System of the World, The
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'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.

Customer Reviews:

  • Stephenson: the Best of Our Time
    The System of the World is the brilliant capstone to the Baroque Cycle, a 3,000 page tome whose remarkable scope is only matched by its near limitless intrigue & implications.

    Where to begin?

    1) this story is ultimately one of eternal hope, victory & the liberation of the "anima" (soul) of mankind.
    2) this trilogy is about enduring love.
    3) it is about discipline of the psyche & the reconciliation of the physical self & emotional passions with rational thought.
    4) it is about political & mechanical innovation & processes, as well as political & mechanical machinations
    5) this is the story which makes you want to leave a mark on the future by writing a worthy history while you are alive (in spite of the inevitability that future generations will not be able to cite you as the author).
    6) this is The Sytem of a World & Universe built of pulleys & ropes, dictated by tension, torque, gravity & hard fast rules.
    While the heavens & Earth may appear a system of chaotic happenstance, have no doubt they were built with foresight & care... and are governed by those who built them.

    Stephenson is the best living author I have read in my lifetime. I feel honored to have had this comet pass through my neck of the solar system. This Baroque Cycle is the gold standard for all of Stephenson's peers. I firmly believe he will be likened in the years that come to master Tolkein himself. ...more info
  • Dickensian Genius
    How did Neal Stephenson do this? Like Dickens, he throws a multitude of characters into the air, and somehow they all land in the right place. He presents this era in all of its complexity, London in all of its squalor, and delivers a giggle or a guffaw every page or so. I didn't want the story to end, and yet I had to suspend my life for a number of days and very long nights and see it through. What I especially appreciated is that he presented the ambivalence of Europe's version of modernity, and Princess Caroline's dream looms over the work as we stand here today and see what this System of the World has wrought. Despite Daniel's deep-seated Puritan revulsion for the messy, endlessly evocative symbol-laden tradition of alchemy, he sees that the Engine for Raising Water by Fire is another of its myriad faces. We don't really leave anything behind in this traverse through history, but we make many a wrong turn, and the jury is still out on this one. Of course, it is Power that made this Logic Mill I am typing on possible.

    And hey Neal, in case you read this, Descartes was RIGHT about the pineal gland. There's a reason why Dappa is the most morally developed character in your book....more info
  • A genre busting marvel
    This is the best of the three Baroque Cycle books. Each book is different in tone and construction. As others have noted, it got off to a slow start. But after the first 100 or so pages, it turned
    into a mystery novel--not a mystery genre novel, but a "what on earth is this about"?

    The genius of these books, for me, is their unpredictability.
    I loved Cryptonomicon. But as a work of artistry, intellect, and scope the Baroque cycle is so far above it as to make me forget it.

    And "System" delivers the goods. The writing is so far beyond the commercial and formulaic that pours out of the world's publishing houses like debt from the "Federal" Reserve Bank that I experienced it as a bit of revivifying alchemical magick.

    This book is about the importance of money in the stability of a System of the World. Implicit throughout is the observation that our current System of the World is coming to an end because the monetary current--the very life blood of our system--has become corrupted to the point that it will take a miracle (The Solomonic Gold) to restore it to health.

    The fiat regime of floating paper currencies redeemable by NOTHING is what is mocked so mercilessly.

    The majesty and relevance of this delicious intellectual entertainment will only shine brighter as the present System of the World collapses into a heap of worthless paper.

    ...more info
  • A Brilliant Conclusion
    I have thoroughly enjoyed each of the three volumes of the BAROQUE CYLCLE. Even the middle volume did not suffer from the normal "middle of the trilogy blues". This volume, though is the trump card. It too is a masterpiece.

    In volume one, the reader was treated to a series of narratives that bounced back and forth between the latter 1600s and the early 1700s. The same principle character, Daniel Waterhouse, appeared sometimes as a young man in England and sometimes as an old man in New England. After the first third, we are left hanging with Daniel on the way back to England and nothing more is heard of this story line until volume 3. Most Frustrating!

    The wait was worth it though. All of the many threads are tied together nicely and the individual stories come together to make a whole greater than the sum of the parts . (And the parts are very good indeed!) It is, dare I say it, like a masterful baroque organ fugue.

