Confusion, The
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Continuing the epic adventure begun in the bestselling Quicksilver! It is the late 1600s on the high seas. A group of Barbary galley slaves plot amongst themselves as they ply the oars of a pirate ship. These ten men -- unfortunates from around the world impressed into servitude -- have heard whispers of an enormous cache of Spanish gold. Together, they hatch a daring scheme: escape their chains, seize a ship, and discover the gold. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world . . . The beautiful Eliza, toast of Versailles and spy extraordinaire, attempts to return to London with her baby, a child whose paternity remains a mystery. But, as she makes her way home from the Continent, her ship is stopped by a French privateer -- and she is returned to the Sun King's court. And so Eliza is thrown back into a web of international intrigue, and finds herself contending with all manner of characters, including cryptographers, poisoners, Jesuits, financial manipulators, and the stray pirate or two.

In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves -- including one Jack Shaftoe, a.k.a. King of the Vagabonds, a.k.a. Half-Cocked Jack, lately and miraculously cured of the pox -- devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues, rife with battles, chases, hairbreadth escapes, swashbuckling, bloodletting, and danger -- a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver ... nay, gold ... nay, legendary gold that will place the intrepid band at odds with the mighty and the mad, with alchemists, Jesuits, great navies, pirate queens, and vengeful despots across vast oceans and around the globe.

Meanwhile, back in Europe ... The exquisite and resourceful Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, master of markets, pawn and confidante of enemy kings, onetime Turkish harem virgin, is stripped of her immense personal fortune by France's most dashing privateer. Penniless and at risk from those who desire either her or her head (or both), she is caught up in a web of international intrigue, even as she desperately seeks the return of her most precious possession -- her child.

While ... Newton and Leibniz continue to propound their grand theories as their infamous rivalry intensifies, stubborn alchemy does battle with the natural sciences, nobles are beheaded, dastardly plots are set in motion, coins are newly minted (or not) in enemy strongholds, father and sons reunite in faraway lands, priests rise from the dead ... and Daniel Waterhouse seeks passage to the Massachusetts colony in hopes of escaping the madness into which his world has descended.

Customer Reviews:

  • con-fused
    Stephenson's unique style continues with The Confusion. Two stories are con-fused in this volume: One of Jack Shaftoe and his adventuring cabal, and the other of Eliza and her economic and political machinations. From the first book Jack Shaftoe was one of my favorite characters while Eliza was one of my least favorite, therefore I truly enojyed one half of this volume while only somewhat enjoying the other half....more info
  • The sequel to Quicksilver is here!
    Stephenson's very long historical novel, the sequel to Quicksilver is here! Confusion courses with Stephenson's scholarship but is rarely bogged down with too much historical detail. Stephenson is especially impressive in his ability to represent dialogue over the evolving worldview of seventeenth-century scientists and enliven the most abstruse explanation of theory.

    Though replete with science, the novel is as much about the complex struggles for political ascendancy and the workings of financial markets. Further, the novel's literary ambitions match its physical size. Stephenson narrates through epistolary chapters, fragments of plays and poems, journal entries, maps, drawings, genealogic tables, and copious contemporary epigrams. Stephenson has matched ambition to execution, and his faithful, durable readers will be both entertained and richly rewarded with a practicum in Baroque science, cypher, culture, and politics as the story continues.

    I'm always sad to finish long novels, because life seems so mundane afterward. For fun, if you are open minded and looking for those books begging for its pages to be turned...look no further. I just read a copy of Edgar Fouche's 'Alien Rapture,' which also blew me away. Perhaps, most of all, it was because Fouche was a Top Secret Black Program `insider', whose credibility has been verified over and over. I also really liked Dan Brown's `Angels and Demons.' Want to be shocked, check out Dr. Paul Hill's 'Unconventional Flying Objects,' which NASA tried to ban. The possibility of NASA and Government cover-ups makes truth stranger than fiction, which is based on someone's truth. Anyway great reading all....more info

  • Take your time
    Stephenson's strong suit in his recent novels has always been along the lines of 'Lives Lived Large'.

    As mentioned elsewhere, this series requires concentration. The books are long, but rarely drag. There is far more action/movement in the second novel than in the first one, and the reviews I have seen consider this an improvement. Personally, I do not; of the two volumes thus far I prefer 'Quicksilver' for the atmosphere it establishes.

