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The Baroque Cycle #3

The System of the World

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The System of the World, the third and concluding volume of Neal Stephenson's shelf-bending Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver and The Confusion), brings the epic historical saga to its thrilling - and truly awe-inspiring - conclusion.

Set in the early 18th century and featuring a diverse cast of characters that includes alchemists, philosophers, mathematicians, spies, thieves, pirates, and royalty, The System of the World follows Daniel Waterhouse, an unassuming philosopher and confidant to some of the most brilliant minds of the age, as he returns to England to try and repair the rift between geniuses Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. After reluctantly leaving his family in Boston, Waterhouse arrives in England and is almost killed by a mysterious Infernal Device. Having been away from the war-decimated country for two decades, Waterhouse quickly learns that although many things have changed, there is still violent revolution simmering just beneath the surface of seemingly civilized society. With Queen Anne deathly ill and Tories and Whigs jostling for political supremacy, Waterhouse and Newton vow to figure out who is trying to kill certain scientists and decipher the riddle behind the legend of King Solomon's gold, a mythical hoard of precious metal with miraculous properties.

Arguably one of the most ambitious -- and most researched -- stories ever written, Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is set in one of the most turbulent and exciting times in human history. Filled with wild adventure, political intrigue, social upheaval, civilization-changing discoveries, cabalistic mysticism, and even a little romance, this massive saga is worth its weight in (Solomon's) gold.
Paul Goat Allen

908 pages, Paperback

First published September 21, 2004

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About the author

Neal Stephenson

105 books25k followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 732 reviews
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,750 followers
July 30, 2011
(Excerpt from the journal of Neal Stephenson.)

So here I am, trying to wrap up the last book of the The Baroque Cycle. This thing has gotten completely out of control. I knew it’d be huge when I planned it, but this story has sprawled everywhere. What the hell was I thinking? Any one of the story threads I’ve had going could be a fair sized novel in itself. Now I gotta gather them all up and try to come up with some kind of coherent ending. I’m not going to have a fan left if I don’t wrap this up well.

Deep breath. OK, where are we at and what do I need to do to finish this damn thing?

* The main story has finally reached 1714 so at least I don’t have to keep flash forwarding to an older Daniel Waterhouse going back to England after leaving Massachusetts.

* Daniel is returning to England to try and settle the dispute between Isaac Newton and Leibniz over who invented the calculus, but I want him to get wrapped up in political intrigue about who would succeed Queen Anne.

* I also want Daniel to lay some of the groundwork for the upcoming Industrial Revolution by getting involved with the invention of an early mining pump. (Side note: The Engine for Raising Water by Fire sounds cool!)

* Time to ramp up all this business about the legendary gold of King Solomon. I also need to tie that back to the ageless Enoch Root. That’s my sci-fi element that’ll keep the geeks turning pages in a European historical fiction.

* When I left off, Jack Shaftoe was being blackmailed by the king of France to go to England and destroy confidence in the currency being overseen by the new master of the mint, Isaac Newton. But Jack doesn’t know that Isaac is obsessed with King Solomon’s gold and only took the job so that he can get gold from around the world brought to him to find it. And Isaac doesn’t know that his counterfeiting nemesis Jack already has the Solonomic gold.

* Eliza is going to have less to do in this one, but I’ll have her increasing her anti-slavery efforts.

* I’m going to let Daniel and Isaac Newton play detective when trying to track down Jack by giving some fun history of how people used to have to do their own prosecutions and hire ‘thief-takers’ to track down criminals.

* It’ll be a cool twist late in the book when Daniel goes from hunting criminals to plotting some major criminal projects.

* Shit. I’ve also got to work in the stuff about Leibniz and Daniel trying to build a ‘logic mill’ for Peter the Great in Russia. Can I work the gold into that? Make it so that everyone is trying to get their hands on it?

* Some random things I want to include also include a duel between two men fought with cannons instead of pistols, clockwork phosphorus bombs, an assault on the Tower of London and a coach chase through the streets.

* I also got to give the readers some idea of the fate of the approximately 1137 supporting characters I’ve introduced in this.

Damn, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Fortunately, I’m a genius so it shouldn’t be a problem. But I’ll give my fans a break after this. No big giant books with multiple plot lines. Something short and simple. Although I do have this idea for a new language……
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,671 followers
November 27, 2018
“It has been my view for some years that a new System of the World is being created around us. I used to suppose that it would drive out and annihilate any older Systems. But things I have seen recently, in the subterranean places beneath the Bank, have convinced me that new Systems never replace old ones, but only surround and encapsulate them, even as, under a microscope, we may see that living within our bodies are animalcules, smaller and simpler than us, and yet thriving even as we thrive."
-- Neal Stephenson, The System of the World


Solomon's Gold (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3, Book 1)

“On the contrary, my lord...there is nothing quite so civilized as to be recognized in public places as the author of books no one has read.”
- Neal Stephenson, The Baroque Cycle, Vol 3, Book 1

I can feel the end of this series closing in. The sixth book of this series, nested, like a Russian doll inside of Volume 3 (The System of the World) centers primarily on Daniel Waterhouse. Daniel has been summoned back to England to act as a middle-man (or a narrative bridge?) between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz concerning the invention of Calculus. Someone tries to kill him with an infernal device (mechanical bomb). The book ends with Jack Shaftoe (aka Jack the Coiner) attempting a heist of the Tower of London where Netwon is the "Warden" and later "Master" of the Royal Mint. Newton has been using this role at the Royal Mint to standardize the guinea, but also to to search for Solomon's lost gold.

The book tends to bend easily between swashbuckling adventure and nerdy historical/light scifi fiction. It is dense in parts, but it is hard to not respect Stephenson's ability to weave the real with the almost supernatural and the outrageous. I'm constantly entertained by The Baroque Cycle but the charm is starting to tarnish a bit and I'm ready for this almost literary adventure/ride
to end.

Currency (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3, Book 2)

“For most of the day and night, time oppresses me. It is only when I am at work on the innards of a clock-or a lock-that time stops."
- Neal Stephenson, The Currency


Stephenson continues the last volume (The System of the World) of his Baroque trilogy with Book 7: "Currency". Like in Book 6, Solomon's Gold, "Currency" is primarily focused on Daniel Waterhouse trying to track down Jack Shaftoe (or Jack the Counterfeiter) who is making England's money financially dubious by messing with the Pyx (and hence putting ALL of England's currency at risk). Isaac Newton is helping Daniel Waterhouse track down Jack, both because as the Master of the Mint his reputation (and head) are at risk. But he is also motivated because as an alchemist he suspects that Jack Shaftoe has some of Solomon's gold. While all of this is going on Eliza is trying to help Princess Caroline survive the inevitable succession issues that will develop (including assassination attempts) once Queen Anne dies.

This has probably been the least "exciting" of the novels, but like any long work (eventually, the Baroque Cycle will clock in at about 2650 pages) there are bound to be parts of a work that float down the narrative current rather than quant down. Still, I did enjoy it.

The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3, Book 3)

““We are all up to something”
- Neal Stephenson, The Baroque Cycle, Vol 3, Book 3

This is the end. Beautiful end. Assayed. The end. The eighth and final book of this series, which also shares the same name as the final volume of this series: (The System of the World). This final book in an eight book series is driven largely by two large and parallel events (the corronation of King George is a mere distraction). First, the hanging of Jack Shaftoe. Second, the Trial of the Pyx (and by proxy, a trial of Sir Isaac Newton). There are other events: the spiriting away of Solomon's gold, the escape of Jack's sons and Dappa (the First mate of the Minerva who ends up caught in a funky antislavery campaign against Charles White (one of the many villians of the book), the death of Roger Comstock (and other deaths ane ressurrections).

