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The Confusion by Neal Stephenson

April 27, 2008

Luckily this book is not confusing, as the title suggests. In good literary style, the title refers to an older meaning; con-fused, or joined together. Through the journeys of its characters, particularly one who makes an eastward journey from India to London, Stephenson shows how the lines of trade connect and join the globe, even in 1700. The naming of a ship in Malabar can have consequences in Paris, should the wrong name be chosen. Trade has always been global.

In The Confusion the three characters from Quicksilver return, though in this book they are rarely together. The Confusion is a book about the journey. The evidence of con-fusing is background, a detail if you will. Jack’s journey around the world is the principal focus of the book, and the effects his actions can have on Eliza are unforeseeable. Daniel Waterhouse is rarely seen, being mostly immobile in London during the years of this book, and wishing he were in Massachusetts. The mercurial character of Enoch Root also returns, to save our trading heroes from a subtle and deadly trap set by the Japanese.

As in Quicksilver, the slow emergence of what we today would recognise as science continues, though here science is still con-fused with alchemy.

As with Quicksilver before it (and The System of the World after) this novel is dense and rewarding to read. Like all good books, the reader is encouraged to seek out yet more books to read to answer or confirm (or not!) questions raised.

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