The Confusion

by Neal Stephenson

Hardcover, 2004

Status

Available

Publication

New York : William Morrow, c2004.

Description

"In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves -- including one Jack Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-Cocked Jack -- devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues -- a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver ... nay, gold ... nay, legendary gold" --Cover, p. 4.

User reviews

LibraryThing member santhony
The Confusion is Volume II 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). These two books were originally published separately, but when combined in this volume, the “chapters” are alternated so as to maintain chronological order. That is because the two books deal with two completely separate story lines.

Juncto is set in northern Europe and features Eliza, Duchess of Arcachon and Qwhglm, and Daniel Waterhouse. Bonanza follows the adventures of Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe from his days as a galley slave along the Barbary Coast through Egypt, the Indian sub-continent (Hindoostan), the Far East, New Spain (Mexico) and ultimately back to England.

If you read Volume I, Quicksilver, or the three books that were encompassed therein, 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.
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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 kristianbrigman
The Confusion is the best of the Baroque Cycle, as the middle of series tend to be, and worth slogging through Quicksilver to get to it. The financial wrangling of Eliza can be hard to follow at time, but the exploits of Jack "L'Emmerdeur" Shaftoe are great fun. This whole series is not quite as good as Cryptonomicon, mostly because it's a bit more confusing and hard to follow (there's just a lot going on), but still better than most of what's out there.… (more)
LibraryThing member kukulaj
Non-stop adventure! The links back to the first book in the trilogy, Quicksilver, are very strong, so you'll want to read that first. The whole web of action here is quite complex but Stephenson keeps us well oriented without overdoing it.

OK, I am a bit of an armchair philosopher. I think it was buried in this book, some discussion that the puzzle of the continuum and the puzzle of free will are linked somehow. Actually there is a nice discussion of the theory of monads of Leibniz... that presumable sketches out the link, but it's too slender a link to carry any weight. Of course folks have started from a kite string and gradually built up stronger and stronger cables to build a bridge of interstate highway capacity, so ... will volume 3 revisit the philosophical conundrums? We certainly seem set up for a lot more of that kind of action!

It's a big fat book but enough of a page turner!
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LibraryThing member mefnord
The Confusion feels a lot like what it actually is - the middle part of a trilogy. Stuff happens, mainly to Eliza and Jack (two of the protagonists of the first book) and keeps happening and happening. (I missed Newton and Waterhouse quite a lot, although they do have their cameos). Sometimes a tiny bit of a crescendo would have been nice. Something more driven than the never ending schemes and counter-schemes. The successes and failures became kind of predictable in the end: at first they succeed than someone is even cleverer and they fail, only to find a way out of their predicament - this goes for all the main charachters.

Thus, the adventures of Jack and Eliza often seems like, well, filler. Filler for the last book.

Still an entertaining read and I absolutely adore Stephenson for the amount of research he has put into the book. Knowing a little bit of your European history in the 17th and 18th century will certainly help to keep the Kings and Queens straight *g* Sadly enough, I had to look up a lot of it.

I will definitely pick up the last book of the trilogy, but only after some light and short books inbetween.
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LibraryThing member geertwissink
The next book in the Baroque Cycle trilogy. Entertaining, the first book was more surprising, this time I felt sometimes some tiredness coming up when Jack finds himself once again in another unbelievable adventure. But nevertheless, a great read.
LibraryThing member libraryofus
(Amy) I have so far failed to finish this book, despite having been trying off and on for about 18 months. But I eventually finished Quicksilver, so there's hope.
LibraryThing member danbarrett
The Confusion is where Stephenson's Baroque trilogy really reaches it's apex of mind-boggling complexity. As I've said before, his work is idea-rich, sometimes (okay, often) hard to follow because of it's intricacy. That said, this is another excellent novel of ideas and an extremely fun one to boot. Pirates? Come on, pirates are awesome.… (more)
LibraryThing member meegeekai
A good way to describe this book is like this; I was flying somewhere and a dude next to me saw me reading this book and complemented me. He had also been slogging his way through the cycle. You have to love history, economics, and Stephenson (not in that order). Read Cryptonomicon first, please.
LibraryThing member jenkstom
Continuing the series, this is the most difficult volume. It gets rather slow at times, and sometimes only the memory of the high points keeps you going. But there are enough high points, especially involving the man Jack Sparrow wanted to be - Half Cocked Jack - to make it worth some minor frustration.