    Jack Shaftoe, the King of the Vagabonds, has been given a mission by Louis XIV of France. He is to destroy the English system of currency set up by Isaac Newton, the greatest genius ever. Louis's hold on him is through the one woman who Jack really loves. Jack may not be well educated but his daring and cunning make him a formidable adversary.

    Daniel Waterhouse has been called back to England by the heiress to the English throne. He is to patch up relations between Isaac Newton and Wilhelm Liebnitz, the two greatest minds in an age filled with them. He becomes sidetracked by a plot on his life. The solution to that plot sets him to scheming against those who most trust him.

    The story seems deceptively simple but it is not. It abounds with unexpected twists and turns, lots of humor and even more trivia for those who are fascinated by the period. Those who do not like such details would be better served with another book but for me, this entire series was delightful!
    ...more info
  • The End of the Beginning
    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. ...more info
  • Not for everyone
    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. ...more info
  • One of the finest novels I have ever read
    It has been a long exhausting ride through the Baroque Cycle, but worth every minute. I suggest that you do not read this book until you have completed Quicksilver and The Confusion in that order. The rewards include the joys of a fine literary epic combined with an incomperable understanding of an interesting historical epoch. Characterizations of Waterhouse, Newtown, Leibnetz, Eliza and, of course Jack, King of the Vagabonds and many others are artfully portrayed, and the writing is as witty and insightful as that of Pynchon, Eco, Nabakov and other literary greats. If you admire great historical fiction, do not pass up the opportunity to indulge yourself with this marvalous trilogy. Thanks Neil! ...more info
  • Epic History Made Readable
    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....more info
  • Excellent...a stew of Ideas with a melange of historical and philosphical spices
    Read this book, and all of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, and be amazed at this man's acumen, storytelling wizardry, and of course adroit sense of humor. Highly recommended for those who enjoy books that educate as well as tittilate. ...more info
  • This is 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
  • sometimes felt like more of a challenge than a pleasure.
    The Baroque Cycle is Neal Stephenson's latest fiction undertaking. Like his other books, it is set in a complex world. However, unlike his other novels, this three-volume set has a historical setting, and is reminiscent of Russian novels with its many characters and intricate plot. Three major stories intertwine, along with other episodes, through the three volumes, often intermixing in the most surprising ways. It has bits of humor, and many references to science and mathematics, as well as other arcana. Fans of Umberto Eco would enjoy this series.

    Reading all three volumes took me four months. To say that I feel relieved would be an understatement. I feel like I just accomplished something huge. On the other hand, I might have put the same amount of time and effort into reading a REAL classic and been better for it. Neal Stephenson's writing can be very intellectually challenging, and at times, I wondered if I was up to the task.

    The final volume, The System of the World, opens with Daniel Waterhouse arriving in London. London is chaotic, with disagreements about the king's line of succession and mysterious explosions that seem to follow Daniel around. With new and old acquaintances, he forms a "clubb" to investigate the explosions. Meanwhile, strange things are afoot at the mint and Sir Isaac Newton is intent on finding the villain. Eliza also appears in this book as a supporting character, arriving in London to assist Princess Caroline in claiming her rightful throne. Jack, too, has come to London with his own secret mission, and of course, his lifelong love for Eliza still intact.

    This volume falls somewhere between Quicksilver and the Confusion in entertainment value. While Quicksilver is definitely the quickest read, this volume has its sections. The story is easier to follow than the Confusion, or perhaps I had finally gotten the hang of remembering the minutiae.

    One notable thing about this volume is that it has a terrific denouement, which ties up all the loose ends from the entire series and leaves the reader with a warm feeling. In the past, Stephenson has been criticized for his endings, some ending too quickly, others having a feeling of Deus Ex Machina. Not so here - the story wraps up in a timely fashion and leaves no one's story untold.

    ...more info
  • Overall, a disappointment
    I love Neal Stephenson's work, and have read most of it. I think "Cryptonomicon" is one of the best books of the last half of the 20th century, and a perfect capstone for the century itself. I will always give anything by Stephenson a try.

