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Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
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Ragtime (original 1975; edition 2007)

by E.L. Doctorow (Author)

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3,999581,279 (3.86)196
Member:katiekrug
Title:Ragtime
Authors:E.L. Doctorow (Author)
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2007), Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Rating:
Tags:Fiction, historical, 20th c., America, New York, pre-WWI

Work details

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow (1975)

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English (56)  Portuguese (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
As a kid growing up in the 1970s — 1980s, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow was one of those books that all adults my parents' age seemed to have a copy of. As a teenager it was also one of the books I borrowed from my parents from the shelf of books they had pretty much forgotten about but kept just because.

Ragtime takes place in New Rochelle, New York at the turn of the last century. It involves the way the twentieth century heralded in a bunch of stuff we now take for granted (like automobiles, electricity, and other modern conveniences). But it's also a product of its era, a decade when it seems every book was trying to out do every other book for the amounts of depravity included in the name of art and literature.

So as a naive teen living in a San Diego suburb, most of the sex went over my head. The sex parts are actually so dryly written, that it's no surprise that I missed most of it except to have a gut feeling that it was there. (I didn't miss the sex in Philip José Farmer's stuff, though, but that's a different blog post.)

This time around, re-reading it as an adult, it wasn't the sex that made me put the book aside. No. It was all the white privilege, specially the rich, white, privilege. The book opens with a long and dull passage about what life was like near the house in New Rochelle. It's all idyllic because it was only rich white people. There were no poor and no immigrants and no people of color.

So it seems the message of Ragtime is that all the modern conveniences and entertainment comes with a price. That is, rich white folk have to learn to live with everyone else (while, of course, still running the show and saving everything for themselves, but hey! it's progress, right?). And all of this is presented with horrendously dull passages with labored descriptions and painful attempts at allusion. ( )
  pussreboots | Aug 19, 2014 |
I enjoyed the book although sometimes the plot was confusing. He uses real people. Of the time period to be a backdrop to the main plot. And at the end of the story he takes the lives of these people like Morgan, Ford, Houdini and interweaves them into the story line. ( )
  bibliophile_pgh | Aug 19, 2014 |
This was an intriguing book.

It was a scattered plot, involving several main characters (most of whom are famous/historical people), constructed in a way to bring them together.

This is a book for people who like the idea of chaos theory--that everything is related. That one person doing something (however small) can change something halfway across the world.

What is most interesting, to me at least, is Doctorow's descriptions of some of the most influential historical persons of the United States (and the world). JP Morgan is a man obsessed with Egyptian myths, and believest that he is a pharoh (one of the few individuals superior to the rest of the human race). He travels to Egypt to plan where to build his own pyramid. Harry Houdini is obsessed with his mother, and when she dies becomes obsessed with communicating with the afterlife to talk to her again.

Just some crazy stuff, but at the same time, very entertaining. A good read! ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
This was an intriguing book.

It was a scattered plot, involving several main characters (most of whom are famous/historical people), constructed in a way to bring them together.

This is a book for people who like the idea of chaos theory--that everything is related. That one person doing something (however small) can change something halfway across the world.

What is most interesting, to me at least, is Doctorow's descriptions of some of the most influential historical persons of the United States (and the world). JP Morgan is a man obsessed with Egyptian myths, and believest that he is a pharoh (one of the few individuals superior to the rest of the human race). He travels to Egypt to plan where to build his own pyramid. Harry Houdini is obsessed with his mother, and when she dies becomes obsessed with communicating with the afterlife to talk to her again.

Just some crazy stuff, but at the same time, very entertaining. A good read! ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Ragtime takes place at the turn of the twentieth century. Teddy Roosevelt is the president and the United States is at the onset of scientific discovery and the industrial revolution. Entertainment for the general population consists of parades and picnics, baseball and beer, and following the news. The media’s sole method of communication is newspapers.

The story revolves around the lives of one family from New Rochelle, New York who mysteriously remain unidentified… always referred to as the mother, the father, mother’s younger brother, and the son. And although Ragtime is purely fictional, you would barely know it. The story includes J. Pierpont Morgan, Houdini, the radical revolutionary Emma Goldman, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, and several other lesser known real
people. If their personalities seem exaggerated, that’s understandable. The entire story is a little absurd.

Doctorow sets the stage with colorful descriptions. J. P. Morgan is busy making money, lending money, and spending money. And while Henry Ford starts his first factory assembly line, Houdini thrills the general public with magical stunts, each one more daring than the last.

And amidst all the real events of historical significance, Doctorow weaves his fictional story. It’s a story of one black man seeking justice for a racially motivated hate crime. Coallhouse Walker Jr. was not your typical black man of that era. He was educated, spoke proper English, was a highly paid talented musician in Manhattan, and a proud principled man. I won’t give away the plot, but I will say the narrow-minded rural Fire Chief Will Conklin should never have messed with Coalhouse Walker- but he did- and what took place in New York that fateful summer sets off a chain of events that sparks fear in the citizens of New Rochelle while making national headlines.

Doctorow’s style of writing is plain and simplistic… sometimes outright boring. The story is told in an unemotional monotone by a third person, omitting all dialogue, and skimming the surface in character development. I doubt style had anything to do with Ragtime claiming Number 86 on Modern Library’s list of 100 best novels. The plot of bigoted discrimination is most likely what earned this book fame, and it was very clever how Doctorow sprinkled his simple plot with anecdotes of famous people of that time - even if they weren’t "entirely" true. This helped create the early 1900s atmosphere without a lot of descriptive explanations and filled in the the gaps… helping turn what would have been a short novella, into a full novel. Actually, it was a brilliant gimmick. ( )
  LadyLo | May 19, 2014 |
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E. L. Doctorowprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hoog, ElseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Do not play this piece fast. It is never right to play Ragtime fast ...
Scott Joplin
Dedication
The author thanks the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Creative Artists Program Service for fellowships awarded during the period in which this novel was written
Respectfully dedicated to Rose Doctorow Buck
First words
In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812978188, Paperback)

Published in 1975, Ragtime changed our very concept of what a novel could be. An extraordinary tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century and the First World War.

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 real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.

The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for the better part of a century. The series was founded in 1917 by the publishers Boni and Liveright and eight years later acquired by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer. It provided the foundation for their next publishing venture, Random House. The Modern Library has been a staple of the American book trade, providing readers with affordable hardbound editions of important works of literature and thought. For the Modern Library's seventy-fifth anniversary, Random House redesigned the series, restoring as its emblem the running torch-bearer created by Lucian Bernhard in 1925 and refurbishing jackets, bindings, and type, as well as inaugurating a new program of selecting titles. The Modern Library continues to provide the world's best books, at the best prices.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:29 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Three remarkable families lives' become entwined with Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Theodore Dreiser, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata at the turn of the century.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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Editions: 0141188170, 0143566377

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