Anyway, I enjoyed how Stephenson wrapped this up. It is weird thinking that these three volumes:
1. Quicksilver
2. The Confusion
3. The System of the World

are all essentially prequels to: Cryptonomicon. I enjoyed the dance. It might have been one volume too much. Reading Stephenson, some days, does feel a bit like Peine forte et dure. How about just one more volume? That said, I did read all of the diaries of Samuel Pepys, so I am a glutton for the English Restoration period. I found this a fantastic (often literally FANTASTIC) way of examining the period and systems of science and religion and politics during this period. Obviously, much of the specifics are fiction, but many of the things floating like mouches volantes are grounded in facts. Sometimes, the best way to learn history is not to read it, but to play with it a bit; bend it and examine it under unusual lights and in different heats.
Profile Image for Sud666.
1,920 reviews156 followers
July 2, 2021
With "The System of the World", Neal Stephenson finishes the Baroque Cycle. While the title does refer to Issac Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica", the third chapter of which is named the same. But, in the context of the entire story, it refers to quite a few different changes in the various systems from economic to scientific.

As with most Stephenson books, this is a series that not all will enjoy. His writing style, while always entertaining and full of dry with, tends to lean towards the dense and there is a great deal of information being presented. Some heady ideas are simplified by using the story to explain how modern finance systems work. Does this sound awful? Fret not, there is far more to the story.

The story rounds out with Dr. Waterhouse returning to England to stop the dispute between Newton and Leibniz over calculus. As this is happening, the nearly-indestructible Jack Shaftoe has decided to steal from the Bank of England.

There is also the issue of who will be the next King of England going on behind all of this. What Stephenson has done is tell the tale (throughout this trilogy) of a world slowly embracing the modern world. From science to financial markets, the "System of the world" is changing, and using the characters, Stephenson takes us on a journey through what might be rather a boring explanation of why current financial systems and current mathematical systems exist.

There are a lot of heady ideas in here. It is also a witty story. This third book wasn't quite as good as the other two, but is still heads and shoulders above what most authors can write. A book full of grand ideas and the end of a truly epic story. Jack Shaftoe has earned my respect.
5 reviews2 followers
September 18, 2007
I am doing this as a review for the Baroque cycle altogether, so don't bother reading the reviews for the other two if you are reading this one.

The Baroque cycle is a massive, epic, depressingly wide reaching body of creative work which, I believe, has made several well respected fantasy/sci-fi novelists give up and go home. If it hasn't, it definitely should. It's just so.... big. And while there are a lot of authors who have written large things (the Lord of the Rings, the Wheel of Time, a Song of Fire and Ice, etc., etc., etc.) most of them at some point get a little bogged down, lose their way, can't keep track of what everyone's doing, or just get so damn large in scope that they write a thousand pages and nothing happens. The Baroque cycle never runs into any of those things. Really it reads kind of like a single 4,000 page novel. And it's so damn clever! Definitely don't read it before reading Cryptonomicon, despite the fact that the story comes first chronologically. There is a damn good reason Stephenson wrote the books in the order he did. For more on this, see the Narnia books. It will take you a long time to read, there will be moments when you just can't believe you read parts of it right, but if you stick with it you will not be disappointed. Personally gauranteed.
Profile Image for Marijan Šiško.
Author 1 book64 followers
September 12, 2016
Sve što je započeto dvije (ili pet) knjiga unazad, ovdje je zaokruženo i privedeno kraju. malo je više filozofije i metafizike, malo je ograničenija geografija, pa zato dajem četvorku. Ali cijeli ciklus mi je petica, toliko detalja, toliko likova, toliko udubljivanja u duh vremena...fantastično
Profile Image for Max Nemtsov.
Author 171 books472 followers
December 29, 2019
Все же вера персонажей в постижимость мира у Стивенсона поразительна — пусть хоть через сто лет, но все наладится, не раз говорят его ученые герои. Автор, конечно, отчаст�� лукавит, приписывая им такой модус мышления, ибо сам прекрасно знает, что случится потом и куда заведет пытливое человечество эта самая тяга даже не столько постигать, сколько стремиться исчерпывающе описать мироздание в понятных для себя терминах. То есть — по необходимости эту поначалу вполне умозрительную и сложную Систему Мира упрощать и подгонять под себя.
Ну и тема денег, конечно. В этой части ценность их окончательно — и вполне зримо — смещается в сторону напечатленной на них информации, чем окончательно закрепляется переход к основам современной финансовой системы (которая одновременно служит и для обозначения этой самой, не вполне Ньютоновой Системы Мира). Но вот это уже пускай изучают экономисты, пожалуйста.
Я же хочу немного о другом. Последний том эпоса-пикарески не разочаровывает тех, кто до него добирается (меня, в данном случае). Потому что вся трилогия (октология? хотя на самом деле романов в ней больше, чем обозначено на титуле) — прекрасный образец географии воображения, где можно затеряться очень надолго (я вот — на несколько месяцев с перерывали, потому что см. выше — романов, которые можно охватить умом за раз, там больше, чем титульных частей). Одна из задач… нет, не то слово — один из признаков по-настоящему хорошей литературы — в частности, приключенческой — дать читателю возможность пресловутого побега, но не в смысле эскапистского «от реальности» (окружающее сейчас не располагает к любви, это правда, но у меня, конкретного читателя, все хорошо, спасибо что уточнили). Я имею в виду побег как путешествие на машине времени/пространства, возможность побывать в тех местах и эпохах, где нас не было и мы б не могли оказаться. Такова может быть творческая сила хорошего писателя, это азбучная истина, вообще-то. Она позволяет нам поселиться в этих местах и временах, обосноваться, присвоить эти миры. Щедрый Стивенсон своей трилогией (ок, ок) дарит нам почти полмира и почти полвека — в полное наше владение и удовольствие.
Profile Image for Steve.
128 reviews99 followers
September 28, 2009
Well, I'm now officially depressed. I finished reading the Baroque Cycle. To say that I enjoyed reading the series would be to stretch the word "enjoyed" to the breaking point. It would be rolling the word "enjoyed" off to the juicing room. It would be hanging the word "enjoyed" until half dead, and then drawing and quartering the word "enjoyed" by four sturdy teams of horses, in the hopes that somewhere in the process "enjoyed" would choose to reveal the location of its ringleader, a much more powerful verb, more thoroughly capable of conveying the intricacies of the action. One might imagine a brutal member of the Spanish inquisition leaning over the word "enjoyed", asking it "Who taught you these heresies? Was it 'relished'? 'Savored'? Perhaps it was 'adored'?" Here the inquisitor looks down at his documents, "My friend Thesaurus suggests that you work for 'cherished'! Is it 'cherished'?!"

Lest I belabor the point a bit too long, I'll suffice to say that the series kept me absolutely enthralled, this last book somehow doing this with greater fervor than its predecessors, and move to the reasons that this was so:

1. What I like to affectionately label "Holy Shit Moments". The definition of such a moment is simple: When the moment comes, the audience (in this case, the reader), is likely to exclaim "Holy shit!" or some similar outburst. System of the World is full of them, and they are a diverse lot.

