The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, #2)

ISBN: 0060733357
ISBN 13: 9780060733353
By: Neal Stephenson

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About this book

In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves -- including one Jack Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-Cocked Jack -- devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues -- a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver ... nay, gold ... nay, legendary gold.In Europe, the exquisite and resourceful Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, is stripped of her immense personal fortune by France's most dashing privateer. Penniless and at risk from those who desire either her or her head (or both), she is caught up in a web of international intrigue, even as she desperately seeks the return of her most precious possession.Meanwhile, Newton and Leibniz continue to propound their grand theories as their infamous rivalry intensifies, stubborn alchemy does battle with the natural sciences, dastardly plots are set in motion ... and Daniel Waterhouse seeks passage to the Massachusetts colony in hopes of escaping the madness into which his world has descended.This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Reader's Thoughts

M.K. Carroll

Quicksilver was difficult for me to get into. The Confusion was a lot easier to get into, to the point that I spent my day off reading for 5 hours straight and ignored a bunch of incoming calls on my mobile phone. I'm going to try to hold off on Vol. 3 until after the semester ends.

Steve

Why not blog this one too?*****In a discussion of being political/diplomatic:"It is precisely because it is true, that you must not come out and state it.""Very well then, monsieur, I vow not to say anything true for the remainder of this conversation" (p. 69).Simple little joke, but it cracked me up. The coversation goes on for some time afterwords, and I haven't yet decided if the second character broke the vow...*****Ok, so apparently I didn't end up blogging this one live as I read it. Apologies. I did mark a bunch of stuff that I wanted to share with you all though, that I thoroughly enjoyed:***Here's a slightly predictable but still enjoyable little exchange:"You shall amass some sort of capital, and lend out money... I can only perceive two drawbacks to what is otherwise an excellent plan, my lord...""Don't say it. We have no capital... and no money.""Just so, my lord."(p.486)***The Elector Johann Georg IV belonged to a sort of fraternity whose members were to be found in every country in the world, and among every class of society: Men Who Had Been Hit on the Head as Boys. As MWHBHHB went, Johan Georg was a beauty (p. 527).Tell me that isn't genius.***______'s chief source of discomfort, the, was a feeling well known to soldiers of low rank, to doctors' patients, and to people getting their hair cut; namely, that he was utterly in the power of an incompetent (p. 801-2).This last one comes as the character in question (name blanked to prevent spoilerization) finds himself a prisoner, and theoretical torture victim of a character who is not very good at the whole torture thing.***I am still absolutely loving the Baroque Cycle. I want to note again, in case you didn't see it in my Quicksilver review, that this is not a "series" of books. It's one long book broken into three. Neither of the first two end in anything remotely resembling a satisfying resolution, and this one essentially drops you right back in there. Many sequels give you lots of sort of recapping, but this one really doesn't do much of that, and couldn't stand alone. Start with Quicksilver.This book continues following the three main characters of Daniel (who admittedly takes a backseat), Eliza, and Jack. These latter two, certainly the focal points of The Confusion, are difficult to follow, as their adventurers take them all over the place. Again, as in Quicksilver, this book contains much delightful encountering of historically significant people and events. A short list would include The Spanish Inquisition, King Louis XIV, The Shogun in Japan, Barbary Corsairs, Jacobite Rebellions, Leibniz and Newton, and the founding of the Bank of England. Of course, this isn't merely a history book, and includes much in the ways of fanciful and entertaining fiction. More so than Quicksilver, The Confusion has a rather epic adventure vibe to it. It also features some of the most satisfying death scenes I've encountered in a long time. Actually, I could have left the word "death" out of the preceding sentence, and it would have been just as applicable to a host of other scenes as well. Stephenson does an excellent job of setting up smaller narratives within the bigger picture, and the mini climaxes and denouements that accompany these are beyond satisfying.I can't wait to see how this wraps up in System of the World.

