Mike's Reviews > Quicksilver

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
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Feb 06, 08

Recommended for: smart people
Read in February, 2008

I never thought I'd find a book with almost no discernable throughline so mind-blowingly compelling. Much like Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver serves to provide the author a vehicle for excitedly sharing his passions, among them cryptology and, in this case, 18th century European history. That I learned more about history from this book than my AP classes in high school is probably more damning of my past study habits than anything else, but Stephenson has a knack for making the canon of the past memorable through nuanced detail and humor. His depiction of the dawn of modern scientific inquiry, wild and messy, is as illuminating as it is fascinating.

Quicksilver's characters are, as we'd expect from Stephenson, intellectuals and nerds (or proto-nerds of the early Enlightenment) who serve mostly as behind-the-scenes facilitators of major historical figures (e.g. Newton, William of Orange). Keeping the fictional characters on the sidelines was presumably a necessity, as Stephenson was obviously constrained by history itself. He nonetheless creates an engrossing tale within the nooks and crannies of the past's canon.

Special praise should be given to the various misadventures of the character Jack Shaftoe, which constitute some of the most hysterically fun stories I've ever encountered. It's nice to find that mega-intellectual uber-polymath Stephenson also has a sense of fun.

And there are still two more books to go!
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