Review: Stephenson’s The System of the World

The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3)
Neal Stephenson

The third volume in Stephenson’s ambitious and fun recounting of the world events circa the late 18th century. This has got the birth of the royal society, the growing pains of international trade and the intrigues at Versailles for starters. As I remember, this volume is tying up a number of lose ends, and focuses more on the Royal Society and Versailles then on the swashbuckling adventurers that take up a lot of space in volume two. It’s good fun, especially if you have any interest in doorstop historical fiction.

Stephenson does an especially excellent job with the members of the royal society, I think, and Issac Newton in particular. Newton was, as everyone knows, a nutjob. He was also very into alchemy, as were, apparently, a number of members of the royal society. It is fascinating how, stripped of some of its spiritual components, alchemy laid the basis for enlightenment era western science.

Recommended for the enthusiast.