Quotes from The System of the World

Neal Stephenson ·  908 pages

Rating: (18.5K votes)

“Daniel understood the complaint. For Daniel, too, had once designed a building, and savored the thrill of seeing it built, only to endure the long indignity of watching the owner clutter it up with knick-knacks and furniture.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“Many a ship's officer, caught in a storm or battle, and seized by a natural tendency to freeze up in terror, was moved to action by the vivid helplessness of his crew.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“For most of the day and night, time oppresses me. It is only when I am at work on the innards of a clock-or a lock-that time stops."

"The clock stops, you mean."

"No. Time stops, or so it seems. I do not sense its passage. Then something interrupts me-I become aware that my bladder is full, my mouth dry, my stomach rumbling, the fire’s gone out, and the sun’s gone down. But there before me on the table is a finished clock-" now suddenly a snicker from the mechanism, and a deft movement of his hands. "Or an opened lock.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“Space and Time! Two minor omissions that no one is likely to notice," grumbled Newton.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“This is a very odd conversation,” Dappa observed. “On an arbitrary numerical scale of conversational oddness, ranging from one to ten, with ten being the oddest conversation I’ve ever had, and seven being the oddest conversation I have in a typical day, this rates no better than five,” Daniel returned.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“The first woman who spent any amount of time aboard this ship was Elizabeth de Obregon, whom we salvaged from the wrack of the Manila Galleon at the same time as him who burned it, one Edouard de Gex.”
“He’s dead, by the way.”
“Again? I am glad to hear it.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“The answer is, I chose to seek my fortune. Failed. Lost all. Then got a fortune I had not ever looked for. Lost it though. Got it back. Lost it. Got another - the story is somewhat repetitious.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“Listen to me. I did not wish to be summoned by your Princess. Summoned, I did not wish to come. But having been summoned, and having come, I mean to give a good account of myself. That’s how I was taught by my father, and the men of his age who slew Kings and swept away not merely Governments but whole Systems of Thought, like Khans of the Mind. I would have my son in Boston know of my doings, and be proud of them, and carry my ways forward to another generation on another continent. Any opponent who does not know this about me, stands at a grave disadvantage; a disadvantage I am not above profiting from.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“But blasting the drummer into the river, though it would have been easy at this range, was not a good way to be inconspicuous.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“„Ohne Vergütungen, die weit über das eigentlich Angemessene hinausgehen, wäre der Beruf des Politikers viel zu unerfreulich.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“Daniel was slow to take up the cheer. But when he did, he meant it. This was politics. It was ugly, it was irrational, but it was preferable to war. Roger was being cheered because he had won. What did it mean to win? It meant being cheered. So Daniel huzzahed, as lustily as his dry pipes and creaky ribs would permit, and was astounded to see the way people came a-running: not only the Quality from their town-houses, but hooligans and Vagabonds from bonfire-strewn fields to the north, to throng around Roger and cheer him. Not because they agreed with his positions, or even knew who he was, but because he was plainly enough the man of the hour.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“Is power like the vis viva and the quantite d’avancement? That is, is it conserved by the universe, or is it like shares of a stock, which may have great value one day, and be worthless the next? If power is like stock shares, then it follows that the immense sum thereof lately lost by B[olingbroke] has vanished like shadows in sunlight. For no matter how much wealth is lost in stock crashes, it never seems to turn up, but if power is conserved, then B’s must have gone somewhere. Where is it? Some say ‘twas scooped up by my Lord R, who hid it under a rock, lest my Lord M come from across the sea and snatch it away. My friends among the Whigs say that any power lost by a Tory is infallibly and insensibly distributed among all the people, but no matter how assiduously I search the lower rooms of the clink for B’s lost power, I cannot seem to find any there, which explodes that argument, for there are assuredly very many people in those dark salons. I propose a novel theory of power, which is inspired by . . . the engine for raising water by fire. As a mill makes flour, a loom makes cloth and a forge makes steel, so we are assured this engine shall make power. If the backers of this device speak truly, and I have no reason to deprecate their honesty, it proves that power is not a conserved quantity, for of such quantities, it is never possible to make more. The amount of power in the world, it follows, is ever increasing, and the rate of increase grows ever faster as more of these engines are built. A man who hordes power is therefore like a miser who sits on a heap of coins in a realm where the currency is being continually debased by the production of more coins than the market can bear. So that what was a great fortune, when first he raked it together, insensibly becomes a slag heap, and is found to be devoid of value. When at last he takes it to the marketplace to be spent. Thus my Lord B and his vaunted power hoard what is true of him is likely to be true of his lackeys, particularly his most base and slavish followers such as Mr. Charles White. This varmint has asserted that he owns me. He fancies that to own a man is to have power, yet he has got nothing by claiming to own me, while I who was supposed to be rendered powerless, am now writing for a Grub Street newspaper that is being perused by you, esteemed reader.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“That merely glimpsing three good wooden boxes on a baggage-wain could lead to such broodings made Daniel wonder that he could get out of bed in the morning. Once, he had feared that old age would bring senility; now, he was certain it would slowly paralyze him by encumbering each tiny thing with all sorts of significations.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“That is a very odd thing to see on the Thames,” Daniel remarked. “What flag does she fly?” For van Hoek had unlimbered his prospective-glass. “The double eagle. She is a war-galley of the Russian Navy,” van Hoek said. Then, after a moment’s pause, he laughed at the absurdity of such a thing.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“It would be unseemly for me to beg for your succour so early in this letter, and so I shall divert you (or so I flatter myself) by relating my last conversation with my employer, Peter Romanov, or Peter the Great, as he is now styled—not without perfectly sound reasons—by many (I say “employer” because he owes—I do not say “pays”—me a stipend to act as his advisor on certain matters; my Mistress and liege-lady remains, as always, Sophie). As”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“On certain hilltops grew spruce forests, as fine and dense and soft-looking as the pelts of Arctic mammals. When the wind gusted through these, a sound issued from them that was like icy water hurrying over sharp stones. But most of the land was covered with heather, gone scab-colored for the winter. There the wind was silent, except for the raucous buller that it made as it banged around in the porches of Daniel’s ears like a drunk burglar.”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

“I have spent enough time around Puritans in general, and Boston Puritans in particular, to know what these people will tell her: lock up the library! Or”
― Neal Stephenson, quote from The System of the World

About the author

Neal Stephenson
Born place: in Fort Meade, MD, The United States
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