The final volume, 891 pages, of Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy centers almost entirely on the year 1714, when the many threads from "Quicksilver" and "The Confusion" come together. Middling scientist Daniel Waterhouse returns to England from his "Technologickal College" project in Boston to try to patch up the vicious feud between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz about who invented calculus. But a bomb nearly kills Dan upon his arrival. Greater powers are in play, because Queen Anne is near death, and royal relations of the Hanoverian line (in Germany) are poised to take over the English throne.
What ties Waterhouse and Newton (head of the Mint) to Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds, is the Solomonic Gold, which is heavier than normal, perhaps because it is a peculiar alloy, and perhaps (as Newton believes) because it has magical qualities. Retrieved from Pacific Islands in "The Confusion" and brought back across North America and the Atlantic to England aboard the good ship "Minerva," it is now being slipped into the coin circulation by "Jack Coiner" (one of Shaftoe's many guises) to screw up England's economy, and sought by Newton for its potential alchemical properties. Jack ends up a prisoner in the Tower of London, destined for hanging, drawing, and quartering. Of course, Jack's great love Eliza, a former slave of the Turks now ennobled as a duchess (and told Jack some 20 years before that he would only see her again on the day he died), works behind the scenes.
As with the preceding two volumes, there are many famous historic walk-ons, from Peter the Great of Russia to Christopher Wren, and plenty of action: betrayals, knifings, swordplay, a miraculous resurrection from death, even a duel with Hobbits (or Haubitzes -- very crude cannons) within the Tower of London prison complex. The sharp-eyed reader may spot references to everything from Macbeth to Monty Python.
This report prepared by David Loftus
Morrow, Sep 2004, 27.95
In 1714 Daniel Waterhouse arbitrates the irrational dispute between the aging mathematical giants Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, both angrily insisting they invented calculus. However as the two greats brawl like street kids, Queen Anne nears death. The Jacobyte supporters fight with the Hanoverian sympathizers over the succession. Waterhouse fears that the dispute could harm intellectual pursuits in the kingdom.
As the world seems heading towards madness, Waterhouse tries to keep the rising chaos from turning the world back into another dark age. His hope lies in technology and his beliefe that rational people will seek a reasonable solution irregardless of the Newton-Leibniz war.
The story line is packed with insight into the early eighteenth century especially a deep glimpse at some the most influential people of the age.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner