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Ragtime Paperback – May 1, 1997

242 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

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, disap-
pears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sig- mund 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 afford-
able hardbound editions of impor-
tant 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 inau-
gurating a new program of selecting titles. The Modern Library continues to provide the world's best books, at the best prices. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

E.L. Doctorow is one of America's most accomplished and acclaimed living writers. Winner of the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award (twice), the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Humanities Medal, he is the author of nine novels that have explored the drama of American life from the late 19th century to the 21st. Al Alvarez is a poet, literary critic, and author of many non-fiction books on topics ranging from suicide, divorce and dreams - The Savage God, Life After Marriage, Night - to poker and mountaineering - The Biggest Game in Town, Offshore. He was poetry editor of The Observer from 1956-66. He has contributed regularly to The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. His most recent books are an autobiography, Where Did It All Go Right?, New & Selected Poems and The Writer's Voice. He lives in London. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (May 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452279070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452279070
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (242 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #153,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

E. L. Doctorow's novels include The March, City of God, The Waterworks, Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, Lives of the Poets, World's Fair, and Billy Bathgate. His work has been published in thirty-two languages. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. E. L. Doctorow lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

153 of 153 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
Even before the Broadway musical and the film, Ragtime was E.L. Doctorow's best known work, a celebrated novel that combines the syncopation of ragtime and the literary sensibilities of a writer intrigued by history as literary device. Set primarily in Westchester County's New Rochelle but also in New York City and, briefly, Massachusetts, the novel follows the stories of real and fictional characters as they move from innocence to disillusionment, from peace time to the beginnings of racial conflict and World War I.

Because the novel contains so many stories, some as short as a few pages (in the case of Freud) and some woven throughout the entire novel, describing the plot of the book is a challenge. The author primarily follows the lives of a New Rochelle family (Father, Mother, Younger Brother, and the Little Boy) as they navigate changing times. Father accompanies Peary on his exploration to the North Pole. Mother takes in a young black woman, Sarah, and her newborn, an impulsive act which leads to the introduction of ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker and his simple demands which escalate into violence. Younger Brother becomes infatuated with the celebrated beauty Evelyn Nesbit, which in turn leads to his association with anarchist Emma Goldman. Harry Houdini's car breaks down in front of their house, and the novel enters his story as well. The family acts as a touchstone for the disparate stories of a generation. Meanwhile, the story of a counterpart family - Mameh, Tateh, and the Little Girl - unfolds in the ghetto, where the Jewish immigrant family struggles for survival. Unbeknownst to both families, their stories are linked by those of the others.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Jill Celeste on July 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
During the first half of Ragtime, I prematurely concluded that this book was incredibly dull. Characters - both fictional and non-fictional - were dropped on the pages like a yo-yo, appearing and disappearing before you could identify their purpose in the story. I could not get attached to the characters - they all seemed like random thoughts with no connection, no development and often no names.

However, after I passed the novel's halfway point, pieces started to fall together, the plot emerged with force, and Doctorow enchanted me with this important novel of the 20th century.

Ragtime is a story about the social lives and forces of the early 1900's. The plot follows a well-to-do white family, an immigrant Jewish father and daughter, and an African-American musician who is hell-bent on seeking revenge against the racial injustice that he endures. Mingled in are historical figures, including Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman and Booker T. Washington, and historical events of the time, such as presidential elections and the start of World War I. As a reader, you get a steady look into the history of this era.

Doctorow flexes his creative muscles in writing this story. One critic described Ragtime as "impressionistic" -an accurate adjective for this novel. Like an artist, Doctorow paints his story but blurs the lines and colors. For most of the novel, you may wonder why this character or event is included. This intrigue motivated me to keep reading - I had to know how it all ends. And Doctorow masterfully draws it all together during the last pages so that everything becomes very relevant and purposeful.
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70 of 78 people found the following review helpful By W. Pyszczymuka on July 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is very amusing, presenting an interesting story as well as portraying nonfictional characters (such as H. Ford, J.P. Morgan,Evelyn Nesbit,and Harry Houdini) in their true identity. One gets to experience the early century and pre-Great War era. Each chapter allows the reader to enter a life of character all intermingled with one plot.
As one reads, the reader experiences the times as an African American, an immigrant, and rich businessmen. What I enjoyed most was the immigrant (Tateh & Daughter) which reminded me of my Great Grandmother's trip into America for the first time.
After reading, I did background research on many characters. For what reason? to see if Doctrow was telling the truth about the nonfictional characters, such as J.P. Morgan. It turns out that Doctrow was on the dot with all characters, which shows the hidden secrets of people we thought we knew.
I find this book very entertaining. Although not recommended for anyone under the age of 16 for some sexual content and vivid descriptions, I think anyone of any age old enoguh, would enjoy the read. It is a very interesting and a page turning history lesson as well as drama.
After reading consider getting the CD for the musical, which very precisely follows the book.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
E.L Doctorow's highly readable novels combine history, imagination, character development, a sense of time and place and beautifully controlled and paced writing. Doctorow's relatively early novel, "Ragtime" (1974) remains his best-known work. The book is a delight to read, moves with the feel of ragtime piano, and has a light happy surface. Yet the book combines many disparate threads and stories, a wealth of historical and fictional characters thrown together, and offers an unsettling vision of the United States at the turn of the century, c.1906. There is a complex, multi-layered vision at work here.

The story is told in the first person in the words of Young Boy, whose parents are Father, a successful manufacturer of fireworks and flags in New Rochelle, New York, and Mother, an increasingly frustrated houswife. Mother has a brother, referred to as "Mother's younger brother" who is infatuated with a notorious, (and historical) beauty and femme fatale of the day, Evelyn Nesbit, and who becomes an expert in the use of explosives in Father's fireworks business.

The story of this family slowly intertwines with that of a different American family -- Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from East Europe who at the beginning of the book is struggling as a silouette artist on Hester Street New York City, has young daughter, and Mameh, who through poverty and desparation has abandoned the family for a life of prostitution.

There is a third fictitious American intertwined in the story. Sarah is a young (18 years old) black woman who has a young child that come to live with Mother while Father is away exploring the North Pole with Peary. Mid-way in the novel, we meet the baby's father and Sarah's suitor, an older black man and a pianist named Coalhouse Walker.
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