The System of the World
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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 ...
The System of the World is the concluding volume in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, begun with Quicksilver and continued in The Confusion.
Publishers Weekly Review
© Publishers Weekly
Living in Stephenson's World...
...Is a great way to pass a winter or two. It seems that it took me a couple years to finish the Baroque Cycle, but it allowed me time to really internalize these stories. I even read Anathem in between these three stories.
I regularly re-read Neal's work, but it opens a window into a world I remember from school science classes that I need to explore again before re-reading. Hooke, monads, alchemy, Newton, calculus, biology, and all these nascent sciences that gave rise to a modern sensibility - really amazing. This story reminds me of my own discovery of science itself, that there is a rich body of science and scientists and we just need to give it some context. All these people lived within a time and context that is worth knowing. Thanks, Neal.
The final, delicious volume
Full disclosure: I am an incurable fan of Stephenson's work, and in particular, the books he has published which feature the fictional family lines of Waterhouse & Shaftoe. When I was reading "Cryptonomicon," for example, I carried it with me everywhere and would read while stopped at red lights while driving my car.
This trilogy was at least as fascinating, although the thrills were more distributed, as befits its comparatively greater breadth and depth. I confess to having had difficulty starting this volume -- I think it was my impatience with the conversations of the female royalty -- but this third attempt has yielded more than every other work of his combined.
Stephenson aptly employs his usual devices, viz the weaving of diverse threads which are so neatly knotted as the story begins to run short on pages, as well as a few new, or at least, hitherto undetectable ruses to construct a ripping, if elongated yarn. Having read the novel which succeeds this one (Anathem), I discern a sort of evolution of style. I think our dear Neal has taken to dish cussing his work with those he respects, and we are the richer for it.
I recommend that you read this book, especially uif you do not like to study history. If you do enjoy history, you have either already read it, or you have yet to discover it. This book, unlike the others in The Baroque Cycle, hews more closely to 17th- and 18th-century England than the rest. It draws upon the other two, but does not require their content to be enjoyed.
Make certain that you can comfortably read while stopped at red lights.
Stephenson is an amazing talent.
The System of the World, the third book in the Baroque Cycle, is an extraordinary read: it combines all the erudition, character development and scope of insight that I have come to expect from him.
Stephenson's journey into the time "when everything changed" is a helluva read. Those readers looking for historical fiction on a heretofore unknown level of sophistication, will love the series.