The System of the World

by Neal Stephenson

Hardcover, 2004




New York : William Morrow, 2004.


Neal Stephenson follows his highly-praised historical novels, Quicksilver and The Confusion, with the extraordinary third and final volume of the Baroque Cycle. The year is 1714. Daniel Waterhouse has returned to England, where he joins forces with his friend Isaac Newton to hunt down a shadowy group attempting to blow up Natural Philosophers with 'Infernal Devices' - time bombs. As Daniel and Newton conspire, an increasingly vicious struggle is waged for England's Crown: who will take control when the ailing queen dies? Tories and Whigs clash as one faction jockeys to replace Queen Anne with 'The Pretender' James Stuart, and the other promotes the Hanoverian dynasty of Princess Caroline. Meanwhile, a long-simmering dispute between Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz comes to a head, with potentially cataclysmic consequences. Wildly inventive, brilliantly conceived, The System of the World is the final volume in Neal Stephenson's hugely ambitious and compelling saga. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters in a time of genius, discovery and change, the Baroque Cycle is a magnificent and unique achievement.… (more)

Media reviews

Neal Stephenson spent nearly 2,000 pages setting his convergent plots into motion in The System of the World, and they all collide brilliantly in the third and final installment of his Baroque Cycle.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jmvilches
In 1714, Daniel Waterhouse finishes his long trip from America to England. He is prepared to mediate a vicious argument between Newton and Leibniz about who invented calculus first. But he is quickly caught up in diverse adventures: building a logic mill, sleuthing out a bomb maker, playing shell games with gold, and planning jailbreaks. Jack Shaftoe pops in here and there sowing mayhem and counterfeit coins. Eliza, the Countess de la Zeur by way of being "Good with Money", continues her behind-the-scenes royal intrigues and her efforts to end slavery.

Conflicts galore weave together into a complex tapestry: the power struggle between the Whigs and the Tories, the battle between Newton the Minter and Jack the Coiner, the feuding calculus inventors, and the clash between alchemy and science. In the end it all boils down to this: will the new system of the world be based on free markets and science? Or feudalism and alchemy?

The third and final book in the Baroque Cycle is just as weighty as the first two. It features a quick synopsis of Quicksilver and The Confusion for those who need a refresher. Even with the summary, I wouldn't advise starting with the third book. Each of the books in the series has its own character. Quicksilver was all about set-up, so while it was rich in detail and characters, it could be slow and a bit disjointed at times. The Confusion was full of madcap adventures and the pieces just flew around the board. The System of the World wraps all of the previous threads together, and strikes a nice balance between philosophy, intrigue, and action.

Stephenson keeps up the expected torrent of words, but as with the other two books, he keeps your attention with an iron fist of plot in a velvet glove of delightful prose. Stephenson manages to seamlessly combine serious discussions, obscure trivia, and profound silliness. As a reader, you have to pay the same attention to all, because you never know what small detail the plot is going to hang on next.

Daniel Waterhouse is the driving character for most of this book. If you loved The Confusion because it centered on Jack and Eliza, you might be disappointed in the smaller roles they play in the third book. But if you can get past that disappointment, you will find that Daniel has evolved into a more interesting and active character than he was in Quicksilver.

The Baroque Cycle requires a substantial investment of time and attention, but it is well worth the effort. The System of the World is a satisfying end to a great series. With Stephenson, as in life, the journey is more important than the destination, and he definitely gives you a lot of journey in the 3000-or-so page trilogy.

5 Stars
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LibraryThing member mrtall
The System of the World, the third and final entry in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, is happily the best of the lot. This is a significant point, in that reading the entire cycle requires the reader to work through 2,668 pages of always-interesting – but often surprisingly dense – prose.

In this volume, the focus is back on early 18th-century London, and on Daniel Waterhouse, the most well-rounded of Stephenson’s three main fictional protagonists. The King of the Vagabonds, Jack Shaftoe, also plays a highly visible role, but the Eliza the Duchess of Various Parts fades almost entirely into the background.

