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

Tim Jin

The second volume in the Baroque Cycle consist of two books into 34 hours and 30 minutes, or 848 pages. "The Confusion" combines "Bonanza" (book 4) and "The Juncto" (book 5) together into one large sum. The two books intertwine together, telling three main parts all at the same time, hence "The Confusion." The subject of pirates in the sea, capture of the slaves and the ongoing value of the currency, makes this to be an awesome book to tackle. The two books are companions to each other by flashing back and forth into each plot. You can't read these books separately and will be force to read the complete volume into one set. The best comparison of the second volume is "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell. Neal Stephenson has the same style of storytelling in "The Confusion." Very much like a Swiss Army knife, you get all of the necessary tools to continue on with the series. I've been on other sites that also reviews books and "The Confusion" has stirred up mix results. Some people love it and other can't seem to get through the first chapter. To all of the naysayers that are cursing Stephenson of writing out of his genre, here are my thoughts. I agree with some of you that it's somewhat weird to see a science fiction author writing about the 18th century. When I first started this series, I wasn't expecting an history lesson, but as a fan boy of Stephenson, I appreciate his efforts at writing out of his comfort zone. There are many popular authors who writes the same thing over and over by having sequel after sequel like book #26. Neal Stephenson is still an indie author because in all of his novels, the story ends at the last page of the book. He doesn't keep extending the line with the same pen in other novels. I cannot wait to come to the last period or question mark in the Baroque Cycle. So far, they have all been excellent and once you stop labeling Neal Stephenson as a stereotypical sci fi writer, you can quickly get into the Cycle.


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!

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.

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.

Nicholas Whyte[return][return]If you liked Cryptonomicon and Quicksilver, and I did, you'll like this as well. Qualifies as sf only on the Damon Knight principle. Set in Europe between 1689 and 1704 with most of it concentrated towards the first three years of that period. I thought actually better than Quicksilver, with more imaginative use of settings including Mediterranean, India, and Spanish America. Good stuff.


I sometimes think Neal Stephenson novels are fit only for college professors, especially business professors, with a need for astronomic levels of excitement, but since this category includes *me* I love this series. The form of the novels reminds me of a baroque and convoluted Candide - a picaresque in which philosophical speculation trades places back and forth with big-time all-star adventure - burning ships, mistaken identities, kidnappings, mounds and piles of gold, murderous Jesuits, etc. The science makes the adventure more fun (a detailed chapter about how phosphorus is made becomes a chapter about how our heros win a battle with bottles of phosphorus). Outside of people like me, some people might like the adventure bits, and others the philosophy bits - but not both. If you fall in this camp it's still worth a go, because Stephenson is an utter genius at invention. The end is thrilling! Sad! Unexpected! Makes me crave volume 3 ("The System of the World")!


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.


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.


The Confusion is a typical second book of an atypical trilogy, and that is not at all a criticism. The second book of trilogies always bridge the gap between the first and the last with a focus on character, plot development and building the framework for the payoff. When this is done well, as with The Two Towers, the second installment can hold its own with any installment in the trilogy; when this is done very well, as with Empire Strikes Back (I apologize for the movie reference), it can outshine any installment in the trilogy. When it comes to Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, I am not sure which of these two models The Confusion follows, but it is, at least, one of them. And now I will digress: I have heard from many that this is one of the most original works they have ever read. I don't doubt that it is the most original work that these folks have read, but that doesn't make it "original." Saying that it is not original is again, however, not a criticism, and it is certainly not a failing in Stephenson's work. I love Stephenson's Cycle, but as a fan of classic literature, particularly the work of Hugo and Dumas, I know that Stephenson is borrowing greatly from his forebears (who were borrowing from theirs, like Cervantes). I cannot stress enough that this is not a bad thing. It is what makes Stephenson's series compulsively readable. Everything old is new again, to borrow an old cliche. Which is precisely what makes The Baroque Cycle so "original" for today's audiences. It is sprawling, larger than any possible life, packed full of historical figures made characters, it is fiction and fact writ together as crazed adventure. What Stephenson does is brilliant, modernizing classic story-telling forms to remind us just how great the classics remain. Anyone who loves a good yarn or just plain loves books should read the Cycle and revel in its sheer audacious brilliance.But don't tell me it has never been done before. Just read it, love it and then start reading everyone who came before.


This is the second volume in Stephenson's Baroque cycle.At the end of the last book, Half Cocked Jack was a Galley Slave off the Barbary Coast, Eliza was making a run with her baby from the continent to London, and Daniel Waterhouse had Joined the Royal Court and taken a Mistress.This book picks up several years later. Eliza is captured and brought back to France, Daniel's Mistress died of small pox, and Jack has been cured of the Syph by some sort of extraordinarily high fever, although it has left him with some sort of amnesia.Jack joins a cabal of galley slaves with a plot to make themselves free. This plan inadvertently becomes embroiled with Eliza living back in France in the Royal Court. Her life is in turn interacting from afar with Daniel Waterhouse, who is involved with the Marquis of Ravenscar who is leading the newly formed Whig party in British Parliment.This book follows Jack (literally) around the world, as he tries to get free from slavery and poverty, getting into all sorts of swashbuckling madcap adventures along the way. Daniel is just trying to get by and move to Massachusetts with the other puritans. Eliza is just trying to get revenge on the slave trade and failing that keep her family together.This story is told as two novels, interspersed and shuffled together. The shuffling is well done, and you generally do not jump around in time too much. For all you OS nerds (like myself) out there, it is reminiscent of how two processes time share the physical processor together. Message passing and everything, as the various story arcs affect each other in surprising and interesting ways.Historically, this book cover's the late 17th century war Between England and France, the reign of William and Mary in England, the Reign of Louis XIV in France, the Japanese Isolationism, the expansion of South and East Asian sea trade with Europe, Mexican Colonialism, and the Spanish Inquisition.As ever, Neal Stephenson's writing style is entertaining and interesting. This book reads faster than the previous volume Quicksilver. Also, Neal Stephenson obviously traveled to many of the places he wrote about in this book. Many of the places in this book that I have actually visited (like Acapulco) are very accurately described.I read this book because I am reading the Baroque cycle. All sorts of smart dudes in the know recommend that book series to me.


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..


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.


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.


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.


** 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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