th and 18th century and follows the rise of empiricism and science. It features real people from that period, like Isaac Newton, Gotfried Leibniz, Robert Boyle, Rob
Mark Hebwood
Mar 13, 2014 Mark Hebwood rated it it was ok
Well. Where to start with this... Ok. Let us first pretend that there are only two criteria to use when analysing works of fiction, (1) number of characters and (2) richness of plot. Now let us say we are drawing a chart, with quality 1 on the horizontal axis, and quality 2 on the vertical axis. Now we have a space into which we can slot a few books lying around the house. A Dickens novel goes into the upper right quadrant of the grid - many characters and rich plot to bind them together. A Samu ...more
Stephen Dranger
Feb 25, 2009 Stephen Dranger rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: scientists, armchair philosophers, and people who like reading for the sake of reading
Reading a huge 900+ page hardcover book with a seemingly open plot filled with pages of 17th century philosophical exposition and the requirement of reading two more books just like it may seem like a chore, but for me at least, Stephenson makes it fascinating. He reveals (or invents, at the very least) the inner workings of Isaac Newton, early Dutch stock market fraud, the invention of the calculus, and Turkish harems. This all serves as a backdrop for Daniel Waterhouse, Jack Shaftoe, and Eliza ...more
meg Olson
Jul 16, 2007 meg Olson rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: anyone with infinite patience
The first third of the book was generally plodding and lacking in any interesting protagonists (and no, I don't care that the oh-so-clever-writer added in as many famous characters as he could think of, they were still generally annoying). The second third showed much more promise, and was actually really fun, until the very end when everything got awful. Not like The-Empire-Strikes-Back-second-act-as-many-bad-things-happen-as-possible awful, though I think that's what the author was aiming for. ...more
Nov 16, 2015 Liviu rated it it was amazing
complete reread of the novel (and of course continuing with the sequels) - while I greatly enjoyed it the first time I read the series (in 2008), this time I have appreciated it even more; epic, memorable characters, adventures, intrigue and the birth of the modern world set on the twin pillars of formalized rational inquiry - what we call now science and was once called natural philosophy - and capitalism which forces innovation - which for most history was strongly resisted by societies - by c ...more
Dan Schwent
Mar 03, 2009 Dan Schwent rated it did not like it
Shelves: sf
This was the book that knocked Neal Stephenson off of my "buy on sight" list. Too long, nothing happening, the first of three dauntingly large volumes. That about sums it up.
Reading this book was kind of like... spending an afternoon on a long walk through the countryside, with a kindly but eccentric uncle, who happens to be a brilliant historian. I could listen to his rambling anecdotes for hours... except at some point I realised that we'd been walking for so long... hypnotised by his voice... that I had grown several inches of beard...

It's a big book, but it's utterly fascinating and I loved it.

I have 40+ books sitting on my 'review-soon' shelf that I just don't
mark monday
Jul 11, 2009 mark monday rated it liked it
Shelves: into-the-past
it took me about a year to get through this one. somewhat worth it, and i will get around to the second and third books of this gargantuan trilogy eventually. i learned a lot about the philosopher-scientists and byzantine politics and what it actually was like to live in the tumultuous times depicted...and didn't learn a whole lot about the inner life of a couple of the central characters. but there are dozens and dozens of truly fascinating and wonderfully written passages depicting all sorts o ...more
Jan 15, 2009 Scott rated it liked it
Stephenson deserves an editor that will tell him to write less. The man prodigiously describes "cool" "fun" "interesting" events with such detail and precision that it usually loses its narrative flow. The guy has a command of the english language and is certainly fascinated by late 17th century and early 18th century goings-on that this feels like a historical narrative rather than historical fiction, yet the whole book feels like it was written in computer code; it is an odd stylistic quirk of ...more
Nov 23, 2013 Lightreads rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, historical
A long, meandering, Europe-trotting historical which alternates stretches of ponderous natural philosophy with stretches of hilarious piratical shenanigans, to somewhat dubious effect. I enjoyed this, the way you enjoy a book that you read in 100 page chunks over the span of a year, and it's worth noting that I could do that since there's very little throughline. But the thing is.

