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The System of the World: #03 Baroque Cycleby Neal Stephenson
The concluding volume of the Baroque Cycle mixes swashbuckling adventure, historical romance, mathematics, and Isaac Newton into a frothy brew that's truly irresistible.
"There is a danger in cultivating wacky excess — self-indulgence on such a grand scale can obscure the greater narrative and runs the risk of coming off as wanking just for wanking's sake....But, and this is one of the joys of reaching the finish line of the Cycle, there is more method to Stephenson's madness in these tomes than in any of his previous works. By the end, one realizes that in many cases what once seemed a foray into insubstantial irrelevance was a carefully placed foundation stone." Andrew Leonard, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
England, 1714. London has long been home to a secret war between the brilliant, enigmatic Master of the Mint and closet alchemist, Isaac Newton, and his archnemesis, the insidious counterfeiter Jack the Coiner. Hostilities are suddenly moving to a new and more volatile level as Half-Cocked Jack hatches a daring plan, aiming for the total corruption of Britain's newborn monetary system.
Enter Daniel Waterhouse: Aging Puritan and Natural Philosopher, Daniel has been on a long and harrowing quest to help mend the rift between adversarial geniuses. As Daniel combs city and country for clues to the identity of the blackguard who is attempting to blow up Natural Philosophers, political factions jockey for position while awaiting the impending death of the ailing queen, and the "holy grail" of alchemy, the key to life eternal, tantalizes and continues to elude Isaac Newton.
As Newton, Waterhouse, and Shaftoe each circle closer to the object of Daniel's quest, everything that was will be changed forever...
"The colossal and impressive third volume (after Quicksilver and The Confusion) of Stephenson's magisterial exploration of the origins of the modern world in the scientific revolution of the baroque era begins in 1714. Daniel Waterhouse has returned to England, hoping to mediate the feud between Sir Isaac Newton and Leibniz, both of whom claim to have discovered the calculus and neither of whom is showing much scientific rationality in the dispute. This brawl takes place against the background of the imminent death of Queen Anne, which threatens a succession crisis as Jacobite (Stuart, Catholic) sympathizers confront supporters of the Hanoverian succession. Aside from the potential effect of the outcome on the intellectual climate of England, these political maneuverings are notable for the role played by trilogy heroine Eliza de la Zour, who is now wielding her influence over Caroline of Ansbach, consort of the Hanoverian heir. Eliza has risen from the streets to the nobility without losing any of her creativity or her talents as a schemer; nor has outlaw Jack Shaftoe lost any of his wiliness. What he may have lost is discretion, since he oversteps the boundaries of both law and good sense far enough to narrowly escape the hangman. In the end, reluctant hero Waterhouse prevails against the machinations of everybody else, and scientific (if not sweet) reason wins by a nose. The symbol of that victory is the inventor Thomas Newcomen standing (rather like a cock crowing) atop the boiler of one of his first steam engines. This final volume in the cycle is another magnificent portrayal of an era, well worth the long slog it requires of Stephenson's many devoted readers. Agent, Liz Darhansoff at Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman Literary Agents. 6-city author tour. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] hell of a way to finish things off....Learned, violent, sarcastic, and profound: a glorious finish to one of the most ambitious epics of recent years." Kirkus Reviews
"[Stephenson's plotlines] collide brilliantly in the third and final installment of his Baroque Cycle....Self-indulgent ambition disguised as historical fiction was never this much fun — or this successful. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"[T]he rich characterizations, minutely imagined world and mental fodder are so expertly interwoven, and Stephenson's gift with language is so intoxicating, that even the most bleary-eyed will greet the final resolution with a plaintive, 'That's all?'" The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"[L]ong-winded but compulsively readable....
"I found the opening chapters of The System of the World a bit windy, but the narrative soon takes off, with plenty of action and sex to leaven the philosophical ruminations." Philadelphia Inquirer
"[F]renzied complications and watch-me-top-this ingenuity — much of it funny and some of it genuinely moving....Readers are...likely to remember...the most brilliant scenes of Stephenson's monstrously ambitious and untidy opus." The Washington Post
"[Stephenson] has a sharp imagination, a keen sense of humor and a gift for some memorable descriptions...The System of the World ups the ante on Stephenson's fantastic adventures through raucous times in history and gives his fans plenty to chew on." Kansas City Star
"Stephenson's wondrous personages give life to his stories, and if it weren't for an array of articulate characters...we'd be left with an interesting but not terribly compelling final chapter in an epic that's still quite an achievement." Denver Post
"Neal Stephenson practices alchemy of the literary variety, turning words into gold in the successful conclusion of his Baroque Cycle, The System of the World." BookPage
New York Times bestselling author Stephenson pens the final volume in his ambitious and compelling epic of intrigue, adventure, and excitement, filled with a remarkable cast of characters in a time of genius, discovery, and change.
The world is a most confused and unsteady place — especially London, center of finance, innovation, and conspiracy — in the year 1714, when Daniel Waterhouse makes his less-than-triumphant return to England's shores. Aging Puritan and Natural Philosopher, confidant of the high and mighty and contemporary of the most brilliant minds of the age, he has braved the merciless sea and an assault by the infamous pirate Blackbeard to help mend the rift between two adversarial geniuses at a princess's behest. But while much has changed outwardly, the duplicity and danger that once drove Daniel to the American Colonies is still coin of the British realm.
No sooner has Daniel set foot on his homeland when he is embroiled in a dark conflict that has been raging in the shadows for decades. It is a secret war between the brilliant, enigmatic Master of the Mint and closet alchemist Isaac Newton and his archnemesis, the insidious counterfeiter Jack the Coiner, a.k.a. Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds. Hostilities are suddenly moving to a new and more volatile level, as Half-Cocked Jack plots a daring assault on the Tower itself, aiming for nothing less than the total corruption of Britain's newborn monetary system.
Unbeknownst to all, it is love that set the Coiner on his traitorous course; the desperate need to protect the woman of his heart — the remarkable Eliza, Duchess of Arcachon-Qwghlm — from those who would destroy her should he fail. Meanwhile, Daniel Waterhouse and his Clubb of unlikely cronies comb city and country for clues to the identity of the blackguard who is attempting to blow up Natural Philosophers with Infernal Devices — as political factions jockey for position while awaiting the impending death of the ailing queen; as the "holy grail" of alchemy, the key to life eternal, tantalizes and continues to elude Isaac Newton, yet is closer than he ever imagined; as the greatest technological innovation in history slowly takes shape in Waterhouse's manufactory.
Everything that was will be changed forever...
About the Author
Neal Stephenson is the author of the bestselling Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) as well as the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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