I’m not sure it made a ton of sense to launch my “read more books” resolution by reading something as long as Quicksilver, but it certainly did turn out to have the extension treatment of monetary policy themes I was looking for.
As is often the case with the later work of successful “genre” writers, I thought this got a bit annoyingly self-indulgent at times, with Stephenson sometimes eager to show off some bit of 17th Century trivia (like that to “realize” your investment comes from the name of the Spanish currency, the real) in a distracting way. But at other times it’s quite engaging and brilliant.
The message is that it’s wrong to think of modern liberal capitalist democracy as a natural state of things from which bad deviations occur due to blundering or malfeasance. Rather, the world we know is a deliberate, contingent, human creation whose key elements had to be thought up by particular people for particular reasons. People think of things like telescopes as invented, but forget that banking and religious tolerance and nation-states are also inventions.