After the second volume’s largely picaresque adventures, the plotting here is tighter, with the role of money and the genesis of machine technology emerging as the most salient of the era’s many innovations and advances.

As is the case throughout the series, Stephenson brilliantly balances vivid, slightly fantastic characterizations and plotting with an astonishing number of erudite asides on almost every imaginable topic. This sounds like a formula for literary disaster, but that is not the case here. I can’t recall ever reading an author that combined these elements with such skill; Michener is perhaps a rough analogue, but Stephenson is a better writer of fiction, and much more sophisticated in the way he works in the abundant fruits of his research.

The System of the World, and hence the whole Cycle, ends on a highly satisfactory note. Stephenson avoids the wrapping-up problems that weakened a couple of his earlier books, e.g. The Diamond Age and even Cryptonomicon, to some degree. The first 90% of the Cycle isn’t exactly a page-turner, no matter how interesting the material, but the last 200-300 pages are, and that’s just the ticket for a reader who’s devoted many, many hours to getting so far.

And just one last word on that. I highly recommend reading this series: there is nothing quite like it; you will learn a great deal; and it’s consistently enjoyable. But do not embark on it lightly. Why not? Here's a fun little factoid: when I posted this LibraryThing review, there were 64 reviews for Quicksilver, the first book in the cycle; 30 for The Confusion, i.e. Book II, and just 15 for The System of the World. That should tell you something about the potential for attrition in reading this series.

In fact, I don’t know how readers who have had to take a break between volumes quite manage it; the sheer amount of effort required (for re-learning characters and crucial plot lines, and for simply getting back ‘in the zone’ for reading this kind of material) must be daunting. I found that plowing through the whole Cycle worked best. The one ‘reading break’ I took in the middle of Volume I was a big mistake, as I barely got myself going again, and would likely never have come back to the Cycle again. And that, in comfortable retrospect, would have been a great loss.
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LibraryThing member timothyl33
The conclusion to Neal Stephenson's ambitious Baroque Cycle trilogy.

To be honest, I'm still not really sure how I feel about this book (and the series as a whole) after having just finished reading it. One point I would have to make is that it does make for some fun reading, due to all the various interesting characters that permeate throughout the three books. Characters such as Jack, Eliza, Bob, Daniel, Dappa, Danny, Jimmy, Caroline, Johann, etc. Everyone of them brings to this story a certain personality that transcends the story.

However, the biggest problem I had with this series in the end was that, there really was no story. There were several builds ups to a potential story, but for the most part we're just spectators to a series of disconnected events. Reading through all three books, one would be hard pressed to find any purpose to all the various events. Now, I'm not claiming that every book should have a high and mighty message to send to the readers. But without a plot to knit Act I to Act II and so forth, we end up just wondering what is happening.

So this all goes back to the character. For when we're given a series of events, the only things to have us connected to the book is characters we've become further invested page after page. The most entertaining of which is Jack Shaftoe, a.k.a. L'Emmerdeur, King of the Vagabonds, Quicksilver, etc. In the end, I was reading less with the story about coins and monetary systems and more just because Jack is such an entertaining fellow (that's probably why I enjoyed The Confusion the most). As entertaining as he is, I'm somewhat confused as to the manner of how his character ends at the ending of the book, which sadly, left me less than enthusiastic with how the book ends.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that this is technically a prequel to Cryptonomicon (which I have yet to read). Or maybe this project was just too ambitious for the author. Still, in the end, this was somewhat of an entertaining read, which is all that should matter in the end.
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LibraryThing member kukulaj
This book and the trilogy of which it is the conclusion, these don't really develop rich characters. The number of characters is reasonably small so we hear and see their actions again and again. But it's one of these Rube Goldberg contraptions. The whole plot is wildly, impossibly complex and interwoven. The characters are mostly just the steel balls that run the channels and trip the levers.

But the point of the book is not really the plot. All the channels and levers are a kind of demonstration, of the system of the world. Not so much the physics of Newton, but the structure and dynamics of modern society. Money is the main character here and what is most richly developed. And indeed money is the essence of the modern world.

Beneath that there is this intriguing metaphysical puzzle: the two labyrinths, the nature of the continuum and the puzzle of determinism and free will. Are these two actually facets of the same conundrum? Stephenson's notion seems to be that society is patched together with some rough approximation of a solution to the conundrum, which works for a while and then finally the flaws overwhelm the system and some new approach needs to be worked out.

I have to wonder if the point of the book is really to help us confront the situation we are facing now. Newton, Leibniz, Spinoza et al. put together the modern world that has survived some 350 years roughly. At this point the thing seems to be crumbling. We don't need a new solution that is any more perfect than the modern solution. We just need a new system that can see us through the next few centuries, that can provide enough structure for society that people can lead fulfilling lives and and prepare for the next revolution in how our world is put together.
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LibraryThing member ShelfMonkey
Early on in The System of the World, Daniel Waterhouse laments that his panoramic life has had “[t]oo many threads, and too much information for his stiff old brain to cope with.€? One suspects this is also Neal Stephenson’s sly jab at the reader, who has an equally confounding task at hand.

One year, two volumes, and some three thousand pages later (reportedly all written in longhand), the American author wraps up The Baroque Cycle, his epic opus to the complete overhaul of modern thinking.

True to form, he completes it in all its dumbfounding, anachronistic, mercurial glory. It is a Lord of the Rings for history buffs, complete with towers, battles, and a mysterious ring.

Following directly after Quicksilver and The Confusion, The System of the World plunges headlong into 1714 England. The country is in disarray; “Parliament had its knobby fingers around the Monarch’s throat . . . Whigs and Tories were joined in an eternal shin-kicking contest to determine which faction should have the honor of throttling her Majesty, and how hard.â€?

Similarly, Stephenson’s characters are tangled in a monkey’s fist of plotlines. Scientific auteur Isaac Newton obsesses over Solomonic Gold, purported to have properties essential to Alchemy. Eliza, Duchess of Arcachon-Qwghlm, schemes to ensure Princess Caroline attains the Throne of England.

Daniel Waterhouse, aging Natural Philosopher, is constantly at risk of premature death by Infernal Devices, as hidden time bombs go off around him with surprising regularity.

Finally, there’s the picaresque Jack Shaftoe, a man “so surpassingly and transcendently bad that it was necessary for him to be put to death by the most gruesome and, hence, entertaining means that the English mind could conceive of.â€? Now a counterfeiter, Jack plans an attack that could cripple England’s monetary structure while still in its infancy.

Stephenson’s world, while baffling, is never dull, and rarely less than fascinating. As Western society evolves from its established doctrine of Monarchy to the understanding that money makes the world go round, Stephenson marshals his talents, summarizing a period where, like today, logic goes head-to-head with ritual and fear, and the winner is always in doubt.

As usual, there is never a theme Stephenson doesn’t pursue. The System of the World is chock full of philosophical discourse, scientific reasoning, and mad chases through London’s seamy underbelly.

Stephenson, a genius at plotting, performs some sort of literary miracle by keeping everything organized. It is testament to his mad skills that a discussion as to who first invented calculus, Newton or von Leibniz, is as exciting as Jack’s duel in an opera house, swords clanging and blood spurting as Georg Friedrich Handel frantically attempts to continue his conducting duties.

By its touching finale, it is clear that The Baroque Cycle is in a category all its own, a tribute to anyone who fights ignorance, or pursues insane theories with joyful abandon. It has become that rarest of creatures, a three thousand-word tome that you don’t want to end. The System of the World, like both its predecessors and Stephenson himself, is complicated, maddening, bizarrely funny, and spectacular.
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LibraryThing member hugh_ashton
I'm reviewing the whole cycle together, having read these monstrously thick and heavy books together in one marathon burst. The only other fiction by Stephenson that I've read is "Cryptonomicon", and like that, these books appear to be multilevel with layers of meaning. I say "appear to be" because some of these layers may have passed me by, or may not actually exist, but just appear to.

