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It's unfortunate that "Quicksilver" will turn so many listeners off the Baroque Cycle, because the other volumes are much more fun. "Quicksilver" is hard work, and is best thought of as an extended atmosphere-builder rather than a story. It is very rewarding though, if you know what you're getting into.
To enjoy "Quicksilver", you need three things:
* You need to be content with the fact that there's no plot. At all. All that happens is that a guy called Daniel wanders around London in the 1660s and 70s and chats with the leading scientific figures of the age. That's it. Oh, and there's some stuff about piracy in Massachusetts. Don't get me wrong,it's amazing writing and you will learn so much. You will get an amazing sense of the texture and atmosphere of the era. But there's barely a shred of story. Some people won't be able to deal with that. I didn't mind.
* You need a basic familiarity with the history of the 1660s and 70s and with the aforementioned scientific figures. Complete newbies will be baffled. Get prepared to do a lot of Wikipedia-ing.
* You need to want to listen to insanely detailed explanations of baroque science and the birth of economics. It's fascinating stuff ... if you like that kind of thing.
I enjoyed the listen, on the whole, although the wordiness and lack of forward progression does make it a struggle at times. And it undoubtedly is of extremely limited appeal. You might be better advised to start with Volume 2 if you'd like a story rather than a scene-setter.
The reader is brilliant.
197 of 197 people found this review helpful
I rarely write reviews, but this situation seems to demand it. I am amazed at both how few reviews have been posted and how many have been negative. It is not surprising that some did not enjoy Quicksilver, but where are the reviews from those that did? It is hard to believe that this rich, original and quirky book has not found an extensive audience.
Strictly speaking this is a "secret history". That is, it faithfully covers a historical period but creates characters and events that fit neatly in the cracks between what is known and what is not about this period. Into these cracks, Stephenson inserts Daniel Waterhouse, a fiction college mate of Newton and early member of the Royal Society. He is a puritan, a member of sect at the fringe of English society. Through his eyes we receive an intelligent and intimate understanding of his time--a time when culture, science, religion and commerce where changing radically--were becoming modern.
This might sound dry, but it is not. It is the coming of age story of man in the Restoration Court of Charles I. It is filled action including one of the most perfectly described pirate battles I have ever encountered. It has a cast of compelling characters, both real and imagined; scientists, both mad and brilliant. Running though all is a vein of wit and often hysterical humor. The prose itself is first-rate, far better than we have the right to expect in a historical novel. Add to all of this an excellent narrator with a perfect ear and voice for the accents and cadences of the time.
If you enjoy Stephenson or a well written historical novel, you should not miss this. By the way, Quicksilver is the first of several volumes in the Baroque Cycle. I have only read the second book, but I can already guarantee that there is much more to look forward to.
92 of 92 people found this review helpful
This is an excellent audiobook, very well written and narrated, which I enjoyed very much but prospective listeners need to bear in mind two points.
First this is not so much a historical novel and a novelisation of actual history: that is, the main characters are true historical figures and the events are, by and large, true events. This means that although the picture painted on 17th and 18th century England is both fascination and convincing, the book lacks a strong storyline and a clear narrative momementum. This means you need to concentrate when listening otherwise you lose the plot pretty fast!
Second, to really enjoy the book, I think you need a fairly reasonable knowledge of the history of the period, and the history of scientific development - in particular the feud between Newton and Leibnitz on who invented the calculus - otherwise the allusive and subtle style of the book will lose you completely. Little time is spent by the author setting the scene, as it were.
I'm going to check out the next in the series as I think the books improve judging by amazon reviews, and whilst I did enjoy this one, it wasn't what I expected - hence this rather lengthy review!
22 of 23 people found this review helpful
The Baroque Cycle is a hugely ambitious work, sweeping across 17th century history. Quicksilver, the first book in the cycle, is centred on the early days of the Royal Society and the Enlightenment. Taking in the power struggles of Europe, the Plague and the Great Fire, it's a great read and makes a particularly good audiobook. Highly recommended.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful