Book - 2007
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The lives of three remarkable families become entwined with Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Theodore Dreiser, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata at the turn of the century.
Publisher: New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2007
Edition: Random House Trade pbk. ed
ISBN: 9780812978186
Branch Call Number: FICTION DOCTOROW 2007
Characteristics: 320 pages ; 21 cm


From Library Staff

industrialists, anarchists, and New York City ca. 1900

The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between r... Read More »

brilliant, breezy, bright but also sometimes dark novel about characters from all walks of life in New York at the dawn of the 20th century.

Set right at the dawn of the 20th century in New York City, this beautiful looks at the history and the spirit of the age through the lives of several very different characters with intersecting lives.

An extraordinary tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century and the First World War.

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RogerDeBlanck Jun 30, 2018

In his unforgettable novel Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow takes legendary figures such as J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman, and Evelyn Nesbit and places them in a fictional context where their feats intersect with the lives of three families. Each of the families deals with hardships that come to symbolize the haunting sight of the First World War on the horizon. Doctorow uses these ordinary families to reflect the adversity faced by that generation at the turn of the 20th century. He places his characters in the turbulence of events throughout the history of New York City and allows their lives to intertwine with the lives of the celebrities of the era. Doctorow's ecstatic language generates pace that allows the subject matter to flow like music from the page. History becomes mesmerizing and alive through the magic of Doctorow’s imagination. He reinvigorates the past by giving a fresh and new vision to a time and place. He reconfigures how history is shaped and shows how those with the right influence worked to shape it. Ragtime is one of those all-time unforgettable classics, remarkable in its creative wonder. Over his brilliant career, Doctorow has distinguished himself as a premier ambassador of American literature, and Ragtime depicts how he enchants American history and blurs the lines between fact and fiction with an imaginative spirit that places his vision in the realm of mythology.

May 17, 2017

Entertaining and educational. A lot can be gained from cross referencing and characters backstories. There is a lot of name dropping that can send one into an hour of wiki research. That's the kind of stuff I'm into though. I like stopping and looking stuff up in the middle of a sentence or looking up multiple words and references just to struggle through a sentence or paragraph. Took four days to read. Very good.

May 03, 2016

I read this in research for the musical. I have to say, I probably would have put it down if not for that! The writing style did not catch my interest. But I did enjoy the historical information and vignettes of true to life people as I read it. Freud was a fun appearance. Also the baseball players on the Sphinx and J.P Morgan's disappointment in the baseball players triumphing over the Spinx was fun to read.

lbarkema Jan 21, 2016

The writing style took a while to get into, but once I was used to the fact that there was very little dialogue and what dialogue there was had no quotation marks or was embedded in long paragraphs spanning more than one page, I enjoyed the story. I especially found it interesting to read of the "real-life" cameos and then doing additional research to see if the person and the circumstances they were in were actually true and how much was fiction. I'm not sure if his other books are written in the same way, but I do think I would try something by Doctorow again.

Aug 03, 2015

This is a book that demands patience on the part of the reader. All through the first half, I contemplated giving up on it. The plot was going nowhere, characters wandered on and off the stage aimlessly. Eventually I understood why I wasn't getting into it: Doctorow is a network news reporter pretending to be a novelist!
Not satisfied with bringing a string of well known real people into the mix, essentially as stage decorations to create a sense of place and time, he proceeds to create his own cast of characters, all of whom are archetypes, not whole human beings that we can personally relate to. They have no souls. Some of them (Younger Brother, Mother, The Boy, Tateh's daughter) are not even provided with names. They simply have roles to play. Doctorow shows on several occasions that he's quite capable of examining people's inner life, as he does when he describes The Boy's troubled, confused state of mind after his father's return from the Arctic; but he chooses instead to stay back and report events at arms length. Because of this cool, detached treatment, none of the characters become people we care about or even bother to dislike very much. Even the half-insane Harry Thaw and the redneck thug Willie Conklin are really just archetypes, as are the publicity whore Evelyn Nesbitt and the tormented Negro Coalhouse Walker. The closest Doctorow comes to presenting a living breathing man is with Tateh -- who also isn't given a real name, other than the alias he uses later on.
The book is saved when about half way through, a meaningful plot emerges with the appearance of Walker; some sense is made of the seemingly random event of Sarah abandoning her newborn in Mother's garden and Doctorow constructs a story arc beginning around Walker's ill-treatment by the firehouse gang, the outcome of which carries us through to the end. But even then, the author reports the final events in the lives and deaths of several of the characters almost like the voice-over that sometimes occurs at the end of a movie after the main drama has concluded.
All in all, I felt that the book didn't come close to living up to its billing.

CRRL_CraigG Jun 26, 2015

Swirls through 1906 America with a breakneck stream-of-consciousness pace more frenetic than most historical fiction. A densely-constructed ensemble piece that alternates between fictional and real life figures of the age, the thoroughly modern novel amazed critics and readers alike upon its publication in 1975.

Read more at: http://www.librarypoint.org/ragtime_doctorow

WVMLStaffPicks Oct 28, 2014

The entertaining novel behind the musical. America at the beginning of the century is a land of contrasts -- full of innocence, energy and ambition -- portrayed through an eclectic array of historical and fictional characters.

Nov 09, 2013

Before I read Ragtime, I was always confusing Cory Doctorow and E.L. Doctorow. Definitely not anymore. Cory’s enthusiastic pop culture fizz is worlds and decades apart from E.L.’s historical fiction.

Ragtime starts out strong, as real people mix with imagined people to give us a drama (and eventually a popular musical) about the history of early 1900s America. Classes, cultures, and colours mix, too, as the story peers into mansions and looks at the streets.

The story is strongest when the characters are separated and we get strikingly energetic looks into all corners of turn-of-the century American life. The narrative winds along like music while the unusual way Doctorow writes dialogue is both arresting and compelling. But as random characters meet and marry, the ending becomes a somewhat forced melting pot metaphor.

libraryfamily_1 Jun 12, 2012

After all these years of having this title on my "to be read" list I finally read it and loved every page. The way Doctorow fictionally weaves the lives of famous people together is a fascinating and original way to tell the story of that amazing time period. A must read.


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Jan 17, 2010

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Feb 20, 2011

Sexual Content: Explicit sex and nudity.


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