Basically, these books are a complex and at times compelling story - they have a few engaging characters, some real-life, some fictional and a plot that typically makes you want to find out what happens next (but there are some bleak deserts to cross at times). It's not my period, but a lot of the history seems accurate. What grated on me was Stephenson's use of language. By the time you've read "phant'sy" for the twentieth time in thirty page, you have grasped the idea that "fancy" comes from this root. Likewise with "con-fused", etc. The use of "bloke" in many contexts struck me as faux-British and pretentious, and there were other aspects of the writing that also made me feel that the writer was describing a milieu with which he was less than familiar.

Having said which, there is a lot of detail on 18th century prisons and the Tower of London, much of which I am sure has been researched pretty fully, and other details of life mostly ring true, but there is still this feeling that Stephenson has invented his own historical London, etc., rather than using the real one.

There are times when the series gets much too technical for its own good, though - some of the financial shenanigans do not make for exciting reading. Obsessions with gold, cryptography and money seep through, and quite frankly, the middle of the trilogy sags badly, in my opinion.

There are two protagonists who are interesting in my opinion – Jack Shaftoe and Daniel Waterhouse – Eliza is only interesting isofar as she relates to Jack, and some of the Hanoverian machinations are boring.

I see I gave the three books 4, 3 and 4 stars respectively. Actually, 3, 2 and 3 would be closer to the mark. It will be some time before I want to pick these up again, I feel (I re-read my favorites many times).
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LibraryThing member magemanda
This is the third book in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle - well, the last three books, since Stephenson actually wrote eight books that made up the cycle which were then published to form a trilogy. Here the majority of the action takes place in London, where virtually all of the protagonists we have been following end up bringing the story to a mighty conclusion.

The basic plot is that of a murder mystery, but comprises many other components. Daniel Waterhouse has completed his epic trip back across the Atlantic at the urging of Princess Caroline. She wished him to bring about the reconciliation of those two mighty Philosophers Leibniz and Newton. In the process of which he ends up stumbling across Jack's scheme to debase English currency (which he is being blackmailed into by the King of France and the dastardly Edouard de Gex). Trying to summarise the plot - the many strands and the different events - is difficult without having to repeat what happened in earlier books or flick through many pages trying to remind myself of exactly who Saturn was and why the Tsar of Russia made an appearance.

The cast of characters is enormous and it can be difficult to keep them separate at times, although our main characters have become extremely three dimensional. Daniel, Eliza (although she makes a small appearance in this volume), Jack, Isaac Newton, Dappa, Bob Shaftoe, Ravenscar, Princess Caroline, Leibniz - all these characters become beloved and it is of interest to see what happens to all of them.

The three volumes as a whole - the Baroque Cycle - are a truly amazing achievement. It is nigh on 3000 pages dense with facts, with ideas, with characters, with exciting escapes and political machinations. We are shown the beginnings of the world system that we know today - with law enforcement, political parties (Whigs and Tories), real estate and, of course, currency. Either this was written as a fact or Stephenson came up with an extremely clever idea in that currency is called such because of the current of money flowing into London, in this case. There are many such moments during all three books, where you marvel at the level of research and detail that has gone into every element of the story.

It is interesting that these books are almost always shelved in the fantasy/sci fi section but, barring the presence of Enoch Root and his little procedure (I shall not say more, for fear of spoiling certain things!) they are more historical in nature.

One of my disappointments in this and the previous books is the pacing - we can go from thrilling page-turning events into a deep philosophical discourse and this can make the reader grind to a halt. Despite the exciting nature of the plot in general, there were times when I felt as though it was a struggle to read any further, and this is a sad fact when considering that this should be a series read by everyone. It is a classic in the making - or would be, barring the slow and turgid prose at times. Having said that, it didn't do Tolkien any harm and some people may, in fact, find this one of the charming aspects of Stephenson's writing.