2. This book has something for everyone. While perhaps less so than in The Confusion, there were buckles to be swashed. There was much political intrigue. This is true in the pure sense of some truly epic politicking between the Tories and the Whigs, but also in more colloquial Survivor-secret-alliance senses as well. The general trend of scientific and philosophical endeavors continued in this book as well. There's romance, action, mystery, very much in abundance.

3. Rewarding payoffs. You look for these towards the end of a series. Lots of loose ends to be tied up nicely, lots of characters who need their minor (inconsequential?) arcs tied up. Jerks that need to get killed (you hope). This book ties up the series pretty darn flawlessly, with positive resolutions and negative resolutions distributed amongst the various plotlines in generally pleasing ways, albeit at times in predictable ones, if you are familiar with the historical period.

4. Neal Stephenson is very observant, and has a way of utilizing these observations to great effect. A common praise giving to stand up comedians is that "he's saying what we're all thinking", due to their ability to point out the oddities of society so well. Stephenson's ability to do so (not always for humorous purposes) is phenomenal.

I've already got one person to add the Baroque cycle to their to-read list, and I've got a non good reads user started as well (with two more in the wings). I think this series is right up there with The Game of Thrones and Bridge of Birds now as my go to recommendation. It's that good. Read it. Read it now.

(starting with these quotes):

"Mr. Threader was a meat tabula rasa, like the exposed cliff of a roast beef left by the carver's knife" (p. 18). If you can think of a better way to describe someone as nondescript, I'd like to hear it.

"How many sheep in England? And not just in January 1714, but in all the millennia before? Why had the island not sunk into the sea under the weight of sheep-bones and sheep-teeth? Possibly because their wool was exported--mostly to Holland--which was in fact sinking into the sea! Q.E.D." (p. 20-1).

"All salvaged, not because they had innate value, but because they'd been given to the Royal Society by important people. They'd been kept here just as a young couple keeps the ugly wedding present from the rich aunt" (p. 64).

"'Its badness is proof of my sincerity,' Roger said modestly. 'If I wrote her an excellent love-poem, it might be said of me, that I had done it only to flaunt my wit'" (p. 71-2).

"Then he got a look on his face as if he were thinking. Daniel had learned, in his almost seventy years, not to expect much of people who got such looks, because thinking really was something one ought to do all the time" (p. 168).

"Which only went to show that Englishmen could live anywhere. Condemn an Englishman to hell, and he'd plant a bed of petunias and roll out a nice bowling-green on the brimstone" (p. 200).

"If Daniel and Pie were close together both in position and velocity, then pie-eating became a practical, and tempting, possibility. If Pie were far asunder from Daniel or moving at a large relative velocity--e.g. being hurled at his face--then its pie-ness was somehow impaired, at least from the Daniel frame of reference" (p. 457).

"Myself, I am comfortable with the notion that we are Machines made of Meat, and there's no more free will in us than there is in a cuckoo-clock, and that the spirit, soul, or whatever you want to call it, is a faery-tale" (p. 679).

"But that was one of those errands that, if not achieved in the first twelve hours, would remain undone centuries later. And, as all of this was shewing, the fetching-out of these three items had long since ossified into a ceremony" (p. 830).

"The Old Testament [reading:] is a length of black grosgrain ribbon that takes him into the type of passage whose sole purpose, in a Christian service, is to demonstrate just how much trouble we would all be in, if we were still Jews" (p. 833).

"To be hanged bu the neck until dead is one thing; but to be forced to listen to a reading from the Old Testament twice, why, that is not only Unusual but Cruel" (p. 834).
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,241 reviews627 followers
November 16, 2015
finished the reread of System of the World and I won't add too much beyond what i wrote in 2008 when i first read the series; less flamboyant and mostly following a 67-68 year old Daniel back in England for the momentous year 1714, but with lots of twists and turns and great appearances from Jack and Eliza

(review on first read 2008) Superb ending - in all senses of the word - to the Baroque trilogy and a must for people who love historical fiction a la Dumas or D. Dunnett. The light sf-nal elements of the trilogy disappointed purists, but so what - the modern world which Mr. Stephenson accurately in my opinion claims that started with Newton and Leibniz is as sf-nal and improbable as any sf novel, so this extraordinary description in 3000 pages of that beginning is a masterpiece.

And of course we get to say farewell to Jack, Eliza, and all the characters in a true historical romance fashion...
Profile Image for Laura L. Van Dam.
Author 2 books133 followers
July 16, 2017
Después de 6 años, terminé de leer esta trilogía complejísima e inclasificable donde hay personajes y sucesos de toda laya. Por momentos se fue por las ramas, y no entendí mucho hacia donde apuntaban todas esas tramas y subtramas.
Finalmente, después de lo que me parece una vida, llegó la conclusión, más que satisfactoria, de la saga. Este último tramo me pareció el mejor de los tres volúmenes. La lectura se me hizo lenta porque la verdad no es una obra que se pueda leer de un tirón. Requirió de mi parte mucha atención y en algunos momentos tuve que volver atrás para clarificar aspectos de la historia que me resultaban confusos (sobre todo de la primera parte, que tengo menos fresca en la memoria por haberla leído en 2011-2012). Leer a Stephenson es un ejercicio de paciencia y disciplina, pero la recompensa lo vale.
Me sorprende cómo este hombre puede escribir una historia tan complicada y que luego el final junte todo para que termine de esta forma tan redonda. Me saco el sombrero.
Gracias, señor Stephenson.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,656 reviews275 followers
March 15, 2020

Last spring, Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Fall, or, Dodge in Hell was released. I bought the hardcover right away ( I always buy his books), but it sat on the shelf.

I am a committed fan of this author. I read Snow Crash, his third book, in 2004 and was impressed!

Great characters, exciting plot. Since I had not yet read William Gibson, I thought it was he who had invented cyber-punk. Actually, as it turns out, they both did. In 1984!

I went on to read The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon. Always lagging a decade behind. Both were amazing.

In 2008, Books Expo America was held in Los Angeles. I got to meet Neal in person. He is a tiny, short, rail thin man with a beard, an elf! I picked up an ARC of Anathem, released 9/2008. He signed my copy. He seemed quite the introvert who practiced social distancing as a life style though he has always kept a strong web presence.

I have still not read Anathem, but was inspired by meeting him and began his Baroque Cycle. I read Quicksilver and was exhilarated to find descendants of Cryptonomicon characters Jack Shaftoe and Daniel Waterhouse, not to mention Enoch Root, back in the late 1600s. Also I met my favorite female character ever, Eliza of Qwghlm.

If you have not read these books, I may have lost you by now. If you have, I hope you are reliving the wonder of it all.

The Baroque Cycle consists of three volumes, each of which is well over 800 pages. Set in the late 1600s and early 1700s in England, France and all over the known world in those times, the books trace the transformation of Europe away from the Dark Ages and into rational, scientific systems of government and finance.

That might sound ponderous and boring. It is not! The Thirty Years War, the discovery of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gotfried Leibniz, the effects of alchemy on science, the explosion of gold and slavery due to the expansion of the New World, and more, are given the Alexander Dumas (Count of Monte Cristo) treatment.

A mind boggling cast of characters engage in unlimited adventures: Kings and Queens, Dukes and Lords, pirates, Royal Society geeks and The King of the Vagabonds, Jack Shaftoe fill the pages. By the end of the three books the system we now spend time navigating and fighting, that is Banking, has been born.

As I finished my reading year of 2019, feeling like I had run and won a marathon by reading 156 books, I caught my breath and determined to read in 2020 as many as I could of the long, I mean really long, books I had been putting off. Forget quantity. Read those tomes.

