Quicksilver Summary & Study Guide

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Quicksilver Summary & Study Guide Description

Quicksilver Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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"Quicksilver" by Neal Stephenson is the first volume of a historical fiction series about the Baroque period. The novel follows the life and achievements of Dr. Daniel Waterhouse as he becomes involved in the politics of the period, while maintaining his interest in science and his affiliation with the Royal Society of London. "Quicksilver" is an entertaining novel that liberally includes fictional characters and events within the true historical context of the Baroque period.

In the first book, Quicksilver, Enoch travels to Boston to find Daniel Waterhouse because Sophie wants Daniel to return to London to affect a reconciliation between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. As Daniel travels to London on the Minerva, he recalls his youth in England. Daniel meets and befriends Isaac Newton while they attend Trinity in 1663. They spend time together until the Plague hits London in 1665, forcing Newton to return to his family manor in Woolsthorpe while Daniel returns to his father's house. When Daniel grows bored of his father's Puritanical rhetoric, he travels to Epsom where he studies Natural Philosophy with John Wilkins. Daniel also visits Newton in Woolsthorpe and returns to London during the Fire of London in time to see the King ignite Daniel's father's house. Shortly afterward, Daniel and Newton begin teaching at Trinity. Newton acquires the patronage of Lord Upnor, and Daniel acts as secretary of the Royal Society while Oldenburg is held in the Tower of London for active foreign correspondence. Daniel is intensely involved with politics and the Royal Society, and in 1672, he and Newton are fellows at Trinity and build an alchemical laboratory. Daniel convinces Newton to become involved with the Royal Society. In 1673, Leibniz comes to England, and Daniel acts as his escort to meetings with important members of British society. Daniel gains the patronage of Roger Comstock by acting as his architect. Meanwhile, in 1713, the Minerva is pursued by Blackbeard's fleet of pirates who seek to kidnap Daniel. With the help of trigonometry, Daniel assists van Hoek in escaping the pirates in the bay.

King of the Vagabonds, the second book, follows the life of the vagabond Jack Shaftoe. As a child, Jack and his brother, Bob, expedite the deaths of men condemned to hang by dangling from their legs. In 1683, Jack travels to Vienna to assist in the European expulsion of the Turks at the Battle of Vienna. Here, he saves Eliza, a European slave in the sultan's harem, and the two travel to Bohemia with their loot. Deciding to wait for the Leipzig Fair to sell their loot, they spend the winter near a hot spring, and in the spring, Jack and Eliza travel to Leipzig where they meet Doctor Leibniz who helps them sell some of their wares and invites them to accompany him to his silver mind in the Harz Mountains. After visiting the town near Leibniz's mine, Jack gets lost in the woods and is chased by witch hunters, but he manages to find a tunnel that leads to Leibniz's mine where he is reunited with Eliza. Next, Jack and Eliza go to Amsterdam where Eliza learns about the trade of commodities. Jack goes to Paris to sell the ostrich feathers and war horse he acquired during the Battle of Vienna, but he is imprisoned when he insults Etienne d'Arcachon. John Churchill helps Jack escape from the barn where he is imprisoned and when Jack rides into the ballroom, he is mistaken for King Louis XIV until the true king arrives. Jack destroys the ballroom and cuts off d'Arcachon's hand, but he manages to escape. Meanwhile, Eliza becomes involved in politics in Amsterdam, helping the Duke of Monmouth manipulate the trade of VOC stock. Jack visits Eliza with whom he falls out after she learns he is going into the slave trade. Because of this, Eliza agrees to d'Avaux's request to go to Versailles as his spy. On her way to Versailles, Eliza is intercepted by William of Orange who forces her to act as a double agent for his benefit. Jack's ship is captured by Barbary pirates who take him and the crew as galley-slaves.

In the final book, Odalisque, Daniel has become a courtier to King Charles II by 1685, and when Charles die, he becomes advisor to the new King, James II. He continues to be involved with the English court. Eliza becomes the governess of a widower's children in Versailles, and with d'Avaux's aid, she also becomes the broker of the French nobility, creating market trends from which the French court profits and thus gaining the title Countess de Zeur. At dinner at Huygens' house, Eliza meets Daniel and Nicholas Fatio. The next day, Eliza and Fatio prevent d'Avaux from kidnapping William. In London, Daniel is arrested by Jeffreys and later imprisoned in the Tower of London, but he escapes with the help of Bob Shaftoe with whom he makes a pact to kill Jeffreys and Upnor. At William's orders, Eliza becomes Liselotte's lover, but on her way to Amsterdam to provide William with her notes, she is impregnated by King Louis' cryptographer who spreads the rumor that the child belongs to d'Arcachon. Eliza gives birth to a healthy son and plans to go to London to build a life for her and her son. Meanwhile, William marches on England, causing King James II to flee London, and when Daniel encounters King James II in a tavern, he returns to London where he and Bob incite a crowd at another tavern to capture Jeffreys for trial. Daniel plans to go to Massachusetts, but his friends first force him to go to Bedlam in order to have his bladder stones removed by Robert Hooke.

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