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Ragtime (1975)

by E. L. Doctorow

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,7731081,453 (3.86)363
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.… (more)
  1. 00
    American Pastoral by Philip Roth (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes on the American ideal.
  2. 00
    Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Doctorow called his book "a quite deliberate hommage" (sic) to Kleist's story.
  3. 01
    The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld (Booksloth)
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» See also 363 mentions

English (102)  Spanish (2)  Portuguese (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (108)
Showing 1-5 of 102 (next | show all)
Rich in historical fiction, Ragtime will parade past its readers men like Sigmund Freud, Winslow Homer, Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Theodore Dreiser, and Booker T. Washington.
All walks of life thrive within the pages of Ragtime. The sideshow freaks of the Barnum and Bailey circus, the curse of the Egyptian mummies, the advent of the Model Ford, the destruction of Tammany Hall, sexual fainting was a thing, segregation was strict in parts of the country, there was human trafficking by a different name, Robert Peary's quest for the Arctic, L.L Bean boots, the Stanford White shooting, Charles Dana Gibson was asking the eternal question, the anarchist Emma Goldman, even Emiliano Zapata. At the center of this turn-of-the-century drama is ten years of one family. Their business is fireworks and flags and while they are profitable in business, they are poor in happiness. Everyone is undergoing personal strife. It isn't until a seemingly abandoned black child wanders into their midst, followed by the depressed mother and musician father when things start to perk up. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jul 1, 2022 |
What a wonderful work that captures the times of the early 1900’s so wonderfully. Great characters (some historical) and so readable a “Page turning.” I looking forward to reading more of his work. Highly recommended. ( )
  stevetempo | Jun 17, 2022 |
E.L. Doctorow's “Ragtime” (1975) could be a history book that reads like a novel or a novel that reads like a history book. That it is actually the latter we know because it tells us that on the cover. Doctorow blends fact and fiction as well as any historical novelist, a plot coming into form only gradually. Historical figures like Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, Evelyn Nesbitt and Sigmund Freud are as much characters as the two families, one black and one white, that eventually take over the story.

The book is narrated by someone who is just a boy when all this takes place, and he identifies members of his family only as Father, Mother and Mother's Younger Brother. He does not give a name even to himself.

An elegant black musician named Coalhouse Walker comes each week to their house to try to convince their maid to marry him. They already have a baby boy. Sarah finally agrees to the marriage, then tragedy strikes. Coalhouse is persecuted by members of a fire department, who destroy his new Model T. He insists they restore it to its original condition, even though as a black man he has virtually no power.

Meanwhile Sarah is killed by the police when she is only trying to summon help, and Mother takes over the care of her child, which distances her from Father. In desperation, Coalhouse turns violent, backed up by several young black men and even Mother's Younger Brother, who after being rejected by Evelyn Nesbitt is ready to use his talent with explosives for Coalhouse's hopeless cause.

The period of history is just before the First World War, and Doctorow gives us the flavor of that time. This may be his best known novel, although it is hardly his best. ( )
  hardlyhardy | May 15, 2022 |
I'll say this is one of the better books I've read in a while. It's a novel about U.S. people in the early 20th century, before World War I. The writing is brilliant. The story depicted many social problems/phenomena with very clever use of cynicism. Here's an example from chapter 1 describing the early 1900's that cracked me up:

" Patriotism was a reliable sentiment in the early 1900's. Teddy Roosevelt was President. The population customarily gathered in great numbers either out of doors for parades, public concerts, fish fries, political picnics, social outings, or indoors in meeting halls, vaudeville theatres, operas, ballrooms. There seemed to be no entertainment that did not involve great swarms of people. Trains and steamers and trolleys moved them from one place to another. That was the style, that was the way people lived. Women were stouter then. They visited the fleet carrying white parasols. Everyone wore white in summer. Tennis racquets were hefty and the racquet faces elliptical. There was a lot of sexual fainting. There were no Negroes. There were no immigrants."

There are a lot more where that came from, and the author often used real-life historical figures of the 1900's as actors of these cynical scenes. And of course, Negroes and immigrants played a heavy part in the story :P The novel focused on the injustice faced by the former, and the poverty experienced by the latter. A well-to-do White family crossed paths with the people experiencing the injustice and poverty, and members of this family reacted differently. Another favorite excerpt from the book, depicting two family members discussing the injustice they witnessed:

"Father said I hope I misunderstand you. Would you defend this savage? Does he have anyone but himself to blame for Sarah's death? Anything but his damnable nigger pride? Nothing under heaven can excuse the killing of men and the destruction of property in this manner! Brother stood so abruptly that his chair fell over. The baby started and began to cry. Brother was pale and trembling. i did not hear such a eulogy at Sarah's funeral, he said. I did not hear you say then that death and the destruction of property was inexcusable."

The story arc on the injustice faced by the Negro man Coalhouse Walker, and the way the arc ended, made me cry the way I haven't cried over fiction in a long time. ( )
  CathyChou | Mar 11, 2022 |
A unique and wonderful perspective on pre-WWI America, Ragtime follows the experiences of a well-off and established white family, a family of Jewish immigrants, and a young African-American couple. These individuals are meant to represent larger groups and contexts within the culture. The way these individuals "bump into" each other and the results shows what was happening in America in those times. ( )
  LuanneCastle | Mar 5, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
E. L. Doctorowprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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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.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141188170, 0143566377

 

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