So, in January I reread Quicksilver. I did love it the first time but did not think I had entirely understood it. I have to thank the late Dorothy Dunnett and the two of her intricate historical novels I read not too long ago (The Game of Kings and Queen's Play), for showing me how to read such things. In fact, Neal acknowledges her as an influence.

In February, I reread the second book of the Baroque Cycle, The Confusion, about which I recalled nothing but feeling confused after reading it in 2012. I am pretty sure I assimilated it this time.

My conclusion after the second reading: Many people these days think or worry that the world is getting worse. I think human beings on Earth have always led a mostly insane course, with a few who work towards acquiring knowledge as a means of creating a just civilization. What we see going on now is still following both of those trajectories.

This month I read, for the first time, the third volume, The System of the World. I was for it ready now. All immersed in the history and the characters, I was dying to find out if Newton and Liebniz would ever resolve their differences, if Jack and Eliza would ever make up, and what would become of the long suffering Daniel Waterhouse.

The conflicts and plots and mostly gruesome adventures of these characters continue in this volume without respite. Queen Anne of England (did you watch "The Favourite" last year?) meets her demise and is succeeded by King George I. Great Britain, Europe and the world will move forward and never be the same. The System of the World, as we now know it, has been born.

As for Eliza, Jack, Newton and Leibniz, you will have to read the books yourself.

On this 14th day of March, 2020, as the world stays home and watches pantries empty, gets bored, tries to quell anxiety as best we can, I give you probably the longest post I have ever written. I hope it has helped fill some time for you.

If you have too much time on your hands, all of the Neal Stephenson books I have mentioned are available as ebooks and audio books, not to mention real books. You will be whisked away to times much different than ours and yet feel rather at home. The great conflict between reason and madness continues.

I look forward to reading that signed copy of Anathem in April.
Profile Image for Phil.
1,550 reviews90 followers
December 1, 2021
The last volume in Stephenson's epic Baroque Cycle is, like the previous volumes, at times brilliant and occasionally tedious, but does serve to round out the immense trilogy nicely. The first volume, Quicksilver started off with Daniel Waterhouse (the main protagonist of the series) receiving a note from Enoch Root in Cambridge, Mass, that implored him to return to England. Waterhouse had established M.I.T in Cambridge and was working on his 'logic engine' (some sort of proto computer); after a brief tussle with Blackbeard, he arrives in England. After that opening, NS takes us back in time, roughly 50 years or so, with Daniel becoming a flatmate of Issac Newton. We are treated to the 25 year struggle among England, France and Holland, and the internal political struggles in England itself, as told from a wide cast of characters and POVs. Besides the political struggles, NS also explores the creation of modern financial systems and the establishment of the Bank of England...

TSOTW picks up right were the intro of the first volume left off, with Waterhouse returning to England in 1714. 'Half-cock' Jack, the king of the Vagabonds (and an array of other titles), whose adventures were the primary subject of the second volume, has also returned to England, this time with a 'mandate' if you will from the King of France to undermine the currency of England, which is under the supervision of Issac Newton. While TSOTW lacks the swashbuckling adventure of the second volume, it digs much deeper into the matter of national currency and the political intrigues of the Whigs and Tories, where the Whigs represent 'progress' and enlightenment and the Tories quest for a return to the days of a strong, Catholic monarch...

As a whole, the Baroque Cycle is truly impressive and the research required for it must have been immense. NS does play a little fast and loose with the characters involved; this is historical fiction for the most part after all. The introduction of fantasy elements was really secondary, however. We do have the mysterious Enoch Root and the 'heavy' King Solomon gold floating around, but this just serves to add a little twist to the overall story. I was a little disappointed that NS left so many loose ends, however. We never did learn about Root and what and why he was doing what he was doing or why Blackbeard was going after Daniel when he left the Colonies, but so be it.

Reading the Baroque cycle requires some time and patience. I blew through the first volume, the second felt more like a chore at times, and during the third volume, I took a break before coming back to finish it. Would I recommend this trilogy? Maybe. If you have an interest in 17th and 18th politics in Europe, and/or an interest in the origins of finance, modern banking and national currencies, then yes. Myself, being something of a nerd and possessing an interest in economic history, I really enjoyed the series. The political intrigues were just icing on the cake, but they covered an important epoch of modern history also; the gradual formation of republics rather than divine monarchs in Europe guided by enlightenment principles.

Besides this, the philosophical discussions and issues were also a pleasure, at least they were for me. The highlight of the last volume was the philosophical showdown if you will between Newton and Leibnitz, but throughout the series, NS explored in detail the creation of new empirical scientific methods, which in the end resulted in the first steam engine here ('a machine to lift water by fire' or some such).

All of this stated, NS can be very frustrating at times. Did we really need so many characters to tell this story? I often felt that the series contained aspects of brilliance interspersed with long, meandering asides that slowed the pace dramatically. Yes, we did get to see the 'real' world at the time, warts and all, from these wanderings, but all the subplots and characters at times felt excessive.

In conclusion, I thought the first volume was the best, the second one had some typical 'place-holder' issues in the series, and the last one a bit of a mix. 3.5 Solomon gold stars, rounding up due to the philosophical showdown!
Profile Image for Nicholas Whyte.
4,601 reviews176 followers
October 21, 2007

Any Man, when he shall have completed a Taſk, be it one which he has aſsigned to Himſelf, or an Impoſition from ſome external Party, may experience a certain Euphoria. I write here of two such Taſks which have been completed, videlicet, primo, the Exertions of Master STEPHENSON in writing the Series of Romances, commencing with Cryptonomicon and continued in Quickſilver, The Confuſion, and the Volume here under Conſideration; and secundo, my own Expenditure of Time, Money, Energy and Loſt Sleep in reading them.

It has oft been obſerved that I am a Swift Reader. It is my Wont or Habit to complete the Peruſal of a Volume, whoſe Pages may number Ten-Score or thereabouts, in two Nights of Reading in my Bed; or if it be Saturday or the Lord's Day, to read two or three ſuch over the Week-End. Even The Brothers Karamazov, that Renowned Tale penned by the Ruſsian Savant DOSTOIEFFSKY, detained me only a Week, though its Pages number more than a Thouſand. Completing my Study of The Syſtem of the World has required near a Fort'night; yet it is more than an Hundred Pages ſhorter than the Ruſsian Work. I confeſs, I would fain have left the Book untouched upon my Book-Shelf ſome months longer, but was Stirred to read it by my Compariſon of the unread Volumes in my Library with thoſe marked as "unread" by the Clients of Master SPALDING's Electronick Catalog.

Even the ſympathetic Reader of Master STEPHENSON's works muſt ſurely wiſh that ſome-body in the Publiſhing-Houſe, responſible for the Preparation of his Novels, might have urged him to diſtil the Text to a more concentrated Quality. The Story is an Engaging Tale: the Culmination of the Journeys through Life of the three chief Perſonæ of previous Volumes, videlicet, Dr DANIEL WATERHOUSE, the Rogue JACK SHAFTOE, and the Ducheſs ELIZA of ARCACHON-QWLGHM. The Situation of theſe three, and many Others, is in the Year of Grace 1714, and encompaſses the Paſsing of Her Late Majeſty, Queen ANNE, and the Acceſsion to the Throne of Great-Britain and Ireland of the Electoral Prince GEORGE of Hanover. The Chief Strand of the Narrative concerns the Integrity of the Currency of England, as adminiſtered by the Maſter of the Royal Mint, Sir ISAAC NEWTON; we see much of him, and of other Perſonalities, including Baron VON LEIBNITZ, with whom NEWTON engages in lengthy and unexciting Philoſophick Debate, and (more briefly) the Musician Mr HANDEL, who aſsists in the Slaughter of a Rogue, by Uſe of a Violon-Cello as Fatal Inſtrument, in a Thrilling Paſsage. The Atmoſphere of London, Hanover, and other Locations of the Era is conveyed to the Reader with Conviction. But I wiſhed it had not been ſo long.

