Chris's Reviews > The System of the World

The System of the World by Neal Stephenson
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's review
Oct 01, 11

Read from August 13 to September 26, 2011

By now, any reader of the Baroque Cycle knows what they are in store for, and is going to read the third volume regardless of any review, but herein I shall make a few points...

This book starts out slow. I mean slooooow. The last that we saw Daniel Waterhouse in the 18th Century, it was in Quicksilver's back-and-forth storytelling between the 1600s (young Daniel) and 1700s (older Daniel) when he was visited by one Enoch Root, made his way onto the Minerva, and manoeuvered around Cape Cod to get away from attacking pirates on some errand that we did not understand, having not read about his backstory (or future-story, in the earlier timeline). Now we find Daniel on a carriage-ride across England.

I think that Stephenson did this on purpose, to drag out how things felt for Daniel: slow. The book starts at least a decade after The Confusion. The reader understands that things have happened in the meantime, but it has been slow, not at the ragged edge like the events described in the previous volumes. This picks up, nearly exponentially, as the game is set for Daniel's investigations and maneuvers wtih Newton and Liebniz, with Eliza's machinations and intrigue, and with Jack's schemes and plots. Let's just say, the page turning got better and better.

I noted that, at the end of The Confusion, the book pulled a viscerally emotion reaction out of me. The same is said here, the frantic pace of the the attack on The Tower, and the events pushing through the end of the volume were written so well, so deeply, and paced so perfectly as to really draw the reader into be involved and really vested- not just intellectually, but emotionally.

Stephenson is a master. Throughout the three volumes he spins out many different lines and plots that all (all!) seem to get wrapped up in specific ways, and all well done. Some lines were so intricate that I thought that they were the crux of the entire Cycle, but were resolved handedly well before the terminus. The actual fulcrum of the Cycle is much grander than anyone plot line, even though we find grand resolution at the end, it's the broad scope and many ideas presented in.

It's hard to describe the entire Baroque Cycle's depth, scope, and grandeur, and how The System of the World encapsulates it so decidedly. There is no easy way to browse the books or try-it-out. One has to summarily decide to read the entirety, no easy feat, but the reader is well, well rewarded for the effort.

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Reading Progress

08/14/2011 page 1
0.0% "10 years later..."
08/26/2011 page 121
13.0% "This whole bit about Daniel running around London, a little slow after Jack's exploits in the last book. Points for the veague Tolkien reference, though, "... he looked a dwarf out of some Sazon ring-saga." I see what you did there..."
09/03/2011 page 289
32.0% "Reading Scotish-accent English in a book slows page turning substantially."
09/09/2011 page 378
42.0% "Now that you mention it, the idea of "currency" deriving from the word for "flow" does put intention behind a monetary system that one does not get with a simpler coinage..."
09/14/2011 page 583
64.0% "At times, the book was ravishingly slow, to a point that it was probably intentional. But when Stephenson opens it up, the writing has a pace and rhythm that can be felt physically, implicitly. When he decides it's time for Jack to come to a head with one of the book's nemesis, oh, it's a viceral page-turner. It boggles my mind to comprehend how the scope, temporal and philosophical, ever came into Stephenson's head."
09/15/2011 page 627
69.0% "Peter the Great gives, who the reader presumes to be, King Solomon a full-blown noogie. Indeed!"

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