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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3, Book 8)

The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3, Book 8) - Neal Stephenson This is the concluding book 8 of Neal Stephenson's epic Baroque Cycle (3rd book of volume 3 as originally published). Finally in this book Newton and Leibniz are placed in the same room and told by Princess Carolyn to resolve their differences. As depicted in this book, the calculus issue is hardly mentioned at all. The main differences that appear to be contentious are in the areas of philosophy and metaphysics. I am under the impression that the physical encounter of these three individuals in 1914 in London did not actually occur as depicted in this book. However, there are historical records of significant indirect communications between Newton and Leibniz. The following two links provide additional historical information on this subject.

Leibniz and Newton calculus controversy:
Leibniz–Clarke correspondence:

Of course this is a novel so there's plenty of adventure, mystery and suspense to keep the reader's attention. The two main simultaneous story lines involve (1) the trial of the Pvx and (2) the execution of Jack Shaftoe. If you want to know what Pvx refers to I suggest you read the book. If you want to know if Shaftoe survives his execution you'll need to read all the way into the book's epilogs. I will mention that the Shaftoe character as portrayed on his way to his execution appears to be a Christ figure of sorts.

Thus far in the Baroque Cycle I've felt comfortable considering it to be historical fiction. However, in this book there are a couple of events that push it to the fringes of possibly being science fiction. Let's just say there's a couple (three depending how you count them) of resurrection events which don't comply with biological reality.

Speaking of resurrection, this book finally gives the reader a hint as to who Enoch Root is. He's a character in the book that seems to show up a crucial times in history to tweak events to make sure they go in the correct direction. We also know that he lives forever because he shows up in the 20th century story told in Cryptonomicon. There is a very strong suggestion given in this book that he is the same Enoch described in the Bible (Genesis 5:22-29). If you don't know your Bible stories you'll need to do a little research to learn the significance of that.

In the end we learn that the logic mill doesn't work and the Czar has lost interest in the project. It is concluded that some time will need to pass before the digital computer can be developed. That is obviously a conclusion any 21st century reader can recognize as something that has since come to pass. On another note, by the end of the book there is a working steam engine pumping water out of a coal mine (Thomas Newcomen's engine). That is the technological invention of the era that makes the most difference over the coming 18th and 19th Centuries.

I enjoy Stephenson's style of writing that clearly conveys a picture of time and place complete with clever wit. I know this is fictionalized history, but after making my way through the 2600 pages of the Baroque Cycle (if Cryptonomicon is included, another 1100 pages needs to be added) I can't help believing that if history didn't happen in this way, it should have.

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 The Confusion (Bks. 4 & 5) 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.