It is no doubt the Caſe, that this Book will be bought - indeed, has already been bought - by thoſe Readers whoſe Habit it is, to peruſe Works of that Genre known to ſome as Scientifick-Phantaſy. Yet (ſaving one Perſonality, barely mentioned in this Volume, who may be an Immortal, though moſt unlike the Struldbrugs encountered by GULLIVER in Dr SWIFT's Tale of his Voyage from Laputa to Japan) there is naught here that is Phantastickal, or reliant on counter-factual Advances in the Technologickal Arts. My own Belief is that the late Mr KNIGHT hit the Nail upon the Head, when he ſurmiſ'd, that the Scientifick-Phantaſy Genre is "what we point to, when we ſay it". I point to this Book, and its two Fellows in the Baroque-Trilogy, and Cryptonomicon which though written earlier is ſet two and a half Centuries later, and I ſay that I include them in that Genre. Does any-body diſagree?
Profile Image for Karl.
219 reviews22 followers
September 9, 2008
I don't even know how to begin to review this trilogy. It's really all one novel, and so it might then be the longest novel I've read.

It has everything. An around the world sea voyage. The Barbary corsairs. Love triumphing over death. Women trimuphing over men. The beginnings of the Enlightenment. Battles. The formation of the monetary system. A duel with unconventional firearms. Blackbeard. Peter the Great. And a gaggle of mathematicians.

Extensively researched historical fiction, I've been hard pressed to find anything that isn't accurate when I read more about these people and these times. I have no idea how Stephenson kept that all in his head.

But thank goodness he did.
7 reviews2 followers
February 6, 2008
This series was an ambitious project on Stephenson's part, but I think he tried to do too much. I liked the characters he created and found the plot interesting, however, the books are uneven in their pacing and sort of unfocused. Sometimes it's a love story, sometimes it's an adventure, sometimes it's a mystery. He does the love and adventure well, but really falls down on the mystery aspect. It's as though he randomly decided to make things obscure for no real reason. He also just takes too damn long to get to the point in too many parts. I kept being highly interested in what was going to happen to the characters but frustrated at how unnecessarily long he took to develop any one story line.
Profile Image for Alan.
1,086 reviews106 followers
June 13, 2020
And so at long last we come to The System of the World, Neal Stephenson's resounding conclusion to the Baroque Cycle,
IN WHICH we discover that this Daniel Waterhouse chap may be more central to the narrative than first appeared.

I suppose we can be forgiven for coming so late to this understanding, especially after the back-and-forth shell game Stephenson played with us in The Confusion, but the older, bolder and maybe even wiser Waterhouse we see in The System of the World certainly seems to have become something of—shall we say—an influencer, whether he's bantering with nobility:
"There is a sickness of the mind that comes over those who bide too long in London, which causes otherwise rational men to put forced and absurd meanings on events that are accidental."
"I have observed that sickness in full flower," Daniel allowed, thinking of one man in particular.
—Daniel Waterhouse, in conversation with the Earl of Lostwithiel, p.5
Or musing on his own ever-increasing weight of experience:
Once, he had feared that old age would bring senility; now, he was certain it would slowly paralyze him by encumbering each tiny thing with all sorts of significations.
That's a familiar feeling for me as well, these days.

Of course, other important characters get some good lines too...
"That God hears the prayers of Lutherans, is a proposition hotly disputed by many, including many Lutherans."
—From a letter sent by Gottfried Leibniz to Daniel Waterhouse, p. 51

Make no mistake—Stephenson hasn't forgotten about Jack and Eliza either. Quite the contrary; our favorite long-distance relationship keeps getting closer (one could even say asymptotically closer) throughout The System of the World, and much of the action still revolves around Jack's efforts to prove himself worthy of his lady love despite having been forced into the rôle of England's greatest criminal mastermind.

The alternating narratives of The Confusion have been replaced with a more straightforward progression of events, and a greater focus on the scientific and intellectual changes being wrought on European society. The old system of monarchs and vassals bound together by faith and force of arms is being displaced (not without effort) by an entirely new System of the World, based on intangible flows of money, of influence, and of ideas: in short, of data.

And, as The System of the World draws closer to the Industrial Revolution, we also draw closer (one might even say asymptotically closer) to the subjects Stephenson addresses in Cryptonomicon.

For example, that same letter from Leibniz to Waterhouse quoted above also contains this philosophickal meditation (which may even be historical, for all I know) on smoke rings...
I saw one or two smoke-rings, about the size of a man's hat, propagating across the room, and retaining their shape and vis viva for extraordinary distances. These rings are unlike water-waves, which consist of different water at different times, for smoke rings propagate through clear air, proving that they indeed carry their own substance with them, neither diluting it with, nor dispersing it into, the surrounding atmosphere. And yet there is nothing special about the smoke as such—it is the same smoke that hangs over battlefields in shapeless clouds. The identity of a smoke ring would appear to consist, not in the stuff of which it is made, for that is commonplace and indifferent, bur rather in a particular set of relationships that is brought into being among its parts. It is this pattern of relationships that coheres in space and persists in time and endows the smoke-ring with an identity. Perhaps some similar observation might be made about other entities that we observe, and credit with uniqueness and identity, including even human beings.

The tantalizing might-have-beens of mechanical computation also come in for scrutiny. There's a close kinship, for example, between the "Logic Mill" that Waterhouse and Leibniz are working on and The Difference Engine in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's fascinating alternative past.

Leibniz' Mill, though it was never built, also subtly influences the passages featuring Dappa, one of Jack Shaftoe's fellow galley slaves, a Black man whose witty broadsides, penned from prison (he is in jail for possessing stolen property—that is, himself) help accomplish the abolition of the British slave trade. Dappa argues articulately and passionately for his freedom, in print and in person, in English and French, and yet one smug Tory still says,
"One would suppose there would be no point in holding a conversation with a man who does not understand what he is saying. And yet he described yesterday's weather better than I could!"
—Peer, pp. 168-169
This toff's beliefs, so obviously wrong, do double duty for Stephenson—not only does Peer's boorish behavior (he's actually talking with Dappa when he says this!) contrast with Dappa's intelligence and graciousness, it also seems clearly intended as a parallel to modern skepticism about the possibility of artificial intelligence, a skepticism exemplified by John Searle's famous thought experiment on the "Chinese Room" (or see the Wikipedia article on the subject—although be warned, both of those links go to rather long reads themselves).

Amid all this philosophical discourse, though, Stephenson still manages to slip a lot of humor into The System of the World. For one dry (heh) example:
Orney might be oblivious to rain, but, anticipating that the others would whinge about it, he had pitched a tarpaulin over Prudence's midships. This was waterproof except along the seams; wherever anyone touched it; where it had been patched; round any of its constellations of moth-holes; and wherever else it happened to leak.