David

This novel, like its predecessor and successor, is a historical novel for science-fiction geeks. I enjoyed it: well-written, vigorous, funny, smart. However, this book is not for everyone. If you have been paying attention to the same things the author has, then you'll enjoy his in-jokes: if not, not. For example, in mid-novel, Leibniz converses with another character about a (ridiculously impractical) system for organizing a library wherein each subject is assigned a prime number. Books about more than one subject are assigned the product of two prime numbers, one for each topic. (For example, “3” is the number assigned to all books about Plato, “5” is assigned to all books about birds. A book about Plato's view of birds would then be “15”. ) If you have been paying attention to developments in computer encryption in the last 20+ years, you'll recognize this as a concept that plays an important role in Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and other methods of encryption. If not, the whole conversation will seem a massive waste of time, since it does not really serve to advance the plot. Similarly, on page 691 of my (hardcover) edition, Enoch Root says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a yo-yo”. (Please don't ask why.) This is similar to a popular science fiction axiom: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, which is attributed to Arthur C Clarke. There must be dozens of other similar inside jokes which I did not pick up on.I am also enjoying this series as an antidote to all of today's tedious books, movies, video games, etc., about the Apocalypse. As a subject for fiction in any form, the Apocalypse has passed its sell-by date. If you agree with this statement, you may enjoy this book, because it's about an era in which a lot of short-sighted idiots when around wringing their hands needlessly about the end of the old order, completely missing the fact that something new and wonderful was being born. Sound familiar?

Dylan

No diversion goes too far afield, no tangent is too barock or philosophickal, and no intrigue is too ornately improbable for me in this yarn. If it were written on a roll of Turing machine tape, extending infinitely into the horizon, I have no doubt I would continue reading as long as I breathe. Alas but there is only one tome remaining in the trilogy for me.

Kemper

Excerpt from the journal of Neal Stephenson.What have I done? I must have been out of my mind to think that I could write a trilogy set in the late 17th and early 18th century that used three main fictional characters to explore the political and religious intrigue of the time as well as the development of the first stages of modern science and economics. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, I had to incorporate a bit of science fiction by including my ageless character Enoch Root and hints that the alchemy of the day may have been on to something. Oh, and just to complicate it even more, I made the brilliant decision to have one of my main characters from Quicksilver be in the midst of the late stages of syphilis as well as being captured by pirates. What was I thinking?? I’m going to need Jack to get me out of this mess, and I effectively killed him in the last book. OK, let’s think this through. Where did I leave it? Eliza had seemingly managed to outwit King Louie and help William of Orange with her spying efforts, but she now had a child out of wedlock that she has to hide. In 1713, Daniel Waterhouse had been recruited from his home in Massachusetts by Enoch Root to go back to England and mediate the dispute between Isaac Newtown and Leibniz, but his ship was being pursued by a pirate fleet. Back in the late 1600s, the younger Daniel Waterhouse had helped to bring about the Glorious Revolution, but was dying from a stone in his bladder. And of course, Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds, had let his pride come between him and Eliza. Which shouldn’t matter because he would soon be dead from syphilis as well as being captured by pirates. Now, here’s what I need to get to in the second book:(*) Eliza needs to be essentially held hostage by the French nobility who know she spied for William, but they’ll still need her financial talents to help fund their war efforts.(*) I want to use that set-up to have Eliza run a complicated financial scheme to get revenge for what’s been done to her.(*) Since I flashed forward to an older Daniel Waterhouse at the beginning of Quicksilver, the readers will know that he ultimately survived having the stone. But I really don’t have a lot for him to do here. This is mainly Eliza and Jack’s story, and I won’t need him until the next book. (*) Since the last book focused more on the Royal Society and science, this one is going to be more about economics. I can use Eliza and her on-going palace intrigues for that. Also, I can circle back to Isaac Newton and him taking over the Royal Mint. Wait a second! I can bring Daniel into that story. That’ll give him something to do.(*) I also need to tie up the loose ends with Jack’s brother, Bob, who had gotten involved with Eliza and Daniel to free the woman he loved from slavery. Oh, hell. I forgot about Jack’s two sons. At this point, they’d be grown men. I gotta bring them into the story at some point.(*) It’s time to bring the alchemical stuff to a boil. I’ve got an idea about legendary gold that King Solomon created that had unique properties. The acquisition of this gold should be a driving force to the plot, but I can’t figure out how to work it in.(*) And here’s where I’m really stuck. I was going to have Jack roam the world and get involved in various wild schemes with a crew of misfits. They could have had a series of adventures. That would have been a great place to tie the gold into it as well as do a plot where the nobles are still hunting him for his actions in France that would put Eliza in a dangerous position. Plus, I could have done a lot of great action stuff with Jack as a globe trotting adventurer. But no. I had to get cute and give him syphilis.(*) So I’m completely screwed unless I come up with some bullshit way for them to cure syphilis in the late 1600s. How am I going to….. Hold on. Just had a thought. Could I get away with that? Why not? I’m Neal Stephenson, goddamnit! I can do anything!(*) One thing is for sure, I’ve got a pretty accurate title: The Confusion.

