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Baroque Cycle

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Author: Neal Stephenson

Book JacketBook JacketBook Jacket

This series of three very long novels is hard to characterize. Perhaps it can best be described as historical fiction about science, politics and adventuring. Set in the late 1600ís and early 1700ís, this series examines the way that an old system of power based on royalty and raw military power was challenged by a new system based on science and economics. While reading the novels, I repeatedly checked historical sources to see which things Stephenson novelized were real and which imagined. Did William of Orange actually get attacked by French troops? Was he gay? Did Newton actually drink mercury? Was he gay? Find out for yourself. Essentially, there are two story lines that intertwine, separate and then intertwine again. One part of the story follows Daniel Waterhouse (a fictional character) and his dealings with Isaac Newton, Gotfried Leibniz (historical characters) and the priority fights they waged on the discovery of the calculus. Sounds heavy, and it is. These parts take a great deal of patience and Stephenson could have used an editor, especially in parts of Quicksilver. But, by the end of the series, the dealings of Newton and The Royal Society had captivated me. As a scientist, I find the enlightenment and the Royal Society of that time to be fascinating. The other story line involves Half-cocked Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds and his paramour, Eliza, who turns out to be an economic virtuoso and master of court intrigue. Jack is a rogue, a cad, an opportunist and so totally likable and capable that one canít help but root for him. By the end of The Baroque Series, I had become deeply attached to the characters and felt as if I had taken a long journey to modernity, at least some of the first steps in that direction.

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