Don't worry, the payoff and gratification makes it worth every bit. In fact, the good bits are better than any other author I can think of having read.

It might take a bit of courage (yes, this whole series is monstrously large), but dig in and go for it. Where else are you going to learn all of these obscure historical tidbits, eh?
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LibraryThing member daschaich
Worth the Weight: "The Confusion" is the second weighty volume in Neal Stephenson's gigantic "Baroque Cycle." "Quicksilver" (2003) got the Cycle off to a solid (if slow) start, and if the concluding volume ("The System of the World," to be published in the fall of 2004) is anything like "The Confusion," it will be a story worthy of its size. Neal Stephenson comes through on this volume, and those of us who were concerned by "Quicksilver" can give a sigh of relief.

"The Confusion" covers the years 1689-1702 and consists of two interlocking books, "Bonanza" and "The Juncto." Since events in each book influence those in the other, they are con-fused so that the volume as a whole is less confusing; we switch back and forth between the two books, reading a few chapters in one before turning to the other. The approach works well. Instead of jumping back to 1689 in the middle of the volume, the whole story unfolds more or less chronologically. There are occasionally gaps of an entire year or two in the narrative, which is a little disconcerting, but helps to keep the plot moving.

At the beginning of "Bonanza," we rejoin Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds, some four years after he was enslaved by the Barbary Corsairs. A fever has cured his pox and restored his sanity, but at the same time removed all his memories of the past four years. Jack learns that he is part of a group of galley slaves - the Cabal - plotting to steal a boatload of silver from the Spanish and use part of the proceeds to buy their freedom. There is only one problem: the silver they capture turns out to be gold. Even worse, this gold has incredible alchemical powers - or, at least, so the alchemists believe. Terrified that their alchemical gold will be spent and thus con-fused with the common metal, the Esoteric Brotherhood will pursue the Cabal to the ends of the earth to get it back - or, failing that, to get revenge.

Eliza, meanwhile, has involuntarily donated her considerable fortune to the French war effort after being captured by privateer Jean Bart while fleeing to England . As she tries to recover, the European economy is thrown into confusion by a series of bad loans and bad harvests coupled with the seemingly endless wars that have sucked up all of the continent's money. Eliza, along with "The Juncto," a powerful group of English politicians, has the task of rebuilding Europe 's financial system on the basis of trade, laying the groundwork for modern economics. Her task is not made any easier by the alchemists, who know of her connection to Jack Shaftoe, and hope to get to him through her.

As I hoped, I found "The Confusion" more entertaining than "Quicksilver." The pace is much quicker, and the action and actual plot development makes the volume much more engrossing. I occasionally got the feeling that more happened in particular scenes in "The Confusion" (for example, the Duc d'Arcachon's birthday party) than in the whole of "Quicksilver." There's still plenty of interesting errata (as we expect in a Stephenson book), though Daniel Waterhouse is largely missing - he doesn't appear until about 2/3rds of the way through the volume, and scampers off to Massachusetts pretty quickly after that. Finally, the conclusion does a wonderful job setting up the final volume; I can hardly wait until it's out.

Those who have made their way through "Quicksilver" owe it to themselves to move onto "The Confusion" so that their efforts can be rewarded. If you were hesitant about starting "The Baroque Cycle" after reading mixed reviews of the first volume, you can rest assured that "The Confusion" makes it all worthwhile. If "The System of the World" is up to the standard set by "The Confusion" (and I suspect it will be), "The Baroque Cycle" will end up as a masterpiece of massive historical fiction.
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LibraryThing member 5hrdrive
Actually liked this a little better than Quicksilver, although it's much longer than it needs to be. Very interested to see how it all turns out.
LibraryThing member mrtall
The second installment in Neal Stephenson’s massive Baroque Cycle, i.e. The Confusion, concentrates on the exploits of Jack Shaftoe and his merry band of multiculti galley slaves, as they both make plays and are played all around the known world in the late 17th century. The adventures of the series’ other two main characters – i.e. Daniel Waterhouse the natural philosopher, and Eliza the Duchess of various parts who’s also a hot babe/financial genius – are downplayed when compared to the Cycle’s first volume, Quicksilver.

Given this shift of emphasis to Jack, the book is actually more coherent and easy to follow, especially since there are few new characters introduced on the European stage. But since I found the picaresque exploits of Jack Shaftoe the least interesting of this series’ main storylines, I enjoyed The Confusion perhaps a bit less than Quicksilver, even though it was easier to read.

