The Baroque Cycle (Neal Stephenson)

This three-volume work of historical fiction begins in the seventeenth century and follows the life of fictional character Daniel Waterhouse who was a member of the very real Royal Society of London.  The trilogy is a prequel (of sorts) to Cryptonomicon that spans World War II and a more modern era.

Quicksilver (Volume I) - HarperCollins - 2003 - 927 pages plus after-notes

In 1660, The Royal Society was founded in London to improve "natural knowledge".  Its members included most of the greatest thinkers of the day including Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, John Locke, Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren et al.  They worked to compile knowledge about physical and biological sciences.  And many of them were obsessed with alchemy and the possibility of converting base metals to gold.  At the same time, Europe was in turmoil as various royal families tried to control various plots of land.  The author follows various members of the RS, Newton's rival mathematician Leibniz on the continent, the vagabond Shaftoe brothers, and a Turkish harem slave (Eliza) who might have been a countess.  This wonderful work of fiction combines monetary issues, early methods of encryption, and the trappings of royalness into improbable adventures that may have occurred in and around actual wars and ruling changes.  Stephenson, who is mostly known today as a syfy writer, has proven himself to be an extremely prolific producer of all types of fiction, always told from a scientific perspective.  [JAM 7/25/2016]

The Confusion (Volume II) - HarperCollins - 2005 - 815 pages plus after-notes

Vagabond Jack Shaftoe conspires with nine other galley slaves to steal Solomon's gold, build a magnificent sailing vessel, and traverse the Pacific Ocean to the coast of California and beyond.  Ms. Double-Duchess Eliza survives numerous pregnancies, the small pox, and a marriage to an arch-enemy while conducting vast international financial coups and avoiding incarceration because of a Shaftoe connection.  And, Natural Philosopher Daniel Waterhouse convinces Sir Isaac to rescue the English economy by accepting an appointment to The Mint, thereby allowing Daniel to escape to Boston.  Within Baroque history at the turn of the 18th century, a motley crew of characters maneuver numerous perils to transport gold, silver and mercury hither and yon.  Author Stephenson miraculously retains the continuity of events occurring simultaneously on three continents and the high seas.  How can he top this in Volume III?  [JAM 8/29/2016]

The System of the World (Volume III) - HatperCollins - 2004 - 892 pages plus after-notes

Eliza is an advisor to Princess Caroline now, and Jack has been dispatched to London by King Louis XIV to destroy the British economy.  Meanwhile, Natural Philosopher Daniel Waterhouse is caught in the middle trying to mediate the longstanding feud between Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and Dr. Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716).  The wild card in the events of the day (1714) is the whereabouts of the fabled Solomonic gold equally sought by kings, alchemists and Peter the Great (1672-1725).  Waterhouse forms a Clubb; Dappa becomes a famed prison-author; Jack assaults the Tower of London; Newton has fits; and everybody fears the Mobb in the world's busiest and possibly dirtiest city.  Author Stephenson has achieved the monumental goal of recreating the world-as-it-was 300 years ago.  And, some of it is true/  [JAM 10/2/2016]