I am extremely glad that I read this series, but I shall not be embarking on a re-read for many, many years - if at all. However, I do have the notion that the characters and events will niggle and stay with me - the mark of a book that has had a big effect on me. This should have been a five star experience, but I keep it to four stars purely because of the difficulty of the reading. Recommended (with reservations!)
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LibraryThing member jenkstom
The final portion of the trilogy (octology?) that is Stephenson's Baroque Cycle continues the sometimes esoteric, yet totally addictive, story line set in the time of Newton, Hooke and Leibniz. While some of the previous volumes bogged down, it all pays off here when plot lines thrown across the world resolve like titans coming together in a massive synchronized swimming event the size of the Great Lakes.

Oh yes, one of the most entertaining and meaningful works of literature for the X generation. Neal Stephenson came into his own with Cryptonomicon, but now he's become a legend in his own right.

Dude, you rock.
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LibraryThing member Larou
My favourite way of describing Neal Stephenson as an author is that his ambition vastly outstrips his talent; and the Baroque Cycle is a good point in case, I think. It is fairly obvious what he wanted to do here (mainly because Pynchon already did it before him) and it is even more blatantly obvious that this is not the chef-d’oeuvre describing the emergence of an age and short-circuiting that age with our present time that Stephenson wants it to be.

The first novel, Quicksilver had three protagonists, the second, The Confusion, had two of those, Jack and Eliza, with Daniel being mostly relegated to the background; so it is probably no great surprise that in The System of the World we see Daniel take center stage again, with Jack and Eliza moved to the wings. Also, this third novel takes almost exclusively part in England (and most of that in London – as world-roaming as The Confusion was, so confined is The System of the World), and generally this is by far the most focused novel of the Baroque Cycle, one could almost call it tightly constructed. But only almost, as this probably would just not be Stephenson if he would not go on long tangents at every occasion that offers itself, culminating towards the end of the novel in a moment-by-moment description of the “Trial of the Pyx” (basically, a test of the validity of British coinage) that rambles on and on and on over hundreds of pages (felt pages – actually it’s more like several dozen, but still absurdly long).

There also is some mumbling about the threatening chaos of quicksilver being contained into a solid system of the world – a weak and totally unconvincing bit of legerdemain to make readers believe there is some kind of Deeper Meaning at work in the Baroque Cycle rather than a random agglomeration of pointless facts by which of course nobody is taken in. The thing is that you just might get away with piling up heaps of facts and pieces of information in a non-fiction work, but if you want your text to work as a novel, you need to somehow connect that facts in a way that infuses them with significance – take a look at Moby Dick if you want to see how it’s done properly, or Gravity’s Rainbow (or really anything by Thomas Pynchon who is the supreme master of turning facts into metaphor). Neal Stephenson, on the other hand, just keeps shovelling facts, facts and even more facts into his novels in the hope that they’ll magically cohere into something meaningful – which of course they don’t. At best, the facts are curious in interesting in themselves, at worst they’re just a heap of boring pedantry that – except for the, in this case really minor, difference of their being historical rather than made up – could have comfortably fitted in any of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels and that only distracts from what remains at heart a rip-roaring adventure story.

Thankfully, that heart beats strong enough in The System of the World to make itself felt through all the intellectual waste Stephenson piles on it, and its rhythm is compelling enough to keep the reader turning the pages even when they are filled with tedious descriptions of irrelevant detail. This third novel of the Baroque Cycle is to my taste at least the most entertaining, with two major struggles driving the plot forward – the rupture between Isaac Newton and Gottfried von Leibniz about the authorship of the calculus which Daniel tries to mediate on one hand, and the struggle between Master of the Mint Newton and master forger Jack Shaftoe in wich Daniel also is involved. It is mainly the second one (no surprise, as Jack plays a central part) which keeps things going and the reader interested as Daniel first hunts down the forger with a group of unlikely investigators (most of which turn out to have – at least! – a double agenda) and then once again becomes a mediator trying to unite the opposing factions in a common purpose. We get a big heist (targeting the tower), a duel (with cannons), a wild chase (with coaches) and quite a few colourful and exciting things more.

