The System of the World
By Neal Stephenson
The System of the World is the third and final volume in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle.
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 the calculus. However as the two greats brawl like street kids, Queen Anne nears death. The Jacobyte supporters contend with the Hanoverian sympathizers over the succession. Waterhouse fears for the future due to the monarchy dispute potentially harming intellectual pursuits and the math argument shredding collaborations.
Meanwhile street schemer turned noble schemer Eliza de la Zour influences Caroline of Ansbach, consort of the heir to the English throne furthering her desires; while outlaw Jack Shaftoe struggles to avoid the hangman. As the world seems heading towards madness, Waterhouse tries to keep the rising chaos from turning the world back into another Dark Ages. His hope lies in technology and that rationale people will seek a reasonable solution irregardless of the Newton-Leibniz war, but he fears for the future though he sees a glimmer of light through brilliant inventions that will keep society from totally reversing itself.
This final epoch to an incredible look at the beginning of the modern age is a terrific climax to the fantastic Baroque Cycle trilogy. 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. Waterhouse is the glue that keeps the tale together though sidebars with Eliza and Jack stretch the hero’s skills to the max. Satirically, as the throne contenders battle and the mathematical crown co-champions argue (ironically without logic) the inventors are the ones left standing alone keeping the light shimmering in a Shakespearean-like climax.
Written on 3rd December 2004 by TC .