Quicksilver was like a more accessible Pynchon novel: long, packed with historical detail, lots of temporal crosscuts, and infused with thinly veiled references to contemporary events.
The action takes place in the mid 17th to early 18th century, in England and America. The cast of characters include Newton, Boyle, Hook, Wren, (Ben) Franklin, Pepys, and many more. This is a novel about the birth of modern science and empirical and rational philosophy, against the backdrop of horrible religious persecution and war.
My major complaint about the novel (other than it being ridiculously long) is that Stephenson seems to think that he has to spell out the historical context in excruciating detail. He may be right - a reflection on our educational deficiencies - but I found it tedious at times.
Still, he gives us a detailed view of life in the upper reaches of the intellectual Britain of that time; and it was an extraordinary time.