Summing up (or well, repeating my sermon for the umpteenth time), The Baroque Cycle could have been such a wonderful book if it wasn’t for Neal Stephenson’s delusions of grandeur. Someone really should rescue the fun adventure novel hidden in the trilogy by pulling an S. Morgenstern on Stephenson and make an abridgement with just the good parts.
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LibraryThing member ltyphair
Man I can not for the life of me finish this series... The first book was very interesting with Leibniz and Newton, but it just started to drag with these other swash buckling comedic characters and love affair...
LibraryThing member AltheaAnn
Overall, I found The Baroque Cycle rather tedious. But it did end pretty well. Ties in a bit more with Cryptonomicon. Had some actual tension and action...
I still hold that these books really could have used a good editing, however. At many points, the characters were just being put through 'Philosophickal Dialogues' which in no way really resembled conversations that actual people might have... of course, this was decidedly intentional, and some of the most interesting bits were in such parts... but I still feel the whole thing could have benefited greatly from being 'tighter'...
Like I said before, it was work to read this... not wholly unrewarding work, but still...

I'm still not positive how I feel about what Stephenson did with this work, which was really to put ideas about computing, information theory, and the economics of information and capitalism into the minds of historical (and fictional) characters of the 17th century... it's (obviously) not accurate, and although it draws some interesting parallels, I think I do prefer historical novels that make an effort to accurately portray a feeling of time and place (although they may be equally wrong, who knows?)
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LibraryThing member JBD1
More than four years after reading the second volume in Neal Stephenson's massive Baroque Cycle, I finally got around to picking up the third, The System of the World. Much like the first two, but while I enjoyed the first book and tolerated the second one, this one got annoying very quickly. I wanted it to be over by about the two hundredth page, and at that point there were still seven hundred to go. I'm glad I read it, and glad I finished the trilogy, but I'm very, very glad there's not another volume left to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member _________jt_________
Let's face it, if you've already slogged through 2000 pages of Stephenson's bloated prose, you gotta sign on for the last 1000. The tighter geographic concentration of the characters results in more interplay and makes this book a little more engaging than the other two. I was surprised, at the end, how sad I was to leave this world and these characters. The Baroque Cycle is really ridiculously long, but I can see the appeal of the mega-novel better than I could before.… (more)
LibraryThing member jlbrownn23
My favorite fiction ever. My favorite things to read are: 1)History 2)Science 3)History of Science 4)Insanely Long Epic Fiction. Here's all 4 of these things COMBINED! It's like someone set out to write a 3000 book according strictly to my wishes. All that and pirates and a love story too! Makes me hope Stephenson is at home right now feverishly writing a new 5,000 page novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member geertwissink
pfff ... the last book of the trllogy was also the hardest to get through. The surprise of the details and historical facts in the first book is gone in this book, found it hard to keep on reading without drifing away. And the climax is somewhat disappointing. But what you start you have to finish so the trilogy is done!
LibraryThing member JenneB
Well, I finally finished it.
It was probably my least favorite of this trilogy--too much Waterhouse and not enough Shaftoe.
It sure took a long time to get going, but when things finally started to happen it was good times. Who would have thought--Daniel Waterhouse, action hero?
LibraryThing member funkendub
We’ve been around the world with Jack Shaftoe, the King of the Vagabonds, and his Solomonic-gold pirating crew. We’ve sat on the edge of our seats while Daniel Waterhouse, friend of Isaac Newton and Godfreid Libniz, made his way back to London from pirate-infested Boston Bay. Dark conspiracies have unfolded before our scarce-believing eyes. Oh! The early seventeenth century never looked like so much fun!

Neal Stephenson is a brainiac monster, and it is futile to resist the tentacles of his imagination. Although some are better than others, he’s never written a dull book. Few, however, have written a more exciting piece of historical fiction. At roughly 2,500 pages, and spanning three fat volumes, few have written longer ones, but the pages flow like a fast moving river along the entire course of The Baroque Cycle. It is intimidating to speculate about the IQ of a writer who can hold so much historical detail in mind, but that figure must been in the low zillions. For not only is there a tremendous amount of detail, but Stephenson messes with history as well, rerouting the river for the sake of a wondrous tale.

