Quicksilver – Neal Stephenson

Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, #1)

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 solitary format.  You are not getting anything new.  It is a marketing package to make the series look less intimidating.  You can purchase the books in whatever format is more appealing to your reading style.  My one comment is that if you choose to read Quicksilver: Book 1 rather than Volume 1 you may not be as impressed.  It explores of the story of Daniel Waterhouse the friend and colleague of Isaac Newton.  He is a Royal Society member in the English scientific community but ends up playing a much more political role.  The scientific details are rich.  Many have found them excessive.  I enjoyed them but the first time I read this it was as the volume and not the book and including the stories of Half-cocked Jack and Eliza helps to make Volume holistic.  I think if I had read book one initially I am not sure I would have continued.  My personal recommendation, if you enjoy large dense books, read the books in the three volumes rather than the 8 book format.

Daniel Waterhouse is a friend and colleague of Isaac Newton.  He comes from a deeply religious and puritan background.  His father was the infamous Drake and both paves a way for his career in Natural Philosophy as well as is a challenge.  Daniel and Isaac meet in Oxford and room together.  Daniel soon learns he can learn more from Isaac’s genius than what he can learn in class.  The price for this is keeping Newton fed, making sure he sleeps, and taking the brunt of his moods and temper.  Daniel is perhaps the only person that Isaac trusts and puts Daniel in the position of caretaker and social diplomat for Newton so the world can see his genius.  Nothing would be published of Newton’s if it weren’t for Daniel because Newton.  He does not produce his work for acclaim and most of his work isn’t seen by anyone else.  As a result, Waterhouse does not get to pursue his own scientific queries.  Instead he becomes steeped in politics and an integral important figure in the Royal Society.  This is what you learn in Quicksilver: Book 1.  Quicksilver: Volume 1 goes on to explore the story of Jack Shaftoe, or Half-cocked Jack.  This man is not a political giant but rather an intelligent street urchin grown into a man.  He’s not the best of men, but he is smart, crafty, and always seeking opportunity.  Jack brings the action to this tale as his story becomes entwined with Daniel’s as well as Eliza’s.  Eliza is rescued from a harem by Jack – not on purpose but their relationship is important.  She is spy, financial market genius, and rescued white sex slave.  If you stop at Book 1 you will miss so much.  Carry on because as with all Stephenson’s books it will all tie together in the end.

Stephenson, prior to this series, was known for his science fiction, specifically, Snow Crash and Diamond Age.  These are books I love.  The Baroque Cycle is purely historical and while it discusses scientific material and how it shaped 17th and 18th century society this is a historical novel.  The book provides a very different view of the scientific giants of this time frame compared to the version taught to you in school.  Personal issues and mental illness are evident. Stephenson is known for his level of detail and research.  In this series Stephenson is even more diligent than his previous works.  Later in his career Stephenson will write Mongoloid and Anathem.  I am not a fan of these particular books.  I have learned several things in being a fan of his work.  It is not all the same and if you like one of his books it is no guarantee you will like another.  You need to pick the books of his that fit in the genres you like.  I enjoy his science fiction and historical fiction.  I have no love for his joint works with other authors. Many of his fans have learned to pay attention to these factors.  Some say this series is where his work changed for them and they lost interest.  I disagree think The Baroque Cycle is intelligent and I am currently on my second read of it.  You must judge for yourself, but use some of the information I presented.  Approach the work in the format that agrees best with your reading style and don’t fall into the trap of purchasing a book you have already read if you purchased one of the volumes previously. I have layed out the process to reading this series below.



1.  Quicksilver: Volume 1

2. The Confusion: Volume 2

3. The System of The World: Volume 3



1. Quicksilver: Book 1

2. King of the Vagabonds

3.  Odalisque

4. Bonanza

5. The Juncto

6.  Soloman’s Gold

7. Currency

8. The System of The World: Book


About Steph

As C. S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” I am an indiscriminate reader. I can find a way to enjoy almost all books. I find they are like people – you can find something endearing in almost every one of them. I love to write reviews. I hope you enjoy them and find them useful. View all posts by Steph

7 responses to “Quicksilver – Neal Stephenson

  • MojoFiction

    I’ve only tried to read one Neil Stephenson book — Cryptonomicon. Great prose, interesting characters, nice sense of humor. After 600 pages I still didn’t understand what was going on. I gave up. I do actually plan on trying it again sometime because I do like his writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • stephswint

      If Cryptonomicon wasn’t for you. I would recommend trying Snow Crash or Diamond Age – Stephenson Sci Fi. If you want to read it go for Snow Crash, if you want to listen go for Diamond Age.


  • Molly Mortensen

    This sounds like such a strange book with all of the interconnecting characters and story lines. I think I’d like his science fiction better. Thanks for letting me know that liking one of his books doesn’t mean liking them all. I like authors that write such different books, but they never become auto buys. (or only certain genres by them)

    Liked by 1 person

    • stephswint

      I like both but definitely try the Sci-Fi first. I think you would love Diamond Age but get through the fist five chapters before you give up. He’s big on build up. The first five chapters are important but in the beginning you don’t necessarily see how.


  • fromcouchtomoon

    Great and very helpful review! Snow Crash has been on my TBR list forever. I hemmed and hawed about checking out Quicksilver back when it was released, but ultimately the few bad reviews on Amazon convinced me to stay away, and I really regret that now. So glad I don’t rely on those reviews anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  • bmackela

    I’m still not sure whether I want to commit. It is quite the undertaking.


  • Steph

    Ha! That is an understatement. If it were me I would read Cryptonomicon. If you like it then I would try this series.


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