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Billy Bathgate: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – June 29, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

In the Bronx of the 1930s, 15-year-old Billy Bathgate hooks up with a legendary mobster, Dutch Schultz. Schultz becomes an unlikely surrogate parent to the boy, introducing him to the ways of the world and training Billy to follow in his footsteps. After Billy falls for Schulz's latest girlfriend, he begins to question the actions of the mob he was so eager to join. As he seeks to protect the young woman, he gains strength in following his own heart and makes a courageous passage from boyhood to adulthood. E.L Doctorow won the 1990 PEN/Faulkner Award for this novel. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

During the Depression, street kid Billy Bathgate comes to the attention of his idol, gangster Dutch Schulz. "Billy's apprenticeship to Schulz and his education at the hands of the mobster's minions is related by Doctorow with masterful skill, grace and lucidity of prose, inspired inventiveness of scene and true-voiced dialogue. . . . It is mesmerizing reading," praised PW.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Random House Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812981170
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812981179
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

E. L. Doctorow's works of fiction include Homer & Langley, The March, Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, Loon Lake, World's Fair, The Waterworks, and All the Time in the World. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize honoring a writer's lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, given to an author whose "scale of achievement over a sustained career [places] him . . . in the highest rank of American literature." In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on October 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
BILLY BATHGATE is E.L. Doctrow's poignant look at Depression era gangsterism through the eyes of the young boy after whom the book is named. Much to Doctrow's credit, there is no sentimentalizing or romanticizing of criminals here. Almost legendary gangster, Dutch Schultz, who befriends Billy, is depicted clearly as a vicious, sadistic thug teetering on the edge of insanity.

Although it is the Dutchman who takes in the boy, Billy is drawn to Dutch's moll sexually, and to the gang's bookkeeper, Otto Berman, emotionally. Otto is the real key to the book. Billy, like Johnson's Boswell, is drawn to the accountant and his philosophy. Broken down, Otto explains to the boy that things like love, loyalty, knowledge, and spirit are meaningless--none of them can be proven. They are all bound by words. To Otto, words are just words. Numbers, however, are the only true language. One and one will always be two. Numbers never lie. (Spoken like a true accountant.) This has an enormous impact on a young boy whose mother is one step away from the nuthouse, and whose father took off years earlier.

I gave this book four stars because I had just finished re-reading RAGTIME, and this came up a little short. On the other hand, maybe RAGTIME was too high a standard to hold it up to. In any event, this is not your typical gangster novel, as I hope this review has made apparent. It is a complex and profound book and should satisfy the most literary appetite.

Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Krichman on April 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
Rarely does an award-winning work of literature read as easily as a Michael Crichton paperback. If you are in the mood for a quick read, you would normally turn to the pop fiction selections on your bookshelf and find something mindless and plot driven. If you are looking for a higher level of quality, such as a Pen/Faulker Award winner, you perhaps consciously prepare yourself for the added effort that reading a meaningful, elaborate, character-driven novel entails. You will almost certainly be rewarded for the effort, but it is an effort nonetheless. But in Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow blends the depth, substance, and beauty of a quality work of literature with the pace, suspense, and rhythm of a mafia thriller. The result is an imminently readable novel that is also an important contribution to 20th century fiction.
The plot itself bears much resemblance to countless other mafia stories, filled with shady characters, ruthless hit men, brutal murders, bribing of government officials, and steamy love affairs. The uniqueness lies in the fact that the narrator is a 15-year-old boy, Billy, eager to earn the trust of Dutch Schultz, the mafia kingpin, and his gang. He quickly progresses from simple errand boy, buying cigarettes and coffee, to a position of modest responsibility in this intriguing world of crime. Through Billy's somewhat naïve, innocent eyes, we observe Dutch as he manages his empire, carries out hits against his enemies and disloyal employees, and struggles to evade the attempts of law enforcement to bring him down. The story takes us from New York City to Onondoga, a small town where Dutch's trial eventually takes place. And in the process, we witness the growth of a boy into a young man as he enters a world of big money, intense loyalty, and vindictive violence.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Stuart W. Mirsky on October 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
An excellent tale of an aspiring young street tough's initiation into the dangers and excitment of the gangster life, circa the 1930's, this book captures its era and the personalities it portrays with an astonishing verve and veracity. The tone and "voice" feel right, speeding along brilliantly, while the tale, of a young fellow's awakening from gawking naivete to a certain street-smart cynicism, rings remarkably true. If there is a reason for reading fiction today, BILLY BATHGATE offers the perfect example: it is a means for carrying us into places and times now long gone which still may resonate in the contemporary soul. While the hero is a trifle too cloying for my tastes and seems rather more inured to the moral chaos he sees around him than his apparent sensibility suggests he should be, this is, finally, a small fault to find with such a deflty turned tale. Progressing from a 15-year old loner on street corners to mascot of the Dutch Schultz gang, as they hurtle down the spiral of their final decline, the self-named Billy Bathgate insinuates himself into the precarious confidences of this remakably unstable crew. Schultz, himself, the erratic gang leader, has already slipped into a dangerous condition of paranoia and isolation and his hangers-on live from moment to moment in fearful unease, unable to check the excesses of their leader or to separate themselves from him. Billy finds their life oddly mesmerizing as he gets sucked into witnessing outbursts of murder and coldly planned gangland executions, until his role brings him into the orbit of a flighty, if beautiful, society doll. Then a burgeoning adolescent crush seems to awaken him to what he has done and, as in a dream, he begins to seek a way out.Read more ›
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