Michael Dendis

Part two of "The Baroque Cycle" is just as long, and just as good as the first part "Quicksilver". Stephenson does an amazing job keeping the stories moving along. You would think that with Book one being 918 pages and this one being 815 pages you would have a hard time keeping it all together. But he does! What's even better is the way Stephenson puts the book together. Whereas in "Quicksilver" the author told the story of Daniel Waterhouse, et al, in the first part of the book and then moved back in time to tell the story of Jack Shaftoe, et al. Stephenson intersperses the two stories chapter by chapter. This helps the reader keep everything together, knowing that these things are happening simultaneously from chapter to chapter. Being so long of a book, there is a lot to keep track of. Not only do you have different locations and timeframes, but you also have the different characters to remember. As with "Quicksilver" there are a lot of characters, and Stephenson compounds this issue by introducing even more characters, especially in the Jack Shaftoe sections of the book. I will warn any readers though that some of the characters disappear for a while and then suddenly come back into the story later so you have to be very mindful of what happened before. I've always been interested in history. History of all types. I've never really considered though the history of money and banking. Obviously this is a work of fiction but Stephenson I'm sure, has researched the history of money and banking in Europe thoroughly to give complete believability to the characters and the story. There is still an incredible amount of humor throughout the story though. This is more evident in the Jack Shaftoe sections of the book. It is a subtle, dry, very English-type of humor. I found myself laughing out loud throughout my time reading the book. This book (and series) does not come highly recommending enough. This series is for anyone who enjoys European history (as again the author has done an incredible job I believe in laying out much of the history of the ruling classes in England, France and Germany), history of money and banking, adventure stories (especially those of a sailing nature)and anyone who likes to read in general.

Mike

** spoiler alert ** Neal Stephenson is clearly having the time of his life writing these books, and The Confusion continues on nicely.It drops the "three books, each about a single character or pair of characters" structure from Quicksilver in favor of two books intermingled: Bonanza, following Jack's adventures following his being sold into slavery at the end of Quicksilver, and The Juncto, following Daniel and Eliza navigating European politics.Bonanza is a tremendously fun adventure tale that stretches the boundaries of belief just enough to be consistently amusing. If I were to dock it any points, it would be that it suffers too much from -- as the last part of Quicksilver did -- Stephenson eliding large stretches of time in order to move the plot along. The ending is a little pat, but makes for a hell of a Stephensonian "slam cut to black" while also neatly answering the question of where Jack is at the beginning of Quicksilver.The Juncto, like Odalisque before it, is choppy, but manages to improve on its predecessor. Daniel ends up being absent, or just glimpsed through his letters, for much of the story (reasonable, considering his surgery at the end of Quicksilver), and most of the focus goes to Eliza, who is shaping up into an interesting character.Overall, I'm really pleased with this -- I actually think I'll bump Quicksilver to a 5 -- and I'm looking forward to finishing off The System of the World this fall.

