I got back from San Francisco about midnight last night and haven't really come up with anything remarkably insightful or erudite to say yet today in science or philosophy. Instead, let's talk about the novel I just finished reading.
I completely re-read Neal Stephenson's "Quicksilver" in preparation for getting through the other two books in "The Baroque Cycle" finally. I have a few things to say on that point. First, my overall gut response is disappointed. The sheer amount of exposition is overwhelming. I know Neal is a genius and manages to know something about everything but do I really need to know it as well? It reminded me, both favorably and unfavorably, of my experience reading Les Miserables (the 1400 page unabridged edition) where I thought the plot was interesting but could barely make it through the digressions. Hopefully, this improves somewhat in the following two novels.
Second, I am generally one of the more verbose people I know. It is generally rare to encounter words I don't at least recognize. However, he manages to work in so many synonyms that I have actually had to put the book down and look up the meaning of the word in order to grasp the context of the sentence. He must know he is doing this; I hypothesize he delights in it. However, I imagine that if I struggle with this, then most others must be completely lost. Now, of course, I can't think of any particular examples, but I might try to edit them in (if I am diligent) later. At any rate, I often felt like I was just working my way around these digressions to try and get to a plot that is still lacking some cohesion after 900+ pages.
The plot of the trilogy, apparently has to do with Daniel being called back to England to try and settle the Newton-Leibniz "who invented calculus?" debate. However, he starts to reminisce and suddenly we are exposed to the whole history of the Enlightenment. I think one part that I struggle to grasp is, given that ending, what is the purpose of the whole Eliza and Jack portions of the tale. In Cryptonomicon (which this is clearly a prequel to in many ways), it made some sense because the two family branches tie together. However, if this is just tracing back those parallel lines this far back it smacks of ego far more than novel. Not that I mind completely, since the Eliza and Jack sections are generally more entertaining, but I just wish I felt like they were relevant to the whole story.
Overall, I will say it revived my interest in Enlightenment figures. I definitely feel that I need to read a "real" biography of Hooke and his many accomplishments (inventing the microscope and many others). I have always been interested in Leibniz, a philosopher and mathematician who has a large supporting role. But, the work, as literature and, especially, as novel seemed a little flat to me. I have just started the second book, "The Confusion," and will hopefully feel that the book makes more sense from that perspective. Neal Stephenson has been one of my favorite authors since I was forced to read "Snow Crash" so I will give him another chance here.