The thing is, Stephenson made a conscious choice to mix his oodles of historical research with a modern prose sensibi
Feb 10, 2011 William rated it did not like it
I loved Stephenson's "Snow Crash". Really liked "Cryptonomicon". But, this novel was terribly boring. It is divided into three books. Book 1 follows the scientist Dan Waterhouse. Book 2 followed Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds. Book 3 sees Eliza, a former slave girl, caught up in a spy ring between the French, English & Dutch governments. Sounds good, but it isn't. The writing is too long, and too detailed to remain focused on what should be important to the story...the story. I found my ...more
Charlie Huenemann
Jul 17, 2012 Charlie Huenemann rated it it was amazing
(This is a review of the whole Baroque Cycle.)

The saga ranges over the years 1640-1714 (roughly), following three principal characters: Daniel Waterhouse, a British natural philosopher and non-conformist; Eliza, a woman kidnapped from a remote British isle and abducted into the seraglio, who is later rescued and who subsequently makes her way into the court of Versailles and the world of high finance; and Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds, adventurer, galley slave, pirate, and symp
Stephanie Swint
Dec 16, 2014 Stephanie Swint rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Quicksilver is an interesting book-especially since you can be discussing two different books. Quicksilver is the first installment of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque cycle. It is a political and scientific monster delving into the 17th and 18th century. The first thing you need to know is that Quicksilver:Volume One is a combination of Quicksilver:Book 1, King of the Vagabonds: Book 2, and Odalesque: Book 3. If you purchase Quicksilver Volume 1 do not purchase the Books that are available in a solita ...more
Jan 16, 2009 Margo rated it did not like it
I bought this book because it said on the cover that it was a "New York Time Bestseller". How can this be? The paperback version is 916 pages and I got to page eight hundred and sixty something and then couldn't take it anymore. It was one of the most boring books I've ever read in my entire life. There were only a couple interesting characters and of course they had the shortest sections in the book. I could saved myself the hassle and only read the 100 or so pages that were semi interesting. I ...more
Sep 14, 2011 Terry rated it did not like it
Neal Stephenson needs an editor.

Also, it may be cute and even kind of interesting to write an historical fantasy novel using idioms and vernacular from the 20th century on purpose, but it just doesn't work for me.

And yeah, ok we get it Neal, you're really clever and know a bunch of stuff...that doesn't mean you need to reference every bit of it you can stuff into the books you write.

It's kind of dissapointing because the ideas and possibilities of where this book could have been going were reall
May 05, 2010 Robert rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
What a mess! This volume commits several heinous sins; the Sin of Protagonist Switching occurs twice. The Sin of Rambling Aimlessly occurs through out. The Sin of Being Pointless might possibly be redeemed in the remaining volumes...but can I be bothered to read them?

There are fun and exciting passages that account for the two star rating but they are islands floating on the structural swamp.
Jun 12, 2014 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of the most elaborate, detailed and wonderful books I've ever read and re-reading it was pure pleasure. If you want to be inspired by the 17th century, fall in love mathematics and science, or bedazzled by the sheer complexity of a world then this is book for you.
Jan 29, 2010 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: my wife
Shelves: read-fiction
This book is sort of like Woody Allen's “Zelig”, if the movie had been a gigantic doorstop of a book, if it had been set mostly in Europe in the years 1650 – 1713 instead of Great Depression-era America, and if it had had three Zeligs instead of one. OK, so, maybe they're not so similar, but still, like Zelig, the main characters flit from one great historical event to another, influential but unrecognized in life's rich pageant. The three Zelig-like characters are Daniel Waterhouse, Eliza, and ...more
Feb 23, 2012 Sandi marked it as lemmed
Shelves: sci-fi, cross-genre
I admit it. I have absolutely no desire to finish this book. I'm so very close to the end, but I stopped caring somewhere along the way. I really don't know what it is that keeps me from finishing it. Maybe it's because I only have about 120 pages left and I know that nothing's going to be resolved. Maybe it's because I've read 781 pages and have no idea what the heck is going on. Is there even a plot? Is this book about anything other than history? I can see why people do like it. In fact, I li ...more
He may be over it by now (as I have not read any of his more recent work), but I’m convinced that at the time he was writing Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle (of which Quicksilver is the first volume), the first thing Neal Stephenson did every morning right after getting out of bed was to shamble into the bathroom and stand there for ten minutes, just staring bleary-eyed into mirror and bemoaning his fate that it was not Thomas Pynchon looking back at him.