Indeed, the history of the novel is so tweaked and rerouted that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction; indeed, there is an entire website devoted to precisely the endeavor of doing so. Readers (and the occasional reviewer) will be forgiven for confusing fact with fiction, as Stephenson’s characters are so finely drawn they leap from the page and grasp the reader in a headlock. As Stephenson himself has pointed out, “novel” is a synonym for “romance,” a story, in his view, entirely premised on hypothesis. So although a work of historical fiction, it is even more a work of speculative fiction – that is, fiction which poses the question “What if…?” and then takes various possible answers to that question for a Nantucket sleigh ride. (Nantucket sleigh ride? Imagine, if you will, you have harpooned a whale. Furthermore, that the whale doesn’t care to have a harpoon imposed upon its blubber. The whale then takes you for a very wild ride, one beyond the ken of even Mr. Toad.)

Since I’ve summarized the plot of The Baroque Cycle elsewhere (with the above inserted disclaimer about the fictionality of certain beloved characters… sigh…), the question here must become: Is, then, The Cycle historical fiction, science fiction—or what? The answer must be: it is all that and more. It is the arbiters of the marketing departments of the octopussies of the mega-publishing conglomerates who decide where to slot a book into the stream of consumerism. But those jokers have less imagination than a snail squashed under the foot of a jack-booted running dog of capitalism. (And believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve been snarled at by a jack-booted running dog; in the words of Dr. Emilio Lizardo, “It makes the ganglia twitch.”)

Trust me on this one: get thyself to a beach and start turning pages. You won’t regret it.

[Originally published in Curled Up with a Good Book]
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LibraryThing member Phrim
Finally finished slogging through Neal Stephenson's 3,000-or-so-page Baroque trilogy. Took me like six months, but it was definitely worth it. Leave it to Stephenson to make history both incredibly real-seeming and utterly ridiculous at the same time. If you liked Cryptonomicon and have any interest in Enlightenment-era London, Baroque is certainly worth a read. Just make sure to leave yourself plenty of time.… (more)
LibraryThing member Gwendydd
As often happens with Neal Stephenson books, I had the sneaking suspicion throughout the series that I'm not quite smart enough to really understand everything that's going on, but I still had a rip-roaring great time reading this book. The characters are typical Stephenson characters (he often has the self-deprecating, adventurous, dumb-yet-geeky male and the witty, hyper-intelligent, sexy, manipulative female - I can't help but think these are two sides of Stephenson's own personality). I love the science fiction approach to historical fiction. Really amazing stuff.… (more)
LibraryThing member Phil-James
I was tricked into reading this, but I'm glad because why else would I have started in on this 2700 page trilogy? Years ago Neal Stephenson intrigued and thrilled me with his cyber-punk classic "Snowcrash" so that I could see where he was going with "Diamond Age" a neo-victorian culture in an incredibly futuristic world. By the time I read "Cryptonomicon" I had enough trust in him as an author to take me through a lot of reading involving multiple characters and time periods and to know it was going to come together satisfactorily.

He goes through a lot of history and technical details in these books but the main story and the excitement is sustained all the way. I can't put it any better than the inside jacket blurb from Entertainment Weekly "...he might just have created the definitive historical-sci-fi-epic-comedy-punk love story. No easy feat that."
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LibraryThing member 5hrdrive
Very satisfying ending to an incredibly long, complex behemoth of a tale. This last volume concerns itself almost entirely in and around London of the year 1714, giving the work a much more urgent feel. As near as I can tell, Stephenson wraps up all the loose ends, although there are so many threads to this epic that it's far more than I could ever keep track of. If you've made it through the first two, this is a fitting reward for your efforts.