Never the less, several episodes in the adventures of Jack’s own little cabal stand out: their encounters in India and Japan are especially good fun. Much less interesting is the book’s rather interminable section in the New World; Stephenson seems to lose his narrative energy here, as if he felt he had to throw in some adventures in Spanish-colonial Mexico just to get his main characters across the western hemisphere and back over to Europe.

This series isn’t for everyone, but since I’m still finding the frequent asides on subjects ranging from science and technology to shipbuilding and navigation to money and banking highly diverting and indeed instructive, I’m looking forward very much to finishing off the cycle with volume III.
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LibraryThing member magemanda
I am entirely perplexed by this trilogy! Usually by the time I have read the first book in a trilogy - let alone the second - I know well whether I am intending to keep the series for an indulgent re-read in the future. After reading the first book, I had been intrigued enough to read the second but felt that overall I would be discarding the series.

What a difference a book makes! Over the course of this second book, I found myself musing on the story even while I was not reading about the continued adventures of Eliza and Jack. This book is reward for struggling through the first, which was enormously dense and detailed.

The book is shared between Eliza (Juncto) and Jack (Bonanza), their stories intertwining. We find Jack alive and well, and free from the French pox (syphilis). He has been captured by Barbary pirates and his tale involves a convoluted plot between him and other members of the Cabal - to capture a shipment of gold that will lead to their fortunes being made. His story leads him across the world - through the Far East and finally taking a dangerous trip to Acapulco. The capture of the gold has massive repercussions across the world, affecting many including Eliza, who starts her story being waylaid by Jean Bart and carried back to France, where she once again begins manipulating trade.

This time both stories are equally gripping for one reason or another, and the skipping between both allows Stephenson to develop two different tones - the formal, slow burning plot of Eliza and the swashbuckling adventures of Jack Shaftoe.

Many, many characters take centre stage here and become beloved to the reader over the course of 800 pages. Obviously Jack and Eliza will have the attention of the reader, but there is also Leibniz (the dignified and friendly Natural Philosopher who has befriended Eliza from the beginning); Bob Shaftoe (brother of Jack, more upright and stolid); Princess Caroline (beautiful and fiercely intelligent); and the many entertaining members of the Cabal.

We also see the beginnings of Minerva - the ship that is carrying Daniel Waterhouse back to England at the start of the first book in the trilogy - and meet her captain van Hoek (a Dutch captain who feels the need to shed body parts when in gravest danger).

Altogether I am being overwhelmed gradually by the trilogy of books, and can find much to love about them. On the flipside, the writing is still inpenetrable at times and leaves me feeling confused as to what is actually occuring. At times the pacing of the story is woeful - leaving spells where I actually avoid picking up the book, although curiosity in the fates of Jack and Eliza always brings me back.

I would tentatively recommend this book to everyone I know - with the proviso that it is still not *easy* reading (and that they have to suffer through book one to reach the heights of book two).
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LibraryThing member jmvilches
The pace picks up considerably in this continuation of the intertwined stories of Jack Shaftoe, Daniel Waterhouse, and Eliza, Countess de la Zeur. The plot set in motion in Quicksilver continues to twist into fiendishly complex patterns. Piracy and quests, political and financial intrigue, and the evolution of scientific thought; you'll find all of this and more in the hefty second volume of the Baroque Cycle. Read Quicksilver first in order to not be confused by The Confusion.

Jack Shaftoe, now a galley slave in Algiers, joins a conspiracy to pirate a Spanish treasure and escape slavery. He and nine other oar-mates embark on their adventure burdened with Jack's usual mix of good and bad luck. Sea battles, land battles and general havoc follow the cabal of misfits across oceans and continents.

Daniel has a smaller role in this volume, but the role of Jack's more socially integrated brother Bob waxes into a remarkable war-filled journey to free his enslaved love, Abigail. Eliza, in the meantime, has lost her fortune and her firstborn son and must tread carefully to keep her head amid the perils of the French court. Eliza works to recover her son and wreak havoc on the financial markets of Europe.

Jack's adventures from South America to Japan and Eliza's maneuverings in Europe draw you along at breathtaking speed with enough momentum to propel you through the 800+ pages. The pace rarely falters and Stephenson continues to make even the secondary characters interesting. He also maintains the obvious attention to research and detail found in Quicksilver. The Confusion neatly sets the scene for the third and final book as divergent plots start to converge, and I can't wait to see where Stephenson will take us next.