Or this lively back-and-forth:
"What have you told the proprietor about who we are, and what we are doing?" Mr. Threader was asking Saturn.
"That you are Royal Society men making observations of the daily currency of the river."
"He's not going to believe that, is he?"
"You didn't ask me what he believes. You asked me what I told him. What he believes, is that you are City men investigating a case of insurance fraud by spying on a certain ship anchored out there in the Pool."
"Fine—our true purpose shall not be suspected as long as he is telling people that."
"Oh no, he's not telling people that. He's telling them that you are a Sect of Dissenters forced to meet in secret because of the recent passage of Bolingbroke's Schism Act."
"Let the blokes in the tap-room think we are Dissenters then, is all I'm trying to say."
"That's not what they think. They think that you are Sodomites," Partry said. This silenced Threader for awhile.

From sly observations that remain topical today:
"The profession of politics would be altogether too disagreeable," Roger allowed, "without compensations above and beyond what is strictly appropriate."
—Roger Comstock, p.539

To not-so-sly expostulations that... remain topical today:
"Look—look at this opera house! Built on the edge of the world by frostbitten shepherds—yet in its size, its glory, truly a monster, an abomination, only possible because of the unnatural distortions that Money has wreaked on the world. The same is true of all London! It should all burn."
—Edouard de Gex, p.569

Another thing that Daniel had been learning was that even if real estate was expensive, people were cheap. Which ought to have been obvious to him from that, in exchange for tiny bits of silver, people were forever shinnying up chimneys, climbing into bed with syphilitics, or taking musket-balls in Belgium. But like most who did not do such things, he went out of his way not to dwell on it, and had quite put it out of his mind until it was brought to his notice{...}.

As caught up in the story as I was, I was able to forgive the (very) occasional typographical and proofreading errors inevitable in a book of this length. Mostly. This one did stand out to me, though...
Mr. Kikin was amused by the blank expressions on the faces of Orney and Kikin.
That second "Kikin" was most assuredly supposed to have been "Threader," the same one in that discussion with Saturn, above.

You may be able to tell, from the excerpts I've chosen to include, that The System of the World goes all over the mental map—in contrast to The Confusion's decidedly more physical wanderings. But now we've come to the end, of the Baroque Cycle, and of this review, though not of course of history itself.

I will not tell you how it ends, but I think Stephenson really did wrap things up very well (which has not always been the case for his work), and I am very glad to have been able to devote the time and attention required to reread this sprawling, chaotic, wonderful series.
Profile Image for Melissa Rudder.
175 reviews235 followers
August 13, 2010
The final book in Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, The System of the World, did exactly what the conclusion of a long complex tale, inhabited by a lively cast of characters across five continents, should do: it dazzled its reader with a seemingly unending parade of dramatic climaxes, facilitated by the carefully interwoven tales of seemingly disparate individuals.

My usual complaint about Stephenson's detail-driven writing does not apply to The System of the World. Perhaps the first two installments were the careful climb to a colossal peak--a climb punctuated by a few enjoyable bumps and turns--so that the final installment could be a thrilling ride through unpredictable twists and the sorts of jolts that make the reader catch his/her breath. Because The System of the World, in spite of its very boring-sounding (but thematically appropriate) title, is really an action-packed thrill ride. (Pardon my abrupt metaphor shift. Wait for it...) The book got very exciting. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that there were moments when I nearly jumped out of my seat like a fan at a Superbowl party, ready to exchange high fives or expletives with the person beside me. It was very disappointing when, at those moments, the only one beside me was my husband, who wasn't watching the game. And it's pointless for me to relate what we all know: just as watching the instant replay of the game-winning touchdown can't produce the excitement of sitting there tensely through every tedious offensive drive before it and THEN watching the receiver just barely keep his toes in the zone, so were my choppy and incomplete explanations of x killing y or b discovering c insufficient to earn me a fellow celebrant. My only recourse was to send excited IMs to my brother, who had read the book, and rush back into reading.

I have yet to decide if I'm entirely content with the amount of closure The System of the World provides. It does a somewhat elementary series of the "Where are they now?" chapters to supply the reader with sufficient information about the welfare (or unwelfare) of its sprawling cast, but I would have appreciated a bit more emotion. Although perhaps that wasn't Stephenson's intent. Because by the end of the cycle, I felt a bit like Daniel, the Puritan turned natural philosopher turned courtier turned eccentrically wise and baffling elder: exhausted by the journey and unsure about the world it's produced: a world made smaller by far-reaching ships, far-sighted lenses, and far more powerful engines, in which polarizing issues like abolition, international relations, the growth of public media, and fiat currency only seem to be growing larger.

"All human stories are in some sense repetitious, if you boil them down so far. Yet people fall in love... With a particular man or woman, and no one else. Or a woman will have a baby, and love that baby forever... no matter how similar its tale might seem to those of other babies."

"There is no sameness. If you looked down upon the world from above, like an albatross, you might phant'sy there was some sameness among the people crowding the land below you. But we are not albatrosses, we see the world from ground level, from within our own bodies, through our own eyes, each with our own frame of reference, which changes as we move about and as others move about us."

"There is nothing quite so civilized as to be recognized in public places as the author of books no one has read."

"If a want of hope made men desperate, a surfeit of it made them stupid in a wholly other way."

"They are all individual souls. This Mobb is a fabrication of minds to lazy to treat them as such."
Profile Image for Neill Goltz.
126 reviews9 followers
November 2, 2021
OK - the culminating book of The Baroque Cycle trilogy, and this review will cover all three.

"Historical Novel" (with liberties) featuring Hooke, Boyle, Newton and other figures of the history of science (the Royal Society) given life in the tap-rooms and public houses of the times, rather than as most of us came to know them as the names associated with various mathematical laws and laboratory devices from our own time in high school and college chemistry and physics classes. All against the background of domestic and international intrigue in the succession from the Stuarts to the Hanoverian cousins of the British Royal House. A history buff, I am embarrassed to admit this book gave me my first real exposure to the Brit's Act of Settlement (1701).

At that time, Isaac Newton was Master of the Mint (for the coinage of Britain) and this figures prominently in this plot element as "the (new) System of the World" in both Science and Modern Finance develop simultaneously against the background of Newton's ongoing alchemical pursuit of "Solomon's Gold").

Oh, did I mention that Gottfried Liebnitz - fellow philosopher and rival with Newton on the invention of Calculus - is also an important character? (Reminder and aside: Voltaire's Candide was created in response to the Liebnitz quote, "We live in the best of all possible worlds.” Highly recommend Leonard Bernstein/Lillian Hellman musical interpretation from the 1970's.)

So, Stephenson's books are huge fun, and at the same time incredibly educational. The referenced historical events and people are fascinating, and thank the gods for my Smartphone's Wiki-lookup. (Think "the Manilla Galleon" and "the ghost ship Mary Celeste"). Speaking for myself, I love the arcane words that Stephenson employs in the period conversations. I always think of "anachronism" meaning the use of past items (inappropriately) in the present. Stephenson does the reverse - i.e., the "sci-fi" element alleged of these books - where he pulls present usage back into the past. Is their a separate word for that, or does the technique qualify as the use of anachronism also?

It's probably impossible for you, dear reader, to make much of any sense of any of this in a two paragraph review. I'll concede that for purists it's not high literature, but it's highly, highly entertaining.
Profile Image for Mihai.
67 reviews14 followers
July 11, 2021
Patience rewarded by pure bliss.
Profile Image for Larou.
330 reviews49 followers
July 22, 2015
My favourite way of describing Neal Stephenson as an author is that his ambition vastly outstrips his talent; and the Baroque Cycle is a good point in case, I think. It is fairly obvious what he wanted to do here (mainly because Pynchon already did it before him) and it is even more blatantly obvious that this is not the chef-d’oeuvre describing the emergence of an age and short-circuiting that age with our present time that Stephenson wants it to be.