    But I didn't like this book. Frankly, I didn't like the series all that much. We have, what, 2700 pages, and where is the narrative drive? The creation of a stable currency? The creation of calculus? The adventures of Jack Shaftoe? The background of Enoch Root? Just what the devil is going on here?

    I can hear Stephenson in my head now, insisting that such a vast canvas, such a lot of complex material, requires a lot of verbiage. Could be. But personally, I like my historical background in my stories to be just that: background. I mean, I like "Shogun," but if it had stretched into two more books and contained even *more* details about the Portugese, the British explorations of the seas, the Japanese feudal system, the codes of the Samurai, and so on, well, my circuit breakers would have tripped out from overload. As they did with this series of books.

    Others have noted, and I concur, that one of the main characters of this book, Daniel Waterhouse, is dull. Indeed, he is *supremely* dull. I can forgive a lot, but when I don't give a rip about the main character, why bother to read?

    Stephenson made much of the fact that he used a pen and ink to write this. Neal, please: go back to the computer. Perhaps if this had all been online, the major narrative skein could have been teased out, and the 2700 pages could have been sweated down to 800 or so. But man, you write it in ink, I bet you want to keep it.

    It is basically Stephenson's gift with language that gets this book 2.5 stars, honestly; the story itself is not compelling. I don't care if he chooses historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, or whatever, for his next novel, I will give it a chance. But I hope he regains his earlier form, and exhibits a little more brevity; I am not willing to slog through another 2700 pages--or even 900--again with so little reward at the end....more info
  • I read it on the Kindle2
    Enough people have commented on the substance of the book that I can't add anything new, so my 5-star rating will have to suffice. I do have a couple of observations, however, related to the Kindle2. I read all three novels of the trilogy on my brand-new one, and was delighted with it.

    1. Stephenson loves words, and the trilogy is loaded with obscure (to me!) and archaic ones. Fortunately, the Kindle2 comes with a dictionary, and it's a simple matter to point and click, to look up a word in mid-read. It's certainly a lot easier than carrying around a thousand-page dictionary with a thousand page novel. The dictionary is quite good, and contained most of the words I fed it, along with their sources.

    2. Where the Kindle2 suffers is in its poor display of graphics; I think this is part of a larger problem that also leads to poor rendition of pdf files. The maps provided in the trilogy are fuzzy and pretty much useless. That's annoying, given the geographical scope of the books. In particular, System of the World focuses on early 18th century London, and I found myself wanting a good map to orient myself. I finally settled on this one, and printed out a copy to keep with the Kindle2 as I read the book:

    http://www.fidnet.com/~dap1955/dickens/dickens_london_map.html

    Granted, it's of a London more than a century later than the period of the novel, but it did contain most of the buildings and streets mentioned, plus very brief descriptions and histories of key locations.

    A better solution would be for the Kindle to have a comprehensive atlas to complement its dictionary. But that will require a major upgrade to the graphic display capabilities, and probably a faster processor. Maybe we can look forward to it in the Kindle4.
    ...more info
  • Entertaining, but not satisfying
    I cannot help but feel a little cheated, in the end, by this final chapter of a glorious series of novels.

    It has been the complaint of many reviewers, both professional and casual, that Mr. Stephenson has a marked talent in setting up a story and investing said reader in the lives and cares of his, admittedly, wonderfully written characters, and in the end leaving that same reader feeling as though he had waded through a mile of quicksand only to find another endless vista of wet, muddy sand.

    Not to say that I did not enjoy this book.

    Taken by itself, as a independent work of fiction, it is easily the weakest of the Baroque Cycle novels.

    Many issues, which to me were the most important, are not resolved.

    I won't go into specifics, this novel deserves to be read. If only to read the final chapter in a work of fiction involved in one of the most fascinating periods of human thought.

    But...

    I walked away feeling as though more should have been said, more should have been resolved, more should have been...

    Put to right.

    A good book, in sum. You must read it if you have read the previous two, but not the triumphant epiphany you sought.

    Mr. Stephenson is, to me, a helluva writer, with a deft take on the human condition, and a rare talent when it comes to humor, character creation, and sheer verve.