    While there are many characters, those that require your special attention in this book are not the primary ones. Anyone should be able to follow the adventures of Jack, Eliza, or Waterhouse. The 'minor' characters are vital. Keep 'Quicksilver' handy.

    The structure of 'The Confusion' does make the reader's task easier when compared to 'Quicksilver'.

    There have been references elsewhere comparing Stephenson's "sea shanties" to Patrick O'Brien. Ignore them; I've always considered O'Brien to be more a Jane Austin type and comparing the two is not appropriate....more info

  • AMAZED by the CON-FUSION
    I just finished the second book in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. I am stunned. I think I have read some of my favorite fiction I have ever read. (I love Nabokov, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Mark Twain, Tom Clancy, C.S. Lewis). I am amazed the little intricate wordplay details and the immense arcs and wheels and systems of plot and character and themes he has woven into an entertaining tapestry. I blew through the last 200 pages like it was an action adventure. Like MOBY DICK, H. Rider Haggard, Patrick O'Brian, Herodotus' THE HISTORIES, Shakespeare, Alexandre Dumas, and many others all wrapped into one, and yet not a pastiche...carrying the quality and weight and joy and enlightenment of all of these combined. I almost was engrossed, and in the last fifteen pages wanted to rip the book in half I was so angry (due to plot, etc. not lack of quality...in fact the opposite) and then the last five pages felt a true catharsis and then the last page cannot wait to see how it all really turns out. If you have only read QUICKSILVER and were somewhat admiring and entertained, you MUST read THE CONFUSION...it delivers on so much promised in the first book and goes so much further and is even more gripping. I am starting THE SYSTEM OF THE WORLD tomorrow. And when I finish it, I could start with book one QUICKSILVER and read it all over again...in fact, I would like to because I know I only probably gleaned 3/5 of what I could from one reading and will see much more now that I know more of the outcomes and plots and characters and interweavings. How can something taste like candy and yet satisfy like steak? How can one work of fiction tickle my humor, stimulate my mind, and stir my heart?...more info
  • Masterful book
    Not much to add to what everyone else has said; for those of you who recognised the promise of Quicksilver, it pays of here, and for those who didn't, I'd perhaps give Stephenson a second chance.

    However, what other book can transform the image of French 18th century nobility sitting around, playing cards, into an hysterical comic scene and a lesson into market forces and financing? For that reason alone, this is worth reading....more info

  • This book may be baroque, but it doesn't need fixing
    While perusing the reviews of the first book, it seems that many people thought it was simply too long and packed full of needless detail. To them I say, Michael Crichton this is not. I also occaisionally enjoy picking up a book that can be finished in an evening, and is perfectly crafted to hold my shortened attention span, but this is not that book. Not only is it rather long, but it takes more time to read each page in this book than, say, the Da Vinci Code. For anyone acquainted with the authors of the period, it is a style that is immediately recognizable. Unlike, say, Jane Auel in the Earth's Children series (Clan of the Cave Bear, etc.), the lines of the page are not unnnecessarily filled with repetitive garbage, but with rich detail that add drama and humor to the events that follow. The breaks between the action are filled with dialogue so witty that I actually laughed out loud too often while reading this book to continue to read it in public.

    In all fairness, I have my degree in history, focusing on the period immediately before this one, and so am perhaps more inclined than others to enjoy the historical trivia that can be found in this book. Also, having been forced to read a lot of John Locke, none of the weird spellings and odd word usage that can especially be found in the dialogue of the English characters bothers me, and, in fact, added to my enjoyment of the book.

    I consider myself a fast reader and I had to work to get this back to library in the alloted 14-day period, but I also haven't enjoyed any other book that I've read so far this year half as much.

    For readers who liked this book and enjoyed being rewarded for paying attention to detail (as well as long scenes at sea), I recommend Umberto Eco's Island of the Day before....more info

  • An excellent follow-on to "Quicksilver"
    "The Confusion" is the second in Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle" trilogy. This book offers more action and adventure than I found in "Quicksilver" (Book 1 of the Baroque Cycle) but in no way does this book sacrifice the historical and scientific aspects typical of Stephenson's books.

