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

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.

David Peters

Massive in size and massive in detail. As I have mentioned I finally committed to reading this 2700+ page three book series after avoiding it for years. Lisa asks me why I would read something I would avoid. On the surface I realize that it doesn't make sense, but Stephenson's books are so detailed and rich there is no such thing as skimming them; and they are not an easy read. It is work, but also very rewarding. The cost of that commitment is the realization of all the things I can't be reading, like the quick and easy stories, like the new John Grisham, which take me a day or two to get through. Grisham equals a one hour TV drama, Stephenson is a mutli-day mini series.Anyways I finished book two today having reached the turning point on Monday. The turning point is in a really long book where I have read enough pages I want to charge to the finish. Prior to that I am usually just trying to read to a page goal for the day. I have been picking up books every time I have gone to the library while reading this, and now I literally have 16 books on my nightstand to read before starting book 3.

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.

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.

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...

Sean

I picked up and put down Quicksilver over the course of a few years... Books of that physical size tend to intimidate me, so I was in no hurry to start The Confusion.. But once I got an ebook reader the physical size was no longer a factor. While I ostensibly started this book a few years ago, I really started it mid Jan 2013. Once I got into it I couldn't stop, finishing it two weeks later (though with a massive assist from a beach vacation). It took me way too long, as so much time had passed since I had read it, to recall the events of Quicksilver, even with a Wikipedia assist. Other than that I found the book to be interesting and engaging, and I honestly cared about the characters. On one hand it could be (easily) argued that this book could use some editing, the length really did allow for some serious pondering on the characters and their story.. That said, this book s certainly not for everyone..

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.

Douglas

I was hoping to be able to dispense with The Baroque Cycle in one go—to be honest I can't remember greatly liking one book in the trilogy over another, and I really want to put some distance between myself and those 2700+ pages. It's not that the story's not entertaining—it is. It's amusingly written, too, with an omniscient narrator who breaks the authorial third wall with snarky commentary on fashion choices in the 1600s. And as always, you'll learn a great deal with Stephenson. The birth of modern science, banking and monetary systems are a few of the cloisters within which his characters wander in this sprawling trilogy. But sprawl it does.Stephenson has said many times, in response to reader suggestions about using an editor, that he doesn't need one. He's wrong. He needs someone to cut words, paragraphs, pages, whole books—and at times to spank him, too. The books go on far, far too long in too many places, scurrying down narrative and didactic rabbit holes with nothing to show or it.One doesn't have the sense that Stephenson, fun as he can be to read—the entertainment and sheer breadth of the thing meriting three stars—is enough the master of his craft to have undertaken this cycle. Neither its plot nor its structure, nor its many adjoining themes, really amount to anything conclusive in the end.

John

Fantastic book! As long as _Quicksilver_, this book feels shorter. There is less natural philosophy and more swashbuckling (including a complete circumnavigation of the globe). There's a bit about the alchemical properties of King Solomon's gold and some pre-Enlightenment chemical engineering. Additionally, there is a significant amount of banking, as many of the events in the book orbit the disintegration of the traditional feudal land economy of Europe and the rise to dominance of a market economy driven by international trade. We also are clued in to the conceptualization and creation of the first computing machines. Other than that, this novel is all over the place. So far, The Baroque Cycle is a really great story. Give it a chance if you have a lot of time on your hands.

Jim

Zounds, and Zounds and Zounds yet again! This tis truly a Brick of a Book, as was Quicksilver. Tis not a quick read, but tis a joy to read! Alternating between the stories of Eliza, in the court of Louis the XIV, and English Royalty alike, and the story of Jack Shaftoe, AKA King of the Vagabonds, AKA Half-Cocked Jack, AKA Quicksilver, and his tale of Stolen gold. Jack goes 'round the globe with his Cabal which is ever dwindling. We also meet his sons this go around, along with his Brother Bob (who. spends some time with Eliza, and also sometime reuniting with his Purloined Love!). In the middle of all this, Daniel Waterhouse has not been forgotten, but is more in the background for most of this. Truthfully, Neal Stephenson has not heard "Brevity is the sould of Wit", I presume, as this is the antithisis of brevity, yet loses none of it's Wit. I am getting near the Summit of this Mountain of a Novel, fully realizing that there 'tis one more Mountain to climb! Ye gods, the THINGS this man knows. The history of Science, the History of Math, the History of Money, and History itself. Ye gaods yet again, the SCOPE of this. We go from England, to Ireland, to France, to India, to Egypt, to The Barbary Coast, and to The Phllipines (not necessarily in that order). This book makes me wish I know more Math, more Science, more History, More Economics and more Languages. I fear I have not journaled this noivel like I did Quicksliver, and for that I am sorry. But, I think at this time I am merely TIRED from this book. Not tired OF it, no, I shall prevail and tackle this as soon as I read the remaining 100 pages, and Vol 3 comes in the mail!When I finihs this whole 3 volume novel, methinks I shall read some short stories. Some Comic book. Some Limericks or Haikus maybe, I know not. But, in the not too distant future, I have some bricks of books that call my name, encluding more of Neals eventually. (Egads! ALL of his books seem to be bricks!) I think the next of his I shall read is Cryptonomican. (A book of this title is referred to in these volumes)Back to Jack, who tis mid Pacific somewhere or the other as I sit here!Zounds, yet one more time! I have finished this 2nd Brick of a Book, I have reach the Summit of this Mountain of a Book, for it has ended! And what a glorious end it was!. Now I am off to learn of The System of the World! Avast!

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.

javier

I actually wasn't going to pick up this book after finishing quicksilver, but I enjoyed the ending of quicksilver, so I thought I would give this one a try. The Confusion was OK. It was a slow read, that wasn't always the best escape for me from my world of studying. The end of The Confusion was well worth the read, but I can't say that I really enjoyed every step of the way. It's more... if I hadn't read the middle of the book, there would be no way to enjoy the ending. Now, I am not ready to take on the third part of the trilogy at this time; but since I own The System of the World, I am inclined to believe that I'll be reading it soon. If nothing else, I learned that life is long and that many many things happen everyday. The surprising part is that even the smallest things can come back to make a huge difference in the end.

Scott

See my review of Quicksilver. This one is more tedious, and despite the fact that I normally like a book that has global scope, this certainly wasn't as interesting as I thought it could have.

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.

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.

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