Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)

by Neal Stephenson

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson.

The first thing I have to mention is this book has pirates, and of course you’re thinking — what else does it need? Well, it may not need more than Half Cocked Jack Shaftoe, king of the vagabonds, but it is packed full of things — enough for several books. And in fact Quicksilver is the first of three in Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. Because no one writes just one book anymore, I guess.  Anyway in reading this book I have learned about the succession of kings and queens in Restoration England, the difference between Puritans and Protestants, how to smelt silver — hint: camel pee — how to cure the French Pox and how to smuggle ostrich plumes, along with a very great many other things. In fact, there is so much plot and so many characters that you need a scorecard, which the author thoughtfully provides.

Even though for the most part this is a rousing good tale — and it has pirates — there’s an occasional element of homework. I learned more about the birth of modern science and the early careers of Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke — who invented the microscope — than I ever learned in high school, and yes, I am assuming it’s all true. On the other hand, the adventures of Jack the pirate and his not-quite lady, not-quite love Eliza, who has enough pluck and wit for at least three novels, was thrilling, dashing, and swashbuckling enough that I confess to skimming during the science bits. After all, there isn’t going to be a test.

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