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The Book of Daniel: A Novel Paperback – July 10, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (July 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081297817X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812978179
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“A ferocious feat of the imagination . . . Every scene is perfectly realized and feeds into the whole–the themes and symbols echoing and reverberating.”

“A nearly perfect work of art, and art on this level can only be a cause for rejoicing.”
Joyce Carol Oates

“This is an extraordinary contemporary novel, a stunning work.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“The political novel of our age . . . the best work of its kind.”
New Republic

“Remarkable . . . One of the finest works of fiction.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Stirring, brilliant, very moving.”
Houston Post

From the Inside Flap

The central figure of this novel is a young man whose parents were executed for conspiring to steal atomic secrets for Russia.

His name is Daniel Isaacson, and as the story opens, his parents have been dead for many years. He has had a long time to adjust to their deaths. He has not adjusted.

Out of the shambles of his childhood, he has constructed a new life?marriage to an adoring girl who gives him a son of his own, and a career in scholarship. It is a life that enrages him.

In the silence of the library at Columbia University, where he is supposedly writing a Ph.D. dissertation, Daniel composes something quite different.

It is a confession of his most intimate relationships?with his wife, his foster parents, and his kid sister Susan, whose own radicalism so reproaches him.

It is a book of memories: riding a bus with his parents to the ill-fated Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill; watching the FBI take his father away; appearing with Susan at rallies protesting their parents? innocence; visiting his mother and father in the Death House.

It is a book of investigation: transcribing Daniel?s interviews with people who knew his parents, or who knew about them; and logging his strange researches and discoveries in the library stacks.

It is a book of judgments of everyone involved in the case?lawyers, police, informers, friends, and the Isaacson family itself.

It is a book rich in characters, from elderly grand- mothers of immigrant culture, to covert radicals of the McCarthy era, to hippie marchers on the Pen-tagon. It is a book that spans the quarter-century of American life since World War II. It is a book about the nature of Left politics in this country?its sacrificial rites, its peculiar cruelties, its humility, its bitterness. It is a book about some of the beautiful and terrible feelings of childhood. It is about the nature of guilt and innocence, and about the relations of people to nations.

It is The Book of Daniel. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Doctorow is a great prose stylist.
Amazon Customer
There is a wonderful quote in this book that I have remembered since I first read this book about 30 years ago: "The right to do irrevocable harm is a blood right".
Bonnie Brody
I was frustrated with the writing style, finding it hard to follow and had not yet encounteered a character I found likable.
deb donovan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
I first read this book in the early 1980s, shortly after reading Doctorow's other masterpiece, Ragtime. The Book of Daniel is a fictional meditation based on the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg during the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s. The Isaacsons, Doctorow's fictional couple based on the Rosenbergs, have a young son named Daniel and a daughter named Susan, and the book is told from the point of view of Daniel, now grown and attending college during the radical upheavals of the 1960s.
Doctorow displays an encyclopedic and detailed knowledge of both of those political periods, capturing the tone of the rhetoric, the pop music, the posters, the idealism, the hypocrisy, and the dilemmas confronting human beings caught up in political movements that seem more powerful than the people themselves. He is as unsparing in his treatment of sixties radicals as he is in his treatment of the cold government executioners who sent the Rosenbergs to their death.
One of most remarkable things about this book is the character of Daniel himself: sharply intelligent yet confused and conflicted, someone who sees all the angles yet cannot bring himself to act -- a modern-day Hamlet. The title's allusion to the biblical Daniel is reflected throughout the text in a number of clever ways as the narrative leaps between historical reflections, allegories, and vivid evocations of moments and events in the life of Daniel, his sister, and their families. It poignantly evokes the relationship between the two children and the various guardians who are assigned to care for them after society has arrested and executed their parents.
The other remarkable thing about this book is its use of language. Doctorow is a great prose stylist.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Cooper VINE VOICE on April 24, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have read most of E.L. Doctorow's novels and take great pleasure in the smoothness of their narratives, the sense that Doctorow has not misplaced or misused a single word. This same master's quality is evident in "The Book of Daniel", where it brings great imaginative precision to the lives of the Paul and Rachel Isaacson, a couple who are executed as spies and who are modeled on the Rosenbergs. To me, the book's most moving writing has the narrator, the Isaacson's son Daniel, remembering his parents as people with friends and commonplace lives, not as the couple who became powerful political symbols. In the book's end, Doctorow puts Dr. Mindish, the government's chief witness against the Isaacsons, in Disney Land 15 years after the trial, spinning pathetically on a ride, lacking identity in a gaudy and forgetful America.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is the first book I've read from E.L. Doctorow. His style is initially disconcerting because it isn't tethered to a linear structure. Time can't progress without folding in on itself. Even sentences are often interrupted and excised of all punctuation. Perspectives shift between first and third person -- which a previous reviewer noted can be confusing. Yet the book is so saturated in details, the characters display so many nuanced shades of anger and pride and cruelty and love, that it brings the book to a level that everyone can understand. The people in this book are such smart asses, all of them! Daniel's grandmother, the black man in his basement, the pathetic palsied Mindish who we're never quite permitted to hate. In that sense "Daniel" is a politically sophisticated work in that it acknowledges politics and government as flawed and limited structures created by flawed and limited people (like sentences). Daniel observes that his sister died by a lack of analysis. It's evident that an abundance of such is how he hopes to keep living. I left the book feeling like I was cheating myself by not having a mind as active and relentless as Daniel's. I'm grateful for this book. And I'm sort of glad it isn't very popular. Seems to confirm its authenticity.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel Tapley on December 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
I would like to say that I read this book because I'd heard of it, I'd heard of the author, and I really wanted to know what was so special about it. But the truth is that I read it because I had nothing else to read.
However, from the moment I picked it up I knew that this was a special book. From the first page I knew that it would challenge and entertain and inform. From the first page I was enthralled.
As a student of the Cold War and American 20th century history from abroad, it seems as if America's novelists have a cathartic urge to understand their country, perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world. There is a burning desire to understand what it was all about that enthralls many authors: DeLillo, Roth, to name a couple. This book is perhaps the best example of that quest for meaning in a period many people still find troubling.
It is utterly human, brilliantly engaging, wonderfully drawn, and devastatingly important.
When I picked it up, I'd never heard of E.L.Doctorow, by the time I put it down I was resolved to read everything he has written. Unspeakably wonderful. A great novel.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mike on April 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
In typical Doctorow fashion, this book is extremely well researched. Much like "Ragtime", Doctorow places his finger on the pulse of an era to reproduce it beautifully. His images of 1950's America fully capture the paranoia and anger experienced by the revolutionaries of the era.

In essence, this novel is constructed as a mystery as Daniel goes on a mental journey of self-discovery, trying to discover how young Daniel Isaacson metamorphosed into the bitter, distracted man Daniel Lewin. It is not a happy or comfortable journey. In fact, it is quite disturbing and causes quite a bit of rage for the reader. I needed to remind myself that THIS IS AMERICA and these things did happen to innocent people.

I also enjoyed the connections made between the Communist movement of the post WWII period juxtaposed with the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era. Like all great literature, much of what is discussed rings true today where a great percentage of the people are feeling discontent over our current war. Also like today, the "revolutionaries" do nothing but prosthelytize about a coming movement that never actually materializes. As Daniel looks for solace in the ideas of those who rebel, he finds himself dissappointed in their inactivity, which ironically reflects his own inactivity.

The only flaw I found in the novel was the relationship between Daniel and his sister Susan, which seemed to take on a sexual nature over time. I found myself asking, was this a necessary plot device? If it wasn't a plot device, the overtones are definitley there.
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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.

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