The first novel, Quicksilver had three protagonists, the second, The Confusion, had two of those, Jack and Eliza, with Daniel being mostly relegated to the background; so it is probably no great surprise that in The System of the World we see Daniel take center stage again, with Jack and Eliza moved to the wings. Also, this third novel takes almost exclusively part in England (and most of that in London – as world-roaming as The Confusion was, so confined is The System of the World), and generally this is by far the most focused novel of the Baroque Cycle, one could almost call it tightly constructed. But only almost, as this probably would just not be Stephenson if he would not go on long tangents at every occasion that offers itself, culminating towards the end of the novel in a moment-by-moment description of the “Trial of the Pyx” (basically, a test of the validity of British coinage) that rambles on and on and on over hundreds of pages (felt pages – actually it’s more like several dozen, but still absurdly long).

There also is some mumbling about the threatening chaos of quicksilver being contained into a solid system of the world – a weak and totally unconvincing bit of legerdemain to make readers believe there is some kind of Deeper Meaning at work in the Baroque Cycle rather than a random agglomeration of pointless facts by which of course nobody is taken in. The thing is that you just might get away with piling up heaps of facts and pieces of information in a non-fiction work, but if you want your text to work as a novel, you need to somehow connect that facts in a way that infuses them with significance – take a look at Moby Dick if you want to see how it’s done properly, or Gravity’s Rainbow (or really anything by Thomas Pynchon who is the supreme master of turning facts into metaphor). Neal Stephenson, on the other hand, just keeps shovelling facts, facts and even more facts into his novels in the hope that they’ll magically cohere into something meaningful – which of course they don’t. At best, the facts are curious in interesting in themselves, at worst they’re just a heap of boring pedantry that �� except for the, in this case really minor, difference of their being historical rather than made up – could have comfortably fitted in any of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels and that only distracts from what remains at heart a rip-roaring adventure story.

Thankfully, that heart beats strong enough in The System of the World to make itself felt through all the intellectual waste Stephenson piles on it, and its rhythm is compelling enough to keep the reader turning the pages even when they are filled with tedious descriptions of irrelevant detail. This third novel of the Baroque Cycle is to my taste at least the most entertaining, with two major struggles driving the plot forward – the rupture between Isaac Newton and Gottfried von Leibniz about the authorship of the calculus which Daniel tries to mediate on one hand, and the struggle between Master of the Mint Newton and master forger Jack Shaftoe in wich Daniel also is involved. It is mainly the second one (no surprise, as Jack plays a central part) which keeps things going and the reader interested as Daniel first hunts down the forger with a group of unlikely investigators (most of which turn out to have – at least! – a double agenda) and then once again becomes a mediator trying to unite the opposing factions in a common purpose. We get a big heist (targeting the tower), a duel (with cannons), a wild chase (with coaches) and quite a few colourful and exciting things more.

Summing up (or well, repeating my sermon for the umpteenth time), The Baroque Cycle could have been such a wonderful book if it wasn’t for Neal Stephenson’s delusions of grandeur. Someone really should rescue the fun adventure novel hidden in the trilogy by pulling an S. Morgenstern on Stephenson and make an abridgement with just the good parts.
Profile Image for Ryan.
977 reviews
August 23, 2010
The Baroque Cycle as a whole takes a great deal of time to read, and I think I've come to somehow identify with the series as a result. Now I find myself torn between an urge to share this series with everyone and to keep it to myself so that it's not cheapened by becoming a 30 second talk piece on The View (apologies to The View). I would also be pleased if these books were never turned into a film or television series, though I would of course have to see it if they were. Although I am normally unconcerned with whether a novel will be remembered in the future, I would be satisfied if The Baroque Cycle is remembered as one of the greatest series to be published at the start of the 21st century.

And perhaps it will be. For any historical fiction fan, this trilogy will surely be a rare treat, and Stephenson does a fine job of tying together events that happened in the 1660s in Quicksilver (particularly the Scientific Revolution) with the plot of The System of the World. In The Confusion (my favorite installment), Jack took us around the world while Eliza roamed about France and Germany. Now, we have returned to London and its characters, including Newton, Liebniz, and Daniel Waterhouse. Even Robert Hooke returns, if only in a series of notes. Perhaps this return to beginnings explains why so many readers report that they intend to reread the series after they have finished The System of the World.

The voice that Stephenson adopts for this sprawling series may throw some readers off. In a series of novels of about 900 pages each, we might expect Stephenson to get to the point -- that he should write in a way that is clear and concise. He never does. Whenever a similitude can be employed in great detail, it is. However, this is exactly what makes this book a joy to read.

The System of the World is the final installment in Neal Stephenon's Baroque Cycle. It is also a way of understanding the Western World that began to emerge during the Enlightenment. I never realized it before, but a lot of authors set their historical fiction in the Victorian Era. I would like to see more fiction published about this time period, which, frankly, is just more fun. Then again, perhaps I'd prefer that it remains with just me and this excellent collection of books, The Baroque Cycle.
Profile Image for Kristine.
139 reviews2 followers
September 3, 2009
In Quicksilver, the first book of the Baroque cycle, it isn't obvious where Stephenson is going. That book is an enjoyable read, to be sure, but I never would have guessed Stephenson's ambition with these novels is to explain how the world we live today came about, where the scientific method rules rather than alchemy, and where money is completely interchangeable, and where finance...well, perhaps that hasn't changed so much, but anyway, where the world we live in came from. More than a simple historical fiction, this trilogy is a fun and thought-provoking portrayal of a changing world. Technologically, the past century or so has been a period of great change, but there's a case to be made that the philosophical changes portrayed in the Baroque Cycle are as significant, and perhaps harder won (as changing minds is much, much harder than introducing new technology).

There are some slow parts of the books, typically revolving around world-building. Stephenson's descriptions frequently include quite prominently excrement and disease, though that's probably a relatively accurate description of life in a city of that era. The climax of The System of the World is a confrontation between Leibnitz and Newton, in which the two of them discuss, for several pages, the impact of science on the world and, in particular, on belief in God. I found the argument fascinating (probably because I'm a scientist and religious and think about these things myself), not only for the philosophy, but also because Stephenson does such a great job portraying the way these two scientists thought.
Profile Image for Alec.
22 reviews
May 7, 2009
well, I like Neal, but like most of his stuff, all three books in this cycle could have used a better editor. The mere fact that I read all 2736 pages is a testament to his story telling, but I mean come on at least 1432 pages detailed 18th century architecture and fashion. That level of detail is endearing when he is talking code-breaking or operating systems, but the discussion of periwigs lacks glamor.

His characters on many levels are extremely profound and complex, except when it comes to their personal relationships. Relationships tend to occur based solely on physical proximity and the authors need to move the story along. This is most evident in the scene in which the protagonist, Daniel is summoned to his best-friend and benefactors house only to find him dead. He died in a sex-bender with his much younger wife. Daniel upon physically moving the corpse is suddenly and inexplicably seduced by the now-widowed younger wife who, overcome with grief at having killed her former husband resumes with Daniel in the same bed.

I liked this series and continue to like this author, but this is definitely not on the re-read list.