Jonathan

A necessary result of the con-fusion of Bonanza and The Juncto (the two component novels that comprise this volume) is that the narrative meanders back and forth between the dealings of erudite Eliza (in Europe) and daring Jack Shaftoe (pretty much everywhere else). Both stories are equally compelling but in totally different ways: the swashbuckling adventures of a maritime cabal of pirates and slaves couldn't be more different from the sensitive and precise financial, political and scientific intrigues of the contingent of Natural Philosophers. Unforgettable characters are forged, given rich stories, and sometimes discarded so many times that the reader can't help but get confused themselves at times, but it all contributes to the breadth and span of this Baroque epic. Impossibly the two stories begin to converge - around Phosphorous, of all things - setting the stage for the much anticipated final act!

Andrew

The Confusion is the second part of the Baroque trilogy, Neal Stephenson's over 2600 page journey through the the 17 and 18th centuries as the world transformed its scientific, financial, religious, artistic and philosophical viewpoints and institutions.The first book was really dragged down by so much explanation and detail that it just was a toil to get through. This second book is less so. I also had become used to Stephenson's sometimes unwieldy style, so was able to make better headway through this book, and felt less bogged down most of the time.The main characters are all still there. Jack Shaftoe, who gains and loses fortunes right and left in this volume. Eliza, whose political and financial machinations keep her in constant peril, and Daniel Waterhouse, of the Royal Society of Philosophers, who seems to be the key to holding all factions of the scientific and philosophic community together.I do like that Stephenson shows how much the world changed during this time period, and how vast the changes were in so many aspects. But his style still can be grating, and he still can go into so much extraneous detail that reading becomes a chore.This is a big trilogy, and I have one more left, at almost 900 pages. But I think a bit of a break from Stephenson is needed, so I will read a couple of smaller books before I go back and finish the Baroque Trilogy.

Liviu

Superb sequel to Quicksilver. Continues the (mis) adventures of Jack Shaftoe and an assorted odd group of Pirate slaves that conceive a crazy plan to get freedom and a treasure, plan that develops a hitch when one of Jack's noble sworn enemies turns out to be involved deeply in. In the other main thread Elisa is still looking to establish herself in high society and revenge on the unknown noble that led to her and her mother's enslavement. On the way we have tragedy, joy, action and lots of digressions of the creation of money and the modern banking system, with the natural philosophy more in the background than in the first volume.Excellent.

Timothy

Though technically the sequel to Quicksilver, The Confusion in some ways could be read as a standalone story of the adventures of Jack Shaftoe, as he makes his away around the world going from adventure to adventure; and of Eliza, with her story of trying to survive in a world of intrigue and machinations in late 17th century Europe.For me, this turned out to be a quicker read as opposed to when I read Quicksilver. For one thing, the story is for the most part told in chronological order, instead of being broken into three time periods. For another, it's much more interesting to read about the adventures that Jack went through as he went from one adventure (or trouble) to another, as opposed to reading Daniel's history in Stuart England.To be honest, I can't really say that all parts of the book makes sense (but then the title is called "The Confusion"), but when dealing with such interesting characters, sometimes their force of personality itself can be enough to propel a story forward.And now as the story has caught up to the storyarc/time period of Daniel leaving Massachusetts at the end, I'm hoping that everything will be explained in the next novel.