SPOILER ALERT: I just had to look up the date of Isaac Newton's death - it was March 31st, 1737.
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LibraryThing member Kplatypus
The only problem I have with this book is that it is the last book in one of my favorite series. All of the questions that Stephenson posed throughout the first two volumes will be answered here. Will Liza and Jack sort things out? Will Newton and Leibniz find a way to live at peace with each other? Or will Newton go completely insane? Part love story, part adventure, part history, part heist novel, and part science, this book is all good. Seriously. I think I've already read the series three times and writing these reviews has made me seriously contemplate putting my 25 library books on hold so I can re-read these. That fabulous.… (more)
LibraryThing member cindywho
Phew - that was something, spending 3 months in these books. The last one did have some parts that dragged, but I was glad that he managed to wrap it up without falling into a big morass of WTF as often happens with Stephenson.
LibraryThing member hardlyhardy
“For the war is over; most of the great conflicts have been sorted out; Natural Philosophy has conquered the realm of the mind; and — today — as we stand here -- the new System of the World is being writ down in a great Book somewhere.” — Neal Stephenson, “The System of the World”

As Neal Stephenson's ambitious (nearly 3,000 pages) Baroque Cycle draws to a close with the third novel, “The System of the World” (2004), England is bathed in optimism. A new king mounts the throne in 1714. The nation is at peace. And science (or Natural Philosophy) seems to have explained how the universe works. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, both major characters as well as real people, have much to do with this optimism.

The Baroque Cycle is unusual science fiction in that it deals with real science and real people, yet the plots are mainly fiction. This time the story revolves around Newton's work at the Royal Mint, an unusual job for one of the world's greatest scientists, but he is also an alchemist. Newton uses his position at the mint to watch for Solomon's gold, supposedly once owned by King Solomon himself and supposedly heavier and more valuable than other gold.

Meanwhile Jack Shaftoe, a vagabond who will be familiar to readers of other books in the series, has been counterfeiting coins, putting Newton's reputation in jeopardy as his life draws to a close. In even greater danger is Shaftoe himself after he is captured and sentence to be hanged, then drawn and quartered. The final chapters make compelling reading. The rest of the book, like much of the trilogy, requires patience.

The world is changing in 1714, although perhaps not as quickly as characters anticipate. They speak of binary code, a Logic Mill (or computer) and an Engine for Raising Water by Fire (or steam engine), but all these must wait for the future. Still, that future rested on the likes of Newton and Leibniz.
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LibraryThing member santhony
The System of the World is Volume III of the author’s Baroque Cycle. Volume I contains the first three “books” of the cycle, while The Confusion contains Book 4 (Juncto) and Book 5 (Bonanza). The System of the World contains the final three books of the Cycle, Solomon’s Gold, Currency and The System of the World.

If you read Volumes I and II, then you are familiar with the characters and the historical landscape (late 17th, early 18th century). While the historical fiction contained in these works is highly educational and at times fascinating (at others, somewhat confusing), this is not my favorite Stephenson effort. Nevertheless, as in his cyberpunk and sci-fi stories, a certain level of attention and effort is required in order fully grasp the author’s work. Some may not want to put forth the effort, but I appreciate it.

By its conclusion, the Cycle will have consumed between 2,500-3,000 pages; quite an undertaking, especially for a work that demands the reader’s attention and commitment. Having read it in its entirety, I can definitely say that I have a far better feel for the history and events of the period and geographical landscape. While the story certainly includes historical figures of significance (several English monarchs, English and French nobility, Continental rulers, Sir Isaac Newton and others) it also contains an assortment of fictional characters, some of whom are fascinating. Eliza, Jack Shaftoe and Daniel Waterhouse alternate as primary characters, though Eliza fades into the background through the final two books.

Most of the action in this final volume takes place in and around London. If the author’s writing can be believed, London of the period must have been one of the most miserable places ever on the face of the earth. Abominably crowded, absolutely filthy, disease and pest ridden, it would seem that a majority of the inhabitants walked around covered in sewage or industrial waste at all times. While overall, it is very entertaining and educational reading, at times it bogs down into relatively deep philosophical discussions between the characters. However, the final 200 pages are absolutely engrossing. If you have the time and are willing to put in the effort required, it is definitely worth it.
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