Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)
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.