Miles

Deeper into the wordy quagmire that is Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. As with Quicksilver , this volume contains a considerable dose of magical moments dissolved in a nearly impenetrable sea of overdone gibberish. It’s brilliant gibberish, but not brilliant enough to make this book shine the way I typically expect from Stephenson. While enhancing the Baroque Cycle’s thematic strengths and moving the saga forward in promising ways, The Confusion is ultimately every bit as languorous as Quicksilver.This volume neglects the Baroque Cycle’s most interesting plot thread––Stephenson’s fictionalized account of the intellectual development and personal squabbles of 17th century Europe’s Enlightenment figures––for nearly 500 pages. Daniel Waterhouse is the most maligned victim of Stephenson’s overreach. Save a decidedly moving scene in which he brings a floundering Isaac Newton to his senses, Daniel’s narrative is largely put on hold here.Our consolation is that the lives of Jack Shaftoe and Eliza of Qwghlm become more complex (if not always more interesting). These two signify the social upheaval and economic recalibration that swept through Europe (and the rest of the world, to varying extents) as the 17th century came to a close. They are the figureheads of Confusion, that great handmaiden of Progress.Jack Shaftoe, it turns out, is not dead. His body having purged itself of the maddening French Pox, Jack teams up with an eclectic cabal of similarly disenfranchised galley slaves to win their freedom. The antics of this motley bunch are variously inspiring, puzzling, and yawn-inducing. During the decade leading up to 1700, they gallivant through Barbary, the Middle East, “Hindoostan,” the Far East, and the New World, before returning to Europe. Along the way, they manage to steal a boatload of “magic gold,” which enhances Jack’s already considerable mystique as Europe’s most audacious rapscallion. Jack solidifies his reputation as a ruthless pragmatist, and his diverse gang of freedom-seekers serves as Stephenson’s metaphorical conduit for inserting a modern sense of self-determination into a thoroughly antiquated historical setting. As a general idea, it’s clever and fun. Jack is charismatic and exhibits just enough moral complexity to pique my curiosity about how his unfolding odyssey will terminate. Unfortunately, his story is cluttered with bizarre, boring adventures that rarely influence the Baroque Cycle’s overarching plot. Important events do happen, but slowly, ever so slowly.Eliza has grown on me. I wasn’t sure how I felt about her after Quicksilver, but I think it’s fair to say she propounds a strange sort of feminism after all, and isn’t quite the bimbo with brains I thought she was. Similar to Jack, she is a vehicle for unlikely (but inevitable) fits of progress in a stifling world. She is unusually assertive and laudably subversive, but also tragically subject to the confines of Baroque gender roles. Her most intriguing quality is her relationship with the French aristocracy, which turns up its nose at her humble origins but can’t deny her intellectual cunning and financial savvy. Despite her past, Eliza is eventually declared a Duchess by Louis XIV––a historically significant concession that marks the decline of monarchic power and the rise of the mercantile class and free markets. Later, she marries (unhappily) into a very powerful French family. Though Eliza is forced to assume traditional wifely responsibilities, she retains her passion for independence, her economic acuity, and her steadfast hatred of the slave trade. She is a woman of contradictions sprung from traits and perspectives ahead of her time. Unfortunately, as with Jack’s tale, Eliza’s story is tarnished by Stephenson’s inability to quell his discursive predilections. Ideas that could be communicated in a few carefully-chosen scenes get lost in a barrage of monetary minutiae, epistolary doldrums, and tiresome aristocratic bickering.Perhaps the saddest aspect of both Eliza and Jack is that they seem more coherent when understood as symbols rather than as actual people, a quality that makes for excellent intellectual fodder but prevents me from making an emotional commitment to them.The farther I fall down the Baroque Cycle’s rabbit hole, the more I find myself begrudgingly enthralled by the project’s scope, if not its nuts and bolts. Perhaps I am just desperate to justify my efforts after 1,700+ pages, with nearly 900 left to go. I’ll stand by my claim that it’s far from Stephenson’s best work, but I’m beginning to doubt that I will get to the end and feel I’ve wasted my time. Despite its flaws, The Confusion concludes with a series of highly entertaining and genuinely meaningful flourishes, mostly having to do with Jack’s return to England. Perhaps it’s not too much to hope it all might come together in a climax most marvelous, one befitting Stephenson’s ambitions and undeniable genius.This review was originally published on my blog, words&dirt.

