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Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

Ragtime (original 1975; edition 2007)

by E.L. Doctorow

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4,146631,209 (3.84)243
Authors:E.L. Doctorow (Author)
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2007), Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:Fiction, historical, 20th c., America, New York, pre-WWI

Work details

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow (1975)

  1. 00
    Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Doctorow called his book "a quite deliberate hommage" (sic) to Kleist's story.
  2. 01
    The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld (Booksloth)

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» See also 243 mentions

English (60)  Portuguese (1)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (63)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
Yes, I know, it gets rave reviews. But it is sort of a literary scam, imaginative history in formulaic fiction form and mock epic grandiose style. I can see that he has very interesting things to say. It strongly motivates me to read his nonfiction rather than his fiction. ( )
  johnclaydon | Mar 29, 2015 |
Good book, but I didn't understand the frequent references to Houdini. ( )
  Janethawn | Feb 2, 2015 |
Published in the 1970s, Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow is set in and around New York City about 1900. While it is a fictional novel it includes historical figures such as Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J. P. Morgan, and Booker T. Washington. But what is it about really? Actually, I can only give an attempt to answer this question. The narrator is a boy in his adolescence who talks about what is going on in his family, the members of which are aptly named 'Father', 'Mother', 'Grandfather' and 'Mother's Younger Brother'. But then again there is way more to the novel. This is especially true when an abandoned black baby comes into the family with his mother Sarah. Soon thereafter, Coalhouse Walker, a black musician, continually visits the family to see Sarah and the child. With the arrival of Coalhouse Walker the story slowly starts to unfold and the family's life is put to a test. One day, Walker is stopped on the street by a group of racist firemen who block his way and start to hassle him. They damage his car solely based on their belief that black people should not be wealthy. After this incident, Coalhouse seeks justice and wants to have his car restored to him. Since it is no use to trust in law enforcement and judicial assistance, Coalhouse Walker sees violence as his only means of exerting pressure on the city and to get his car back fully restored. He soon finds a group of followers, among them 'Younger Brother', who enter J. P. Morgan's library and threaten to blow it up.

While one could say much more about the plot of Ragtime, I find it rather hard to make up my mind of how I like it. Judging by my reading progress I'd say the novel became much more interesting, once the Coalhouse incident happened. At least that is when my reading pace started to pick up. Before that, the novel was not uninteresting but it was a bit tedious to read. Generally, there were a lot of episodes I liked, for example the one with Sigmund Freund and his colleague Jung who visit an amusement park in Coney Island. But then again there were also many parts I had to struggle through and which were just not my cup of tea. This is not so much due to the writing, which is simple at times but generally very readable, but more to the subject matter, I guess.

On the whole, because of its ups and downs, three stars. ( )
1 vote OscarWilde87 | Dec 24, 2014 |
The story of the United States at the turn of the 20th century leading into World War 1. Told from the point of view of various famous (Houdini, JP Morgan), infamous (Harry K Thaw), and constructed (Coalhouse Walker Jr.) characters, Ragtime details life in New York as the US was entering the realm of world superpower. The characters in this story are richly developed and their varied and various interconnections make for an exciting read. Some sections of the story do drag a bit or go on longer than necessary but overall this is a very engaging story. Doctorow deals with racism, classism, and numerous other -isms which shaped the US in the early 20th century just as they do today. ( )
  mfedore | Nov 16, 2014 |
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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
E. L. Doctorowprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hoog, ElseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Do not play this piece fast. It is never right to play Ragtime fast ...
Scott Joplin
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
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:08 -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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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141188170, 0143566377

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