    But deficient when it comes to that most essential element.

    Story.

    3/5 and no better.

    ...more info
  • Entertaining -but also asking dark questions about humanity
    I had the good fortune to stumble upon the trilogy a month before the final volume appeared, and was able to race through them with only a week of waiting for "System of the World". I was captivated! What I personally found most enlightening was Stephenson's reminder how miserable, brutish and short people's lives were, how fraught with danger, and how arbitrarily they were governed by despots and religions. I read it as an endictment of religion whose baseless claims are defended as absolute truths and become causes (among other motives) of endless war and slaughter. No wonder Stephenson's "hero" Daniel Waterhouse is craving for a system of the world based on empirical evidence, logic and reason.
    The modern reader will notice how Stephenson, with fine irony, subtly mentions here and there how the new science - in principle a solid basis for a humane world - is instantly used to improve weaponry.
    I'm now re-reading Cryptonomicon, and it chills me to see even more cruel - and global! - war portrayed here, this time caused by racial ideology and imperial hubris.
    Don't get me wrong: the books, all of them, are superbly entertaining, fascinating yarn interwoven with historical detail, and a richness of language that is a treasure in itself. But underneath it all there is this question whether humankind is spinning into a man-made apocalypse. With thousands of nuclear weapons still on hair trigger alert, controlled by "leaders" who have proven over and over that they can't be trusted, that question may be answered before the rumored sequel (closing the gap between the trilogy and Cryptonomicon) has appeared. Let's hope we get to read it. ...more info
  • I made it!!!!!!!
    I made it. I slogged thru all three parts of the Baroque cycle! Stephenson had better be glad he hooked me with the story of Quicksilver Half Cocked Jack Shaftoe, king of the vagabonds, and Eliza the Harem girl in volume one or I never would have cracked the others.

    Jack and Eliza's adventures apart in volume II were worth the effort of reading 800+ pages.

    Volume III dragged a bit due to the main character being driven by the plot is Dr. Waterhouse and the side story of the machinations of Jacobites and Hanoverians contesting the Crown of England at the Death of Queen Anne. In the end all turns out as it should and I was pleased with the outcome of the lives of all of the major players with whom I'd invested my time.

    I would suggest before anyone attempt to climb the heights of the Baroque Cycle that they first read the first part of Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present" or take the class at that OTHER online Bookseller and Anne Somerset's "The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV". Both provide good background to the Europe that Jack, Eliza, and Dr. Waterhouse live in....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
  • terrific climax to the fantastic Baroque Cycle trilogy
    In 1714 Daniel Waterhouse arbitrates the irrational dispute between the aging mathematical giants Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, both angrily insisting they invented the calculus. However as the two greats brawl like street kids, Queen Anne nears death. The Jacobyte supporters contend with the Hanoverian sympathizers over the succession. Waterhouse fears for the future due to the monarchy dispute potentially harming intellectual pursuits and the math argument shredding collaborations.

    Meanwhile street schemer turned noble schemer Eliza de la Zour influences Caroline of Ansbach, consort of the heir to the English throne furthering her desires; while outlaw Jack Shaftoe struggles to avoid the hangman. As the world seems heading towards madness, Waterhouse tries to keep the rising chaos from turning the world back into another Dark Ages. His hope lies in technology and that rationale people will seek a reasonable solution irregardless of the Newton-Leibniz war, but he fears for the future though he sees a glimmer of light through brilliant inventions that will keep society from totally reversing itself.

    This final epoch to an incredible look at the beginning of the modern age is a terrific climax to the fantastic Baroque Cycle trilogy. The story line is packed with insight into the early eighteenth century especially a deep glimpse at some the most influential people of the age. Waterhouse is the glue that keeps the tale together though sidebars with Eliza and Jack stretch the hero's skills to the max. Satirically, as the throne contenders battle and the mathematical crown co-champions argue (ironically without logic) the inventors are the ones left standing alone keeping the light shimmering in a Shakespearean-like climax.

    Harriet Klausner
    ...more info
  • High praise for the whole series.
    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 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....more info
  • Great Fun for the doorstop fiction set
    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....more info