4 Stars
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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 angharad_reads
I've been learning a great deal of history from Stephenson, both in this series and in the Cryptonomicon. I've never been very interested in finance and the movements of money and economies, but he makes it almost interesting! Plus, glow-in-the-dark pirates!
LibraryThing member PghDragonMan
The Confusion is the second installment of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. If you chose to jump into the series with this book, you will be totally confused. You will need to either abandon you reading and start with Quicksilver or forget you read this book, read Quicksilver and then re-read The Confusion. Either way, this is an epic undertaking. So is reading the book.

I slogged through this one, like some of the characters enduring long confinement and staying alive because they did not lose sight of their cause, their final destination. I admit I put it aside several time to read other books, but I always came back to it. To have that much of a hold on me has to say something about the story.

Will I go on to complete the Cycle? I am not sure, but I am anxious to get to the Cryptonomicon. Will I read them in order? Probably, but I may not.

Like Quicksilver, it is loosely based on history, but I hesitate to call it historical fiction. I was pleased to read in the interview included in the book, Stephenson is well aware of his linguistic anachronisms and they were intentional. In reviews of other of Stephenson’s works I said he is a geek’s author. This solidifies that comment and validates that this is not a slam against him, but a compliment. You need to be well grounded in a lot of obscure areas to appreciate what goes on in the Baroque Cycle.

Because it is so ponderous, I cannot give this a full five stars. Because I found the story so captivating I kept returning to it, I can’t say this is simply mediocre. Four stars, but not everyone will agree, I’m sure.
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LibraryThing member heidilove
ok. i confess i've started this series about four times. i don't know if it's the work or just my life, but the book always ends up only a chapter or two into it, languishing on the bedside.
LibraryThing member BenjaminHahn
Another Baroque Cycle volume completed. So engrossing, so time consuming. This series is totally for history nerds with a dark cynical sense of humor. I love it, but I have spoken to a few folks who just can't get into Quicksilver. For variable reasons, this book is just too dense for the average reader. Stephenson is a superb and well researched writer who is dishing out so many nuanced details left and right that it may overwhelm. Some of the best moments in The Confusion come at unexpected times when all meaning is hinged on double or triple entendres and the reader's ability to remember a minor plot fact 300 pages prior. If you catch them, its fantastic, if not you are kind of left thinking that you missed something. Thus, I recommend reading this book in one go instead of putting down from month to month while you peruse some other book. You will be rewarded with a plot web so dense and dramatically strewn across history, the globe, religion, science, people, and economics, that by the end you will feel like you have taken 6 different seminars on 17th century world affairs. All of this is lined with such biting dark humor and intermittent bouts of swashbuckling that you will forget that you are reading a historical fiction book about the Enlightenment.… (more)
LibraryThing member grandpahobo
This was even better than Quicksilver. The story never bogged down. This was the first book I read on my Nook, and I flew through it in 3 weeks (Quicksilver took me 4 months).
LibraryThing member charlie68
Part Two of the Baroque Cycle. It quite the trip, it circumnavigates the globe in the late seventeenth century enveloping the reader. Conversely I'm not sure if knew now what I didn't know when I started this series I would've began. But in for a penny in for a pound.
LibraryThing member jeff.maynes
*The Confusion* is the second part of Neal Stephenson's *The Baroque Cycle.* It collects two smaller novels, *Bonanza* and *Juncto.* If you've made it to the second volume, you are likely already sold on Stephenson's fascinating and amusing combination of historical fiction, adventure and science fiction. The basic arc of the entire set of novels is a massive intellectual shift in the early Modern period, where classical ideas (such as those of Aristotle) were waning and the emergence of the new science and philosophy changed Europe. Stephenson tells this story through a vast number of characters, including many actual people such as Newton, Leibniz, Louis XIV, William of Orange, etc., and three principal fictional characters.

Daniel Waterhouse comes from a family of Puritans and sits between Newton and Leibniz as a member of the Royal Society. Eliza is a former slave whose brilliant grasp of trade and modern economy has led her to the heights of power and intrigue in Europe, and Jack Shaftoe is a vagabond with the uncanny ability to make the most of just about any pickle he finds himself in. In this way, Stephenson's main cast gives us insight into the world of science and philosophy, the world of nobility, the world of finance and economy, and the lives of those with lesser means. This is only the barest synopsis, however, as these are novels of staggering narrative complexity which cover the globe over a long span of time. While at times it reads as a ripping good adventure story with a light and easy to follow narrative, really investing in the books requires keeping track of many characters, locations and plots. It is not a difficult read, but it is a read that requires close attention.

