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

3.8 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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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.

From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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 (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
E L Doctorow's "The Book of Daniel" filled me with an indescribable sense of horror I wasn't remotely prepared for. I confess to being a novice in American history but when I finished the book, I thought perhaps I understood for the first time the political landscape that inspired Arthur Miller's "The Crucible", which I recall having studied for my A-levels English literature exams many years ago. It seems to me that madness lies latent and lurks beneath every human society, even one that professes to be the universal champion of human rights. In Doctorow's words, "the Isaacsons were confirmed in guilt because of who campaigned for their freedom, and their supporters discredited because they campaigned for the Isaacsons" - a totally circular and tautologous logic ! Yet, the novel's central concern isn't necessarily about the tragic path Paul and Rochelle Isaacson took to the electric chair, but about the permanent and devastating impact the arrest and murder of the Isaacsons had on the lives of their two small children, Daniel and Susan. How else can one explain the perfect boy, Daniel's sudden, cruel and violent turns which visits his own wife and son long after his parents' tragic death. Or the intelligent Susan's continued breakdown and descent into madness. Doctorow certainly takes wild liberties with time, jumping backwards and forwards in his narration. He also mixes first and third person narrative techniques and uses a blend of historical fact and commentary to reinforce the power of the tragedy. Reading "The Book of Daniel" was an eye-opening and harrowing experience for me. It moved me to tears and even reflecting on it sends chills down my spine. This is essential reading. Powerful and harrowing - "The Book of Daniel" is a truly collosal literary achievement. Read it !
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