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(The Baroque Cycle #1)

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  40,669 ratings  ·  2,221 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 (US/CAN), 927 pages
Published September 21st 2004 by HarperCollins Perennial (first published September 23rd 2003)
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Pete Harris
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Susan Ackland I dropped it maybe half-way through. "Meandering" is one way to describe it, though I would say it was overstuffed. Was there a science experiment of …moreI dropped it maybe half-way through. "Meandering" is one way to describe it, though I would say it was overstuffed. Was there a science experiment of that age that he didn't describe for us? A real estate development that wasn't presented in excruciating detail? The plot doesn't so much wander as get buried under all of the detail. I loved "Cryptonomicon." It certainly had lots of detail but it all seemed to support and move the plot forward. A lot of the detail in Quicksilver seems to be dead weight. Another reason that "Cryptonomicon" was a better read was that the characters were more accessible and appealing. I didn't "bond" with the characters in "Quicksilver." But here I am, a year or more later, trying to decide whether to try Quicksilver again or try another Stephenson. That's the nub of it; Stephenson is sui generis and those of us who admire his work find it almost addictive.(less)

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Jul 02, 2008 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 13, 2009 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
Aug 01, 2008 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
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
Mark Hebwood
Nov 26, 2013 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
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson is in some ways the strangest book I’ve read this year.

The most surprising aspect of the book is the fact that there is no plot. I’ve read books that have started really slowly, and even books where the author largely ignores plot to focus on building the setting. This book, however, has no plot.

For all intents and purposes, Quicksilver is The 17th Century: The Novel. In many ways it feels like the literary equivalent of an open world video game. You just go around
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Neal Stephenson books are not for everybody. Actually, they are but not everybody will like them. This will certainly be the case for Quicksilver. It's a "love it" or "WTF did I just read?" kind of reaction. A NS book is often dense and erratic in the linear story. Mr. Stephenson has a myriad of interests and a sizeable intellect backing him up. His stories tend to delve in a variety of side topics (all of which are very informative but outside the normal story arc) and that can be off putting t ...more
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
The gold that paid for a pound of Malabar pepper was melted and fused with the gold that paid for a boatload of North Sea herring, and all of it was simply gold, bearing no trace or smell of the fish or the spice that had fetched it. In the case of Cœlestial Dynamics, the gold—the universal medium of exchange, to which everything was reduced—was force.
- Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver


Book 1: Quicksilver

That one man sickens and dies, while another flourishes, are characters in the cryptic message t
Dan Schwent
Mar 03, 2009 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. ...more
Sep 26, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stephenson serves up a real doorstop here, and it is the first of three in The Baroque Cycle trilogy to boot! Quicksliver is divided into three discrete but related parts (Quicksilver, King of the Vagabonds and Odalisque) each having its own main protagonist and main characters, but of course lots of overlap. Trying to review a book of this magnitude is difficult, however, especially as Stephenson likes to meander around rather than give the reader a straight forward plot. That stated, here goes ...more
Nov 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book 1 in the Baroque Cycle published 2003.
A recommended 4 star read.
First thing that needs to be said is this is not a quick read, at 927 pages it’s huge by any standard.
The next thing to say is that there is no discernible plot; well none discernible to me that is.
So how does one read a 927 page plot less tome?
The answer to that, strange at it may seem, is with ease.
It reads more like a diary, a diary that records some of the most monumental scientific discoveries of all times.
The narrator,
Stephen Dranger
Feb 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 27, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, novels, sci-fic, neal-s
I consider myself a Stephenson aficionado, but perhaps I am not intelligent enough for the Baroque Cycle after all.

While I consider Cryptonomicon at least my third-favorite of his tomes, this prequel to the saga does not work for me. Yes, one can learn quite a bit by reading about Daniel Waterhouse's conversations with Newton and Leibniz and even a young Benjamin Franklin, covering the Enlightenment period well. And the 'vagabond' sections with Jack Shaftoe's adventures, along with the impressi
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
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
meg Olson
Jul 16, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
Jun 10, 2008 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
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Upon finishing the last page of Quicksilver i really was expecting a gold star; the book is physically massive and ridiculously dense with plot so anyone who finishes deserves an award.

As it was split into three separate parts or books, as the author has labelled them, i decided to treat it the same; after each part i took a few days break and read something else. I believe this aided in enjoying Quicksilver. Reading it all in one go would’ve been overkill and possibly sent me insane.

Book 1 –
Wanda Pedersen
What a difference the right character makes! I was on page 384 when I suddenly realized that Eliza was finally someone in the narrative that I could care about. Because of her, Jack Shaftoe became more interesting too. (If I was a stickler for Nancy Pearl's rule, I would have abandoned the novel long before this point [Take 100, subtract your age and the result is the number of pages you should read before giving up on a book. When you're 100, you're free to judge a book by its cover.]) But I di ...more
David Rubenstein
Jul 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Chris Berko
Jun 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I was a few books up on my yearly goal and I wanted to read something long and something that would also make me feel smart while reading it. This came recommended to me by the awesome Sud666, sorry I don't know how to tag people, and it met those two criteria perfectly. I was weary because Stephenson has been hit (Reamde and Seveneves) AND miss (Cryptonomicon) with me and it is totally weird because this is written almost exactly like Cryptonomicon, which I DNF'd, and I loved it. It's one of th ...more
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
You can say any sort of nonsense in Latin, and our feeble university men will be stunned, or at least profoundly confused. That’s how the popes have gotten away with peddling bad religion for so long, they simply say it in Latin.

It is assuring to see Stephenson working and waxing so Pynchonian. The author is putting in the work, sketching the details, plumbing for the argot, inserting the puns.

I've read it twice. the Waterhouse sections are divine, the others not so lofty.
Charlie Huenemann
Jul 17, 2012 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
Feb 09, 2011 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 myself ...more
Stephanie Swint
Apr 11, 2012 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
Nov 23, 2013 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
Jan 15, 2009 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
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, lit
I've owned this "cycle" of books for something like seven years. I don't read massive books but I did love Stephenson's cyberpunk books and this sounded interesting, but no way was I ever planning on reading it, size matters after all.

But I've had a hankering for something approaching the content of Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies since finishing the second book and despite being set over a hundred years later - taking place after the other Cromwell was beheaded - Quicksilver is similarly furnishe
Sep 13, 2011 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 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is how Neal Stephenson begins Quicksilver, the first published volume of his sweeping multi-volume series, The Baroque Cycle:
Boston Common
October 12, 1713, 10:33:52 A.M.

That time—down to the second, in a year when watches didn't even have minute hands!

Stephenson dispenses with such impossible precision for the rest of Quicksilver—the rest of its chapter headings consist of dates alone. Even so, what a wealth of information remains! Frankly, the Baroque Cycle is incredible, not just for
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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.

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)

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Neal Stephenson is the bestselling author of the novels Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Seveneves, Reamde, Anathem, The System of...
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“Whenever serious and competent people need to get things done in the real world, all considerations of tradition and protocol fly out the window.” 103 likes
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