Profile Image for Phil James.
61 reviews2 followers
August 17, 2009

I was tricked into reading this, but I'm glad because why else would I have started in on this 2700 page trilogy? Years ago Neal Stephenson intrigued and thrilled me with his cyber-punk classic "Snowcrash" so that I could see where he was going with "Diamond Age" a neo-victorian culture in an incredibly futuristic world. By the time I read "Cryptonomicon" I had enough trust in him as an author to take me through a lot of reading involving multiple characters and time periods and to know it was going to come together satisfactorily.

He goes through a lot of history and technical details in these books but the main story and the excitement is sustained all the way. I can't put it any better than the inside jacket blurb from Entertainment Weekly "...he might just have created the definitive historical-sci-fi-epic-comedy-punk love story. No easy feat that."

Profile Image for Jonathan.
510 reviews30 followers
February 8, 2018
Well, it only took me nine years, but I finished the Baroque Cycle! And what a wild, crazy, breathtaking ride it has been, with Daniel Waterhouse at my side.

This concluding book in the trilogy focused mostly on England and Daniel's relationship with Isaac Newton, counterfeit coins, politics, explosions, Infernal Machines, gold, science and Systems Of The World. Not quite as crazy as the previous two, with a much tighter story, but still a wonderful ride in the past.
Profile Image for Bookmarks Magazine.
2,042 reviews716 followers
February 5, 2009

The conclusion to The Baroque Cycle is a veritable doorstop, but a doorstop perhaps worth its weight in 18th-century gold coins

Profile Image for Gintautas Ivanickas.
Author 14 books193 followers
March 12, 2019
Sakykit, ką norit, bet Stephensonas - monstras. Skaitydami rizikuojat, kad smegenys ištaškys kaukolę, nebeišsitekdamos joje nuo to milžiniško informacijos kiekio.
Barokinis ciklas - XVII ir XVIII amžių sandūros enciklopedija. Norit daugiau sužinoti apie to meto politinę situaciją Europoje? Apie ekonomiką? Apie monetų gamybą? Apie vis dar legendomis apipintą mažai pažįstamą pasaulį už tos Europos ribų? Apie Leibnico ir Niutono pažiūrų vienodumus ir skirtumus? Skaitykit Barokinį ciklą. O jei likimas jus nublokš į 1714 metų Londoną - jausitės ten, kaip namie. Žinosite, kurioje sankryžoje pasukt į kairę (nes pasukęs į dešinę geriausiu atveju neteksite pinigų kapšelio. Na, čia, jei pasiseks), žinosite, kur galima gauti padorios kavos puodelį, o kur susigriebti sifilį.
Barokinis ciklas - enciklopedijos, mokslinio traktato ir Alexandro Dumas kokteilis, kuriame plūduriuoja ir neblogo humoro jausmo vyšnaitė.
Taip, trys plytos kone po tūkstantį puslapių - daug. Kartais atrodo, kad pernelyg daug. Bet verta, velniai jį griebtų, verta.
Prabėgs kažkiek laiko ir pasiryšiu pakartot ir "Kriptonomikoną", kurį su Barokiniu tritomiu sieja tvirta bambagyslė.
O dabar - penki iš penkių šitai knygai, o ir visam ciklui.
Profile Image for Ari von Nordenskjöld.
20 reviews4 followers
April 21, 2017
Unfortunately, the last volume of the series was also the most tedious and least interesting one. It was a drudge to get through this one. It also surpasses the other volumes in its tendentious interpretation of the historical struggles in England, and the liberties taken with certain characters. Still, the writing is all right and the subjects interesting and inspiring enough, so my time wasn't entirely wasted.
Profile Image for Amanda.
704 reviews96 followers
July 16, 2010
This is the third book in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle - well, the last three books, since Stephenson actually wrote eight books that made up the cycle which were then published to form a trilogy. Here the majority of the action takes place in London, where virtually all of the protagonists we have been following end up bringing the story to a mighty conclusion.

The basic plot is that of a murder mystery, but comprises many other components. Daniel Waterhouse has completed his epic trip back across the Atlantic at the urging of Princess Caroline. She wished him to bring about the reconciliation of those two mighty Philosophers Leibniz and Newton. In the process of which he ends up stumbling across Jack's scheme to debase English currency (which he is being blackmailed into by the King of France and the dastardly Edouard de Gex). Trying to summarise the plot - the many strands and the different events - is difficult without having to repeat what happened in earlier books or flick through many pages trying to remind myself of exactly who Saturn was and why the Tsar of Russia made an appearance.

The cast of characters is enormous and it can be difficult to keep them separate at times, although our main characters have become extremely three dimensional. Daniel, Eliza (although she makes a small appearance in this volume), Jack, Isaac Newton, Dappa, Bob Shaftoe, Ravenscar, Princess Caroline, Leibniz - all these characters become beloved and it is of interest to see what happens to all of them.

The three volumes as a whole - the Baroque Cycle - are a truly amazing achievement. It is nigh on 3000 pages dense with facts, with ideas, with characters, with exciting escapes and political machinations. We are shown the beginnings of the world system that we know today - with law enforcement, political parties (Whigs and Tories), real estate and, of course, currency. Either this was written as a fact or Stephenson came up with an extremely clever idea in that currency is called such because of the current of money flowing into London, in this case. There are many such moments during all three books, where you marvel at the level of research and detail that has gone into every element of the story.

It is interesting that these books are almost always shelved in the fantasy/sci fi section but, barring the presence of Enoch Root and his little procedure (I shall not say more, for fear of spoiling certain things!) they are more historical in nature.

One of my disappointments in this and the previous books is the pacing - we can go from thrilling page-turning events into a deep philosophical discourse and this can make the reader grind to a halt. Despite the exciting nature of the plot in general, there were times when I felt as though it was a struggle to read any further, and this is a sad fact when considering that this should be a series read by everyone. It is a classic in the making - or would be, barring the slow and turgid prose at times. Having said that, it didn't do Tolkien any harm and some people may, in fact, find this one of the charming aspects of Stephenson's writing.

I am extremely glad that I read this series, but I shall not be embarking on a re-read for many, many years - if at all. However, I do have the notion that the characters and events will niggle and stay with me - the mark of a book that has had a big effect on me. This should have been a five star experience, but I keep it to four stars purely because of the difficulty of the reading. Recommended (with reservations!)
Profile Image for Josh.
387 reviews17 followers
February 24, 2012
Baroque Summer 2011 finally ends! In February 2012!

It's probably best not to think of these books as three huge tomes, but instead like a longer series of eight normal-sized novels (which the three are divided up into, with the complication that nos. 4 and 5 are told in parallel) or like eight seasons of some well-produced TV show. I wish it had been eight volumes, actually. I never would have been stupid enough to try reading an octology straight through.

Like anything that long, there were great stretches and slogs. I remember some portions vividly. There are some classic Stephensonian digressions that left me in awe of his genius and affirmed his status as my favorite author. Other times I simply had to put these books down just out of weariness. Seemed more appealing to read something else for a bit rather than get pounded with dozens of pages of fictional third-hand political intrigue, especially knowing I had hundreds of pages to go before there would be any resolution.

If I'm rating Stephenson's accomplishment in generating 2700 pages of consistently outstanding prose and wit, I give it 10 stars out of 5. The reality is I'm rating the experience of reading these books, and I'm going to settle on 3 out of 5 for the third volume. I just finished this book and couldn't tell you what happened in the last 900 pages. It must have been a lot, right? Why do I remember the other two volumes more vividly? Should I have put this one off for a few years or taken more breaks during reading? Maybe, but that's the problem right there. I think ultimately, the experience here pales in comparison to his other work.
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