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

by Neal Stephenson
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Product Details

  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • Publishing date: 01/10/2004
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780060523879
  • ISBN: 0060523875

Synopsis

"

'Tis done.

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.
"

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  • Epic History Made Readable
    From Amazon

    This three-volume, 9-book set is, believe it or not, a *prequel* to his previous massive effort, Cryptonomicon. In the Baroque Cycle we find the ancestors of no less than NINE characters of that modern day tale of cryptography. But the Baroque trilogy covers much more ground. The fictional characters are used to take the reader through the lives of very real historical characters. The topics that Stephenson deals with in detail are the history of banking, medicine, international finance, cryptography, espionage, mathematics and computing. Not a light read by any stretch of the imagination, it is still enjoyable.

    On a personal note, I gained great insight into the turbulent period when William of Orange chased the Jacobites out of Ireland. I had always wondered why my ancestors departed Ireland for Penn's Colony in 1689 until Stephenson documented William's march across Ireland in that same year. My pacifist Quaker ancestors had seen enough.

  • Great Fun for the doorstop fiction set
    From Amazon

    This is the third volume in Stephenson's ambitious and fun recounting of the world events circa the late 18th century. This has got the birth of the royal society, the growing pains of international trade and the intrigues at Versailles for starters. This volume is tying up a number of lose ends, and focuses more on the Royal Society and Versailles then on the swashbuckling adventurers that take up a lot of space in volume two. It's good fun, especially if you have any interest in doorstop historical fiction.

  • Not for everyone
    From Amazon

    Having just completed System of the World I have now completed Neal Stephenson's ambitious trilogy in its entirety. While I personally enjoyed the books very much they are not for everyone. First, the time period in which these books are set is not that familiar and while some of the names and events are recognizable much of the context is unfamiliar terrain for most. That makes a more than passing interest in history and sharp focus necessary to keep up with the plot. That brings me to the second point. While the plot is grand and sweeping it can be hard to follow and it is not until the latter part of System of the World that you see the whole story come together. Again, these books require active efforts by the reader and do not fall into the category of a "beach read." That being said, once the story was tied up and brought to a conclusion I found myself marveling at how neatly all the complexities had been tied together. Further, the writing is outstanding and despite the "work" needed to keep everything straight I found myself engaged in and caring about the characters and what happens to them. Always the hallmark of good novels in my opinion. The bottom line is that if you are interested in an immersive experience that will take you through a whirlwind of science, philosophy, history and politics then these are the novels for you. The "work" required by these novels turns out to be the reward as well.

  • The End of the Beginning
    From Amazon

    Thus spake Zarathustra! That's about how someone feels upon completing the Baroque Cycle, a long extravagant tale of the life of Dr. Waterhouse (our erstwhile host), Eliza, Jack, kings, queens, scientists, warriors and history. While the reading at times may have been rough sledding, in the end I would say it is worth it. I can also state that it is almost impossible to enjoy these novels without reading the previous one (exceptin the case of the first that references another novel).

    Years have passed and Jack is back in London and following the orders of Leroi ("Le Roi"), king of France. To save his beloved Eliza he is attempting to destroy the monetary system of Britain (by debasing the currency) that is bringing that small nation to the pinnacle of power with the torrent of inventions and discoveries - economic, physical and philosophical. Stephenson repeatedly demonstrates WHY England won the race instead of France, why the new invention of credit, sound money, virtual payments and modern financial tools made the scientific and poliical revolutions possible. In fact, he cites Fernand Braudel's massive "Civilization & Capitalism" as one of his guiding lights. This wold be especially true considering the detail of everyday life Braudel references (and Stephenson uses).

    Amid royal machinations, the possible return of the hated Catholic Charles with the aid of the French and the Scots, the Hanovers, William and the Dutch, one man (Jack) is counterfeiting coins. In an odd but prescient insight, the King of France understands that England's strength is her financial system (yet refuses to modernize his own) and thus he has forced the King of the Vagabonds, Jack Shaftoe, to destroy it.

    In the meantime, the battle between Newton and Liebwitz continues, plots within plots abound and Jack is caught and sentenced to die. I won't repeat in detail my stated problems with the series - excess wordiness, foreign phrases, long names/titles, unneccesary description - but needless to say it's all there again. The inclusion of the science fiction episode at the end with Solomon's gold and immortality was simply the cherry on top of a lush, satisfying dessert.

    Many have criticized Dr. Waterhouse but to me, his thoughts and actions made the story what it is. The tale spread over several continents, long time frames and numerous personalities and Waterhouse was a sort of anchor around which all else flowed. Eliza, of course, was wonderful but the real hero was Jack and he is superbly realized. I appreciate the fact that he did not have Jack conquer the world at 21 but imposed a realistic lifetime of effort in order to achieve his goal of being with the woman he loves. My Grade - A.

  • High praise for the whole series.
    From Amazon

    The System of the World is the third in Stephenson's massive Baroque Cycle, and worth every minute that I spent reading. The entire series is something that I would enthusiastically recommend. It's fun, in the biggest sense of the world. Thought provoking, clever, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Not bad for what can only be described as rather dense historical fiction.

    I wouldn't want to or attempt to write a plot summary, but suffice to say that this book continues the series preoccupation with economics, currency, logic and alchemy. I know that some didn't like the extensive descriptions of London in this volume, but I really enjoyed that part-- great to be a virtual tourist.

    I have to say that the ending was a bit much (the bit with Sir Isaac at the Trial of the Pyx), but my that point I was almost willing to forgive Stephenson anything.

    Highly recommended.

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