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Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The system of the World

Categories: [ Books ]

ISBN: 9780099463369

© Amazon.fr

Third volume of The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, following The Confusion. Divided into three books, Solomon's Gold, Currency and The System of the World.

Solomon's Gold

1714. Invited by Princess Caroline, Daniel Waterhouse returns to London after twenty years in Massachusets where he founded the Institute for Technologickal Arts. Caroline wants him to mend the philosophical gap between Leibniz, who has been her mentor, and Isaac Newton, currently Master of the Royal Mint. On his way back he meets Newcomen, building an Engine for Litfing Water by Fire and is looking for investors. Soon after Daniel's arrival at the Royal Society, he is injured by an infernal machine, an explosive ignited by clockwork. With the help of a few other people, he starts investigating to find the maker of the bomb. A second bomb destroys a ship being build for Peter the Great, czar of Russia, and the shipwright joins in the investigation. Daniel then visits Newton and learns that he is still looking for the Solomonic gold, which is infused with whatever principle animates the human body. Daniel remembers, from his time on Minerva crossing the ocean, that the ship contained unusual ballast, and soon understands that it is the Gold Isaac is looking for. As a Master of the Mint, Newton also fights coiners, and one of them is especially dificult to locate. While Newton is sent to a wild goose chase, Jack the Coiner invest the tower of London and places fake coins in the Pyx (a strongbox where samples of fresly minted coins are placed) after literally showering fake gold guineas over the city, in order to discredit Newton's work as a Master of the Mint.


In Hanover, Caroline is targeted by assassins, and with the help of Eliza and her son Johann she flees to London incognito. There she meets Daniel who tries to convince Eliza to invest in his Logic Mill, a prototype of a “thinking machine” that Leibniz had asked him to build. Data is fed to the machine with punched cards made of (solomonic) gold. Peter the Great is another investor in the project, and all the cards are planned to be shipped to Saint Petersburg when they are made. Meanwhile, Daniel also tries to locate artifacts made by Hooke in the early days of the Royal Society to send to the czar who wants to train his philosophers and start his own philosophical society. In the Bedlam asylum, he finds a note by Hooke that proves that he did die whe Hooke performed a lithotomy on him and that he was revived by Enoch the Red who used an alchemical formula transcribed by Hooke on the note. With the help of a thief catcher, Daniel also tries to catch Jack the coiner, who is believed to be the maker of the bombs. The thief catcher is actually Jack in disguise. He escapes Newton but gives to Daniel one of the original coin samples he had taken from the Pyx, which; through complex political mechanisms, destitutes the Tory government, in favour to a catholic king, and replaces it with Whigs who are in favor of the Hanover family. Soon after, Peter the Great arrives incognito in London to receive the ships built for him. He is accompanied by Solomon Kohan, a Jew who forces Daniel to promis to use only Solomonic gold to make the punch cards, and to deliver the whole amount of that gold to the czar. As a gift, he gives Daniel a ring made from some of the punched out bits. The gold is taken out of Minerva's bilge and hidden in the Bank of England.

The System of the World

Jack is finally arrested, and a connection is found between the Tories, the bombs (the target was Newton) and the plan to debase the gold guinea and discredit the Whigs and preven Georg of Hanover to become the next king. Daniel, Eliza and Caroline force Leibniz and Newton to meet and discuss about their philosophical disagreements, but have no success in resolving their differences. Jack, in prison, promises Daniel to return the gold stolen from the Pyx in exchange for the freedom of his two sons (who were his accomplices), whom Daniel manages to help escape from prison. But at the same time Jack tells Newton that Daniel has all the gold, and Daniel has to liquidate his whole Logic Mill operation and ship the gold out in a rush. Newton discovers Daniel's implication in the escape of Jack's sons and has a stroke. Additionally, he suffers from gaol fever and is on the brink of death. He tells Daniel that he has found Enoch's formula from Hooke's descriptions. After the coronation of George II, the trial of the Pyx takes place, the same day as Jack's execution. During the trial of the Pyx, the samples (shards from the coins) being tested are replaced with shards made by Daniel from his ring. Isaac is present, hidden in a sedan chair, but he is actually recently dead. While the trial takes place, Daniel feeds Isaac Enoch's potion, and he wakes up just in time for the end of the trial, which had shown that Isaac's coins are pure gold. At the same time, Jack survives (barely) his hanging and is taken away by the Mobb. During the religious ceremony that preceded, he understand that Enoch the Red is none other than Enoch, son of Cain.

In the epilogues, Jack lives at Versailles with Eliza (who wouldn't set eyes on him until he has died). Jack's sons are in Carolina. Daniel sees Newcomen's engine working, and doesn't expect his logic mill to be built before another century; probably only needs of war will resurrect such a project. Daniel then decides to return home to Massachusets.

[ Posted on December 22nd, 2010 at 00:05 | no comment | ]