Zach

This is a confusing review to write, because I'm already halfway through the sequel to this book, and they are bleeding together in my head.What I remember really enjoying about this book was Stephenson's patient exposition on the nature of money during a period in world history when modern notions of debt, credit, and currency were just beginning to take shape, and still struck many people as ridiculous. For example, one of the two main characters, Eliza, spends several chapters discussing the bizarre workings of Lyon, a major French trading city. Other characters, less savvy to the world of finance than Eliza, find it incredible that traders in Lyon are perfectly willing to accept as payment, in lieu of gold or silver, a line written in a ledger noting that Monsieur X owes the equivalent of 1,000 sols to Monsieur Y. Thus, modern exchange. In another chapter, the chief of the French treasury, in an effort to pay for a war against the English, calls in all the gold coins in circulation and re-mints them with the same amount of gold, but worth -- by decree of Louis XIV -- 10% more than before. Thus, fiat currency. All the while, Eliza is kept very busy using her excellent understanding of these topics to keep from being put to death by various members of the French nobility for any number of reasons, spurious and otherwise.Meanwhile, in the other, interleaved half of the book, Jack Shaftoe, erstwhile King of the Vagabonds, pursues diverse high-stakes nautical adventures that often rub up against Eliza's struggles in Versailles and other hotspots of courtly intrigue.All in all, this is a very good read, if you've already resigned yourself to reading a Neal Stephenson book. His tendency to abandon plot in favor of lengthy conceptual tangents is more active than ever before, and the bewildering cast of characters and locations can be daunting to the point of confusion. But I can't imagine a circumstance in which you would pick up this book and start reading without already understanding that aspect of what you were getting into.

Jennifer

This book actually didn't take as long to read as the first book (Quicksilver). Perhaps it was because I already knew the characters well and didn't have to "ramp up" each time the book switched focus to a different set of characters. Really, though, I think it's because The Confusion is more of a swashbuckling adventure story, which large parts of Quicksilver were not (even though I really enjoyed the long first part of Quicksilver, involving Puritanism and science, it was a slow read). The Confusion is a page-turner, definitely over-the-top at times, but a fun read and just as packed with historical references as the first book. Unlike the first book, adequate closure to the main adventures is received at the end. I'm looking forward to starting the third book, but for practical reasons I must choose something smaller to bring on my upcoming travels...

Judy

I remember like it was yesterday when I first read Neal Stephenson. I learned about him from a lit blog in 2004 when I had started reading blogs but had not yet started my own. I read Snow Crash (1992) and was blown away. He opened up a whole new world of reading for me called "cyber punk" and led me to William Gibson and on from there.I have read Stephenson's books in the order he wrote them: The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver. The only glitch is that his books are so long and take me over a week to read. I never seem to catch up. Every time a new Stephenson comes out (Reamde came out last September) I read another one, but I am still behind by three.Cryptonomicon (1999) was his first venture into the past, with part of the action taking place in the present, being the 1990s at that point, and the remainder during World War II. The infamous Bobby Shaftoe makes his first appearance.Then in 2003 came Quicksilver (the first volume of a trilogy, The Baroque Cycle.) These books are set in the 1600s. We meet the original Bobby Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-cocked Jack, due to an unfortunate incident involving his cock. We also meet the indomitable Eliza, Isaac Newton, Leibniz, Louis XIV, and a lesser known member of the Royal Society, Daniel Waterhouse, whose descendant is a major player in Crytonomicon.I got to meet Neal Stephenson once, the year that Books Expo America was held in Los Angeles. I blurted out garbled gushing phrases about what a big fan I was and got an autographed copy of Anathem. I will read that one of these days. He is a tiny, slim guy with no hair on his head but a dark beard on his face. He exudes a calm intelligence and is possessed of a shy nature. Hard to believe that he can hold all that he knows in his head--proof to me that the mind is not the brain.So The Confusion is volume two of The Baroque Cycle. In 815 pages the story moves along a mere four years. Eliza has her tale of woes and triumphs centered in the court of Louis XIV; alternating chapters follow Bobby Shaftoe and his pirate adventures from Spain to Mexico to the Middle East to India and back to England.Though the volume is packed with action, adventure, sorrow, and history, it seemed just a tad slow compared to Stephenson's earlier books. However, it has been four years since I read Quicksilver. I do remember in each earlier book times when I felt held back by his torrents of words.I think he is laying a strong and sturdy foundation that will support the conclusions he comes to in the final volume, The System of the World. While these books are hyper-active historical fiction, they are also a look at the foundations of the political, monetary, and scientific issues we now live and grapple with in our daily lives. Never have I had so much fun learning history.

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