Clif Hostetler's Reviews > Quicksilver

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
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Jun 13, 11

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read from June 06 to 11, 2011

I am beginning the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. Check this link for further explanation regarding this eight book series. This is a review of the first book, Quicksilver (not the three book volume of the same title).

This is a historical novel with two parallel story lines, one following the fictional Daniel Waterhouse as a young man in the late 17th Century and the other framing narrative following him as an old man in 1713 as he remembers his earlier life. Daniel as a young man was a close acquaintance of both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. Forty years later in 1713, Waterhouse who is now living in colonial Massachusetts has been asked to return to England to attempt to resolved the bitter dispute between Newton and Leibniz regarding credit for the creation of calculus mathematics.

In the 1713 narrative Waterhouse boards a ship leaving Boston harbor which runs into an extended encounter with pirates, including Edward Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard). During the midst of these adventures he remembers his earlier years, thus the earlier 17th Century narrative.

In the earlier story line we learn that Waterhouse was a member of The Royal Society and rubbed shoulders with what seems like every conceivable historical personage in politics and natural philosophy at the time. He was mentored by John Wilkins, founder of the Royal Society. He was a roommate of Isaac Newton's at Cambridge. He had extended conversations with the young Leibniz. He worked as an assistant to Robert Hooke in his scientific experiments. In other words, he was at the core of the beginning of advances in scientific and mathematical thinking during the Enlightenment era.

I thoroughly enjoyed Stephenson's description of time, place and historical characters. He does plant some fictional items in the story that correlate with his novel, Cryptonomicon, which is set in the 20th Century. This is a link to my review of Cryptonomicon. Stephenson has characterized the Baroque Cycle as science fiction due to the presence of some anomalous occurrences and the emphasis on themes relating to science and technology. That may be true, but I experienced to book primarily as historical fiction.

An interesting quotation:
“... are you suggesting that those who study natural philosophy can acquire some kind of occult knowledge--special insight into God’s Creation, not available to the common Bible-reading man?”
“Er...I suppose that’s quite clearly what I’m suggesting.”
Drake nodded. “That is what I thought. Well, God gave us brains for a reason--not to use those brains would be a sin.”


Some links that may be of interest:
LINK TO Wikipedia article about the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of King of the Vagabonds (Bk. 2) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Odalisque (Bk. 3) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of The Confusion (Bks. 4 & 5) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Solomon's Gold (Bk. 6) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Currency (Bk. 7) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of System of the World (Bk. 8) by Neal Stephenson.
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message 1: by Mari (new)

Mari I was looking at his work in the bookstore today. You've persuaded me to give it a try. Looking at your reviews, you give 5 stars very sparingly.


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