Recalling the indirect influence of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle

I hadn’t really recognized until this morning that Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle led to the Disquiet Junto music community. When the first novel in the series came out at the start of autumn 2003, I took the day off to read. Not long in, I decided I didn’t know enough American history to appreciate it, so I put it down.

I’d read everything by Stephenson at that point, and have to this day (several of the books multiple times), with the single exception of the Baroque Cycle. In 2004 I started a job, and only picked up Quicksilver, that first book, again after the job was over, around 2009 or 2010. Again, I felt I didn’t know enough, and I put it down.

Not knowing enough about American history eventually led me to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin, which I read in advance of his 2011 book on Steve Jobs just to have a sense of how much of a hagiography the latter might prove to be.

It was while reading Isaacson’s Franklin biography that I became reacquainted with the Founding Father’s Junto club, dating from 1727, which I’d first learned of in college when his autobiography was part of an English literature course syllabus. And that led to me forming the Disquiet Junto.

Now I’m trying, again, to read the Baroque Cycle. I think I’ll make it through this time.

Originally published in the June 20, 2022, edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. Get it in your inbox via

3 thoughts on “Pre-Junto

  1. I really relate to the idea of not knowing enough about history to consume a work of historical fiction (being unfamiliar with Stephenson, I’m making a presumption here). Spurred by watching a recent bit of HF based on 9th and 10th century Great Britain — concurrent with a burgeoning interest in my family/cultural history — I’ve lately been diving into the history of England and its neighbors. I used to get really annoyed when HF writers would play fast and loose with historical fact, but in recent years I find myself instead more fascinated by the different possible interpretations of what is often uncertain knowledge (especially, e.g., about late first millennium Great Britain).

  2. the Baroque Cycle is so good, once you get going you’ll forget that they’re door stopper sized. Also, if you enjoyed Cryptonomicon it will be fun to get more depth on those characters/plots.

  3. I always thought there was a connection to the Stephenson Junto, so I was somewhat surprised it isn’t the case. No matter – the Baroque cycle is a fantastic romp, and it has spun me outwards, getting me interested in Leibniz and Newton and some of the actual historic scenarios.

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