The astute amongst you will notice that Quicksilver remained on my “Currently Reading” spot for more than a month. I think that’s the longest time I’ve spent reading one book in a long long time. This isn’t because I slacked, but rather because (like all Stephenson books) it’s a deep, thought provoking, complex book.
Quicksilver uses the ancestors of many characters from Cryptonomicon to tell a tale of math, science, alchemy, and politics in the late 1600’s (mostly in Europe). For those that have read Cryptonomicon, there are more families represented than I would have expected. The Shaftoe’s and the Waterhouses of course, but also the Comstocks and the Bolstroods. The Bolstroods didn’t have any living members take part in Cryptonomicon, but made excellent furniture as you may recall.
Quicksilver is the base for the next two books, and therefore doesn’t feel compelled to draw everything together so you can see how it all fits. I ended the book not knowing why some things happened, but I can guess. I’m told the second book has a little more action, and brings things together better.
Quicksilver covers a great deal of the science of people like Boyle, Newton, Hooke, and friends. The state of their knowledge of Natural Science (called Natural Philosophy in the book) is really quite frightening. Hooke had shakes and aches, and so drank copious amounts of mercury to help with it. A living dog was dissected to figure out how things worked inside.
In this book the foundation is laid for a core of the plot, which is the rivalry between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. Both came up with amazing mathmatical stuff at about the same time. It was complimentary to each other’s stuff, and so people were a bit confused as to who was actually “discovering” and who was “extending”.
This book also contains a LOT of European politics of the late 1600’s. Dizzying amounts. That’s one of the things that slowed me down, keeping track of who was who, where, and when. There’s even a bit in the appendix of the book explaining why it’s so hard to keep track, that being that people often had multiple titles, from multiple countries, and were known by different titles to different people at different times. Bleh.
Should you read this book? If you intend to continue with the series, probably. If not, don’t bother. I don’t think this book is as good as Cryptonomicon, but I suspect that the series as a whole may very well be.