This volume largely follows the stories of Eliza and Jack. They have long since parted ways, and while there are a number of connections between their stories, they largely are involved in independent adventures. I found that the Jack passages were far more interesting in this novel than they were in the first volume, *Quicksilver.* In reading that one, I often found myself wanting to get back to Daniel and Eliza, because they were more directly engaged in the world of ideas than Jack. Jack's story here picks up for two reasons. One is that he becomes part of a Cabal of enormously entertaining characters, most particularly Dappa, Moseh de la Cruz, Otto van Hoek and Gabriel Goto. The second is that his adventures have expanded in scope, both in their daring and their geographical coverage. The expansive story of Jack's adventures is a nice counter-balance to Eliza's story. I still find Eliza's chapters to be riveting, but they mostly take place within Europe, and within the intrigues of court society.

One aspect of Eliza's story that is particularly well done is the reaction to the novel views of currency and finance that are developing at the time. We generally think that we are pretty comfortable with ideas like credit, and the fluidity of the market. We get it that money does not need to acquire its value solely from the materials used in it. However, these are radical ideas at the time, and Stephenson does a wonderful job making us feel the confusion (and see that ideas which might seem intuitive to us are anything but!). This is nicely illustrated in a memorable scene where Eliza uses the various members of the court as props in an elaborate demonstration of financial operations. The economic ideas take center stage in *The Confusion,* and they are handled with aplomb.

This does mean that we have to forgo the adventures of Daniel, which is a bit disappointing (particularly given how we left him at the end of *Quicksilver*!). I generally find Daniel's chapters the most interesting, as his academic pursuits most closely mirror my own (as a philosophy professor!). However, even without Daniel, the story continues on with the same wit and wonderful plotting.

It does also retain some of the weaknesses of the prior volume. The dialogue can occasionally be clunky. Characters are, more often than not, trying to talk with a great deal of wit and nuance. Whie this generally works, it does occasionally become difficult to imagine real people saying some of these things. This can also happen when characters make gratuitious references to the academic matters at hand. Stephenson wants to show us these ideas percolating into the culture as an entirely new way of looking at the world, but these references can occasionally be strained. These passages seem off for two reasons. The first is that it makes brilliant characters like Waterhouse look as if their grasp of the ideas is incomplete, and second, it can make for clunky, expository writing. These are the exceptions, however, and far from the norm. Stephenson generally shows a very strong grasp of the ideas he is discussing, and is able to work most of them into the text quite successfully.

If you enjoyed the first volume, there is no reason not to read *The Confusion.* It's more of the same, and that's quite a compliment.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
Jane Austen had two principal themes: Love and Money. This the second volume of "The Baroque Cycle", has them as well. We continue the picaresque career of Jack Shaftoe, as he exhibits his love for the Eliza of his dreams, literally around the world, by pursuing and carrying Alchemy's greatest gift. Ironically, this volume covers the period in which the discipline of Alchemy dies, replaced by modern chemistry and the birth of the modern representational alchemy, high finance.
The other picara is the Eliza herself, as she floats through Europe, hounded by men of obvious intent, but varying technique. Actually having children, but only one by a romantic attachment. As this is a middle volume, she remains imperilled at its conclusion.
Neal Stephenson continues to draw for us all a portrait of the most important age of the history of our planet, and to put warts and sweat on the faces of many famous names, who gain in humanity what they now lose in false auras.
Sadly, there's only another volume to go, but I'm still up for it.
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LibraryThing member Kplatypus
The moment I finished Quicksilver, I felt compelled to literally run to the neighborhood bookstore to buy this book, the second volume of the Baroque Cycle. It picks up where Quicksilver left off, in media rea, as Homer would say. Some of our beloved characters have gone their separate ways by now- will they find each other again? Will they survive in a world that seems determined to kill everyone? That sounds kind of like a soap opera, and in a certain sense, it is. Only instead of pool boys and ex-wives, you have kings and mistresses.

Academics at each others' throats, poisonings, insane economic gambles, pirates, and world explorations all await within these pages. Man, I'm making myself want to read this series all over again.
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