If with Cryptonomicon Stephenson trie
Nov 14, 2014 Jane rated it really liked it
Dear Mr. Stephenson,
I understand that when I pick up one of your voluminous novels, I am agreeing to travel through the written word on whatever meandering path you choose, with stops for quirky lectures from unlikely characters, descriptions of the proper way to eat Cap'n Crunch, or whatever else pops into your brain as you spin your tale. This book was no different, with particularly delightful episodes regarding Vagabond Jack Shaftoe who comes out sort of unscathed through most of his adventu
July 2009

Ah, Quicksilver. Where to begin? 17th century Europe and England, war, rebellion, political intrigue, religious strife, treason, murder, betrayal, plague, executions, slavery, thievery, exploration, alchemy, wealth, fame, power, adventure, and calculus. Whew. It's a massive book (three books, actually; the first three of eight, collected in three volumes, hence the term "Cycle") and an ambitious project on Stephenson's part, but most of the time it just feels ridiculously bloated.

I just finished reading this for the second time; I was loathe to dive into the Baroque Cycle again, because of the commitment involved: three volumes of nearly a thousand pages each, and you know how I feel about commitment.

But man is it great. So funny and clever and I learn SO MUCH (though since I'm learning nearly all of it all over again, clearly I didn't retain much the first time around.)

Uh, okay, quick synopsis? It takes place in the late seventeenth century, mostly in England, a bit in
Feb 25, 2009 Brooke rated it it was amazing
I went on a long Neal Stephenson kick a while back:

I finished reading Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson about a month ago. This book took me almost two months to finish reading because it is so freaking long and epic. I really love Neal Stephenson. I've also read Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash. I highly recommend reading Cryptonomicon before Quicksilver, because you get to have the pleasure of seeing the family names of characters that lived in the 20th century popping up in 17th century E
Kat  Hooper
Jan 06, 2011 Kat Hooper rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
I’m a scientist by profession and I love history. Thus, I’m fascinated by the history of science, especially the era of Isaac Newton et al. So, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver should be just my thing and I was fully expecting to love this book (it’s been on my list for years), but I’m sad to say that I was disappointed in this first installment of The Baroque Cycle, though I still have high hopes for the remaining books.

Quicksilver is well-researched and well-written and chock full of plenty of st
Aug 19, 2008 David rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: scientists, fans of historical fiction
So many people have already reviewed this book--so instead of a comprehensive review, I will only mention one of many truly memorable scenes. In a meeting of the Royal Society in London, various natural philosophers report on their recent findings, inventions and discoveries. The juxtaposition of banal reports with momentous discoveries is absolutely hilarious. I won't try to paraphrase it--the scene is lengthy--but this section is worth reading by any modern-day scientist. The point is that at ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • Air
  • The Difference Engine
  • The Mount
  • Look to Windward (Culture, #7)
  • Glasshouse
  • The Ringed Castle (The Lymond Chronicles, #5)
  • Cyberabad Days
  • Heavy Weather
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy
  • Viriconium
  • Iron Council (Bas-Lag, #3)
  • The Years of Rice and Salt
  • Felaheen
  • Take Back Plenty (Tabitha Jute, #1)
  • The Separation
Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem, and the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), as well as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
More about Neal Stephenson...

Other Books in the Series

The Baroque Cycle (3 books)
  • The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, #2)
  • The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, #3)

Share This Book

“Whenever serious and competent people need to get things done in the real world, all considerations of tradition and protocol fly out the window.” 93 likes
“Talent was not rare; the ability to survive having it was.” 51 likes
More quotes…