    Stephenson continues to impress with his depth of knowledge, engaging style and meticulous research. This is an excellent book in a fascinating series of books - I highly recommend it....more info
  • The Foundation Series for the new millenium
    Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy/Series is considered one of the great science-fiction collections ever written, forming the basis of countless derivative and inspired works over the past fifty years. The Baroque Cycle will not, unfortunately, inspire fifty years of copycats, for a unique reason: it would be far too difficult to undertake with even moderate effort. This is a nine-book/ three-volume masterpiece of historical fiction that really has no peer in my experience (and please comment if you find any!)

    As an aside, I could, at length, review each of the nine books and prattle on endlessly about this or that, but that's far too many reviews for what I intend to say about the Cycle as a whole. My comments apply to all books equally.

    The cycle begins in the mid 17th century and spans the adulthood of one Daniel Waterhouse, a fictional contemporary of Isaac Newton. Of course, it also traces the life of one Jack Shaftoe, a fictional hero with his roots in every pirate story ever written or filmed. And then there's the mysterious Enoch Root, popping up again from the Cryptonomicon to move things along as the deux ex machina of certain story elements.

    The number of interleaved story lines would be an impressive enough feat of writing, but the historical references were simply amazing. The sheer amount of research Mr. Stephenson invested for the Cycle must have been enormous. In short, Mr. Stephenson describes London before, during, and after the Great Fire of 1666 politically, sociologically, geographically, architecturally, and economically; he performs the same rigor of place-setting with Hanover and present-day Germany, Paris and present-day France, diverse parts of Egypt, Algeria, India, Mexico, South America, and Boston. This is the kind of book series that would inspire high-school students to PAY ATTENTION. For, if the students really do their homework and have a teacher partnered with them to put the book details into their proper context, you could quite possible craft an entire school year around the nine books, such is the depth and breadth of scholastic research involved in putting together such a series. It's no small achievement or idle boast: Mr. Stephenson has in some way taken his education and put it to its greatest use, as an inspiration to students.

    All of this would be for naught if the stories weren't truly excellent at their core, and they are. You could boil down the Shaftoe story line to "pirate story" but that sells it short after the first book -- and there are eight more to go. What starts as a pirate story quickly become something of a precursor to spycraft and terrorism/counter-terrorism in the 17th and 18th centuries: currency manipulation, political scandals, and assassinations. I haven't even mentioned Isaac Newton versus Gottfried Leibniz in the battle for Calculus, or Isaac Newton's Alchemy, the reconstruction of London post-fire, the gold trade, the silver trade, piracy in the Atlantic and Pacific, the timber economy, the commodities exchange of northern Europe, the court at Versailles, and so on. I'm astonished as I write this.

    This is well-worth the time invested to read, as a Cycle. If Mr. Stephenson ever posted his complete bibliography, or if some doctoral student ever decided to craft that two-semester, eight-course class tracing the book's scholarship, I would be among the first to delve deeply into it and re-learn my forgotten history, mathematics, and economics. Simply, this is one of the finest fiction series ever written.

    -Fred
    ...more info
  • mind blowing but difficult
    This book will reward your attention, but it's a wrist cracker and at times it's diffuse. Not for everyone, but fans will love it....more info
  • I told you so! :-)
    I'm 80% done with Confusion, and I'm loving it!

    The success of this book rests on the much-maligned extensive exposition of its predecessor Quicksilver. Here in this book is the beginning of the payoff for wading through the exposition. I frequently find myself chortling over it: AHahhahahaha!!!

    There are a few dry sections, but they invariably end with a rich payoff, for example the statue that's planned in London for the Earl of Upnor! :-D

    To explain the "I told you so" title to this review, let me paste in my review of Quicksilver:
    ------------------
    Quicksilver is just the first third of the novel
    Reviewer: Brian Hobson from Raleigh, NC United States
    I have read most of Stephensons previous work, I have read Cryptonomicon three times, and I just finished my second reading of Quicksilver. I have also read a lot of reviews here, many of them from people who loved Cryptonomicon but did not like Quicksilver. I might be able to provide a little perspective.

    One of the reasons I like Neal Stephenson as a writer is that his books are not an easy read, they are a bit of a challenge. I consult a dictionary more often when reading Stephenson than any other author I can think of. Cryptonomicon was NOT an easy read; it would have been very easy to put it down in the first 25 pages and it didn't really get rolling until after page 300, after the first third. The first third of Cryptonimicon was a lot of exposition and character development which was necessary to the unfolding of the story. Readers who got through that first third were rewarded immensely in the latter two-thirds of the book.

