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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2, Books 4 & 5)

The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle,  Vol. 2, Books 4 & 5) - Neal Stephenson There is a Wikipedia.com article about this book that provides more descriptive detail than what I provide here.
The Confusion consists of books four and five of the Baroque Cycle, but referred to as book two by many of those who read the first editions of the Baroque Cycle that combined the eight books into three volumes. This re-division of the series between the 2004 and the 2006 editions has caused all sorts of confusion in how to refer to the books. As it turns out, this is the one book that hasn't been subdivided differently between the 2004 and 2006 editions. Thus this volume consisting of two books has the least confusion of any in the Baroque Cycle (in spite of its title).

The two books, titled Bonanza and The Juncto, are fused together with the text alternating between the two plots from chapter to chapter. Bonanza concentrates on late 17th century piracy, sword fighting and manufacture, and international trade and commerce. The Juncto tells of European political intrigue and monetary issues of the same time period. The two combined make for a complex plot that literally goes around the world. The end of the book finds Jack Shaftoe at the place on the Thames where we first met him at the beginning of Book 2.

The author from time to time puts words into the mouths of the book's characters that can be recognized for their irony to a reader knowledgeable of subsequent history and scientific knowledge. The following quotation is an interesting example of this:

"... the rays of the Sun create Gold, those of the Moon Silver, et cetera, et cetera. And it follows naturally that Gold and Silver will be found most abundantly in sunny places near the Equator. ... Leave California and Alyeska to the wretched Russians, for gold will never be discovered in those places!"

Some of the things I learned about the late seventeenth century from this book:

1. The oceans and seas of the world were infested with pirates. And then there were the privateers who considered themselves to be one step more virtuous than other pirates because they were private contractors doing pirating on behalf of a nation state.

2. The Ottoman Turks' most elite military troops were Janissaries who were captured Christians (usually taken as young boys). In this book we learn that if your ship is about to be captured by barbary pirates there was a good possibility that you are going to end up dead or a galley slave. The only possible alternative is to fight so well that the Ottomans decide to turn you into a Janissary. If you are a woman your choice will be between death or becoming a sex slave.

3. White slavery was legal in Europe. There's an example in this book of an Irish girl capture from some vanquish town in Ireland.

4. All (or almost all) silver mined in the new world ended up in the far East for purchase of spices and manufactured items not available in the West.

5. Venereal diseases were wide spread. The richer you were, or the more royal you were, the more likely you were to have the "French pox."

6. The technology of making steel (Wootz steel or Damascus steel) came from Samanalawewa, India. And according to this book no other place in the world had yet figured out how to do it. Samurai swords in Japan were made of steel but this book led me to believe the material of which they were made was imported. (I'm not sure this is factually true.)

7. The Spanish Inquisition in Mexico City was a real racquet. They financed themselves by requisitioning money from Jews, or those accused of secretly being Jews. When they ran out of Jews they'd simply look for people who had money. If you had money, it was something that needed to be confessed when they tortured you, so they could take it away from you. In the early 1700s there were signs that the era of the Inquisition was nearing an end. (Small comfort to those being tortured at the time.)

8. The Solomon Islands got their name from the belief that the gold of the biblical Solomon was hidden there. That is such a crazy idea that it's hard to understand why anybody would dream it up. But it made sense to those who believed the Bible when it said Solomon was fabulously wealthy. Since his stash of gold had never been found, it follows that it must of been hidden somewhere. I guess it never occurred to them that the Bible may contain some exaggerations (or historically incorrect facts).

LINK TO Wikipedia article about the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Quick Silver (Bk. 1) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of King of the Vagabonds (Bk. 2) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Odalisque (Bk. 3) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Solomon's Gold (Bk. 6) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Currency (Bk. 7) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of System of the World (Bk. 8) by Neal Stephenson.