Stephenson’s Quicksilver

Cover image for 'Quicksilver'I’ve been reading Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson on-and-off for the last few weeks. It’s volume one of the Baroque Cycle, a huge trilogy of books set in the 17th century, that is a sort of prequel to Cryptonomicon.

The first book in Quicksilver follows the life of Daniel Waterhouse, a fictional member of the Royal Society, who’s a good friend of Issac Newton. It blends fact with fiction, which I love, to create some very intriguing situations.

I’ve been reading it in small increments—haven’t even finished it after two weeks! This is mainly because I’m enjoying the book more intellectually than emotionally. I’m not really a history-buff, but I can still appreciate the level of detail that Stephenson has put into crafting this epic.

I don’t write about books while I’m reading them—too often they end up disappointing after promising great things in the beginning. But when I read the following conversation, I knew I just had to write about it.

Raleigh: “Out newest tenant informs me that you’ve decided to turn architect, Daniel.”
Sterling: “We thought you were going to be a savant.”
Daniel: “All the other savants are doing it. Just the other day, Hooke figured out how arches work.”
Sterling: “I should have thought that that was known by now.”
Raleigh: “Do you mean to say all existing arches have been built on guesswork?”
Sir Richard Apthorp: “Arches—and Financial Institutions.”

All these characters are standing on the top of a goldsmith-turned-banker’s shop, after an early venture in banking (this is the 1700s we’re talking about here) leads to a run on the bank in question, and there’s a pitchfork-bearing crowd gathered outside demanding their gold back. Oh, they’re on the roof as the mob, in its anger, has set fire to the bank.

I just love the situation; and it’s just pure serendipity that I’m reading this right now, when we all are realizing that financial institutions are still being built on guesswork.

The book is full of gems like these, and I highly recommend reading it just for its educational value.

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