    I remind you that Quicksilver is the first third of the Baroque Cycle. It is stuffed full of exposition and character, somewhat to its detriment as a stand-alone book, but I submit to you that this is necessary to the unfolding of the story of the Baroque Cycle as a whole.

    After reading Quicksilver the first time I read some historical non-fiction about Cromwell, The Bourbons and the Stuarts, and an excellent biography of Isaac Newton that examined his explorations in Alchemy. I appreciated Quicksilver more on the second read with this better background; I understood better how well-researched Stephenson is and I was better able to absorb the story he is trying to tell.

    Remember Cryptonomicon: Stephenson is teaching us about the origins of modern computers. The lesson is not an easy one and requires some effort of its readers. In my opinion the negative reviews reflect not a weakness in the book but rather a weakness or impatience in the reader. Be patient, complete the cycle. I am confident that you will be rewarded for your efforts.
    ------------------

    Sit back, enjoy your reward!...more info

  • Tolkien's work LoTR was the written work of the 20th century...
    We'll have to wait 94 years to find out, but I'm betting on Stephenson's work for this century.

    Just get this series, you won't regret getting through all those pages....more info
  • No "Middle-Book Woes" Here
    After the apparent choppiness of "Quicksilver" I was a bit worried that "The Confusion" would fall prey to the same unevenness of the first book of the trilogy. I was also worried that this novel could suffer from the same fate as many middle books of trilogies. Fortunately, I found "The Confusion" to be a much more engaging read than "Quicksilver," and some of the revelations within have caused me to reevaluate my prior assessment of the former book. A lot of the cryptic occurrances in "Quicksilver" are unravelled somewhat here, and the stage is well set for the final book of the trilogy.

    Stephenson's style has developed a depth and density over the years, and while it is my opinion that "Cryptonomicon" is currently the novel that exemplifies the balance of depth and entertainment the best (so far), I will not be surprised if time proves this trilogy to have an even more lasting effect in the mind's eye than any of his prior works. Given the popular and critical acclaim of the aforementioned novel, that's high praise indeed!...more info

  • A solid follow-through
    This is a solid follow-through of Quicksilver, incorporating the same brilliant style and prescient ideas. Stephenson ranks with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as a man ahead of time....more info
  • He lost me
    It's rare that I put a book down, however that's what I've done with this series. After reading the first book and somewhat liking it, then reading most of this second book I realized I didn't find all of the storylines interesting. The pirating parts were a blast, good action, interesting planning by Shaftoe et al, but then it's back to Eliza and dreadfully boring political schemes to make money. It was disappointing because she was the best part of the first book!

    Perhaps I'll pick it up again when my reading backlog has emptied out, but for now, it's not a big enough satisfaction payoff for time invested. Which is disappointing because before this series Stephenson was tops....more info
  • Wonderful story!
    Stephenson's very long historical novel, the sequel to Quicksilver is here! Confusion courses with Stephenson's scholarship but is rarely bogged down with too much historical detail. Stephenson is especially impressive in his ability to represent dialogue over the evolving worldview of seventeenth-century scientists and enliven the most abstruse explanation of theory.

    Though replete with science, the novel is as much about the complex struggles for political ascendancy and the workings of financial markets. Further, the novel's literary ambitions match its physical size. Stephenson narrates through epistolary chapters, fragments of plays and poems, journal entries, maps, drawings, genealogic tables, and copious contemporary epigrams. Stephenson has matched ambition to execution, and his faithful, durable readers will be both entertained and richly rewarded with a practicum in Baroque science, cypher, culture, and politics as the story continues.

    I'm always sad to finish long novels, because life seems so mundane afterward. For fun, if you are open minded and looking for those books begging for its pages to be turned...look no further. I just read a copy of Edgar Fouche's 'Alien Rapture,' which also blew me away. Perhaps, most of all, it was because Fouche was a Top Secret Black Program `insider', whose credibility has been verified over and over. I also really liked Dan Brown's `Angels and Demons.' Want to be shocked, check out Dr. Paul Hill's 'Unconventional Flying Objects,' which NASA tried to ban. The possibility of NASA and Government cover-ups makes truth stranger than fiction, which is based on someone's truth. Anyway great reading all....more info

  • pirates and action
    The second book is a fun read as the majority of the characters are already established, bbut the action slows down from the first book. Per the usual "second of a trilogy" book the main characters are sent out away from each other, obviously in preparation for the grand coming together in the third book. If you liked the first one, keep reading. If not, you won't appreciate the second book( and you will not want to read the third). To be honest, I like the Shaftoe characters (Cryptomonical was better balanced) and could have used more of Jack, but the second is a set up for the third so keep reading. ...more info
  • Even better on the second reading - Dense but worth the effort!
    Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is one of the most ambitious series of historical fiction in recent years and he does an excellent job of bridging the distance between 17th century and today by focusing on putting the ideas and persons in the context of their time. Having read through the voluminous series when it came out, I was a little hesitant to re-read the three books (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World) but my curiousity won out. I'm glad it did. There is so much information packed into the series that the second reading really made me appreciate the ideas and historical personalities invovlved.

    I also noticed something that had slipped by me the first time. Daniel Waterhouse, rather than just being a neutral participant in the storyline, really came out as a catalyst for all the events in the book. Even more, his transformation from a person scared into inaction by the fear of others' disapproval into a man capable of exerting his will to make the world a better place is absolutely central to the storyline and I'm sad to say that I missed it the first time. This slow transformation permeates all three books and I think it must something very personal to Mr. Stephenson.

    The other arguement for a second reading is that the events are so complex and the historical descriptions of warfare, economics and natural philosophy are often so detailed that catching everything after only one reading is difficult. I think of this as a strength of the book rather than a weakness, although some people probably do not appreciate the density of background material in the books.

    The Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon form an interwoven historical narrative and I think that they will stand as a great literary achievement. I do wish he'd intersperse more of his shorter novels Snow Crash (Bantam Spectra Book)and The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Bantam Spectra Book) alongside his large works (Baroque Cycle, Cryptonomicon, Anathem) but I'll happily read anything Neal Stephenson writes since he has a gift for conveying complex ideas in an exciting and compelling way. ...more info
  • Every Bit as Good as the First Book
    THE CONFUSION can be every bit as confusing as QUICKSILVER but it is no less delightful. It ever manages that rare feat among trilogies of being a middle book every bit as good as the first. That the first was outstanding means that this is no small accomplishment.

    In the grand scheme of things, this can be read as a pirate adventure or, actually, two of them. The first pirate ended the first book being taken prisoner by Barbary pirates. It is now some years later and Jack is still a galley slave but some chums have cooked up a get rich scheme that is not quite as quick as it could be. It involves a diverse cast of characters and, before it is over, Jack has circumnavigated the globes, been a king and had many, many more adventures. Each of them entertaining.

    The second pirate is a more sedentary kind. She is a financier and investor who manipulates the English, Dutch, French and Germans with ease. In the process she manages to raise herself from an escaped harem slave to a multinational duchess.

    These two have a history from the first book but their paths have diverged since then. Even so, the duchess is never far from the mind of the adventurer. He loves her dearly and she loves him...sort of.

    It is a great story that can stand on its own but which is so much better when read after the first book. The baroque plotting and story line are refreshing instead of tedious. This is a masterwork.
    ...more info
  • Better than Quicksilver, but only half the book is good
    It has taken me forever to finish this book. I was disappointed by Quicksilver, which I felt the book was far from. In The Confusion, which refers to the con-fusion of two books into one whole, I found the "Juncto" chapters, focusing on politics and court, economics, and the mathematically-inclined savants of yore, to be slow and tedious, filled with long-winded dialogs and expository letters. The "Bonanza" chapters, however, where a fun ride. Here we focus primarily on the King of the Vagabonds, Jack Shaftoe, as he goes from slave to pirate to merchant and finally to "Leeroy"'s London connection. "Bonanza" is everything a good book should be. Sadly, only half of The Confusion is made of this great book-within-a-book, making The Confusion as muddied as the water of the Thames....more info
  • Much better than Quicksilver
    For those of you who did not enjoy Quicksilver, try this one. I struggled to finish Quicksilver, sometimes re-reading the same paragraphs again and again, trying to focus, wondering if what I was reading was important to the story or not. However, The Confusion is a rollicking adventure mixed with wonderful historical trivia and sly references to future terminology (batna, anyone?), and I could not put it down. I laughed out loud in several places. This novel does require your full attention - it's not light reading - but the rewards are immense....more info