City of God
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

City of God

3.42 of 5 stars 3.42  ·  rating details  ·  1,532 ratings  ·  156 reviews
In his workbook, a New York City novelist records the contents of his teeming brain -- sketches for stories, accounts of his love affairs, riffs on the meanings of popular songs, ideas for movies, obsessions with cosmic processes. He is a virtual repository of the predominant ideas and historical disasters of his age. But now he has found a story he thinks may become his n...more
Published February 1st 2001 by Abacus (first published 2000)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
I'm a grumpy looking, successful author who has ideas for 2 or 3 stories but not enough character development, what do I do?

I know, mash 'em up, and don't even try to meld the separate fact, don't use commas or quote marks when characters speak. Throw in some Einsteinian Physics, heck throw Einstein in as well. So what do we have? An Episcopalian Priest about to be defrocked, A "new school" female rabbi, a philandering bachelor, and a Physicist. We also have some historical chara...more
Stephanie "Jedigal"
The obscure story-telling style of this book actually comes off perfectly for the story matter. In this book the author is looking for God. And it is a great discussion! Partially through some narrative threads, partially through thoughts and observations taken from science, not-so-pop culture. The book is broken up into little vignettes, from a half-page to (a long one) around 8 pages. The narrators change constantly, and are only sometimes clearly identifiable. Frankly, if I knew all this, I w...more
I was torn as to how many “stars” to give this one. It is a five-star on literary merit, but only a two-star on the “did I like it?” scale. Since this is my review, I went with the two-stars.

Foremost, this is a thought provoking and interesting book. What I found unsettling about this book is that, in my opinion, the author is proselytizing his own sociopolitical agenda. As E.L. Doctorow has strong leftist political opinions, my reading of this book is obviously going to be affected by my own op...more
Melissa Stebbins
I read City of God by E.L. Doctorow over Easter. It is one of the books on the 1001 list. So, how did I find it? Intriguing, thought-provoking, frustrating, confusing ... but I really enjoyed it. A word of warning - the plot is pretty much secondary to this book. In fact large portions of the book are tied fairly tenuously to the main plot and there are various threads. Part of the difficulty is that there are several different narrators but it is not necessarily straight forward to work out who...more
You know how “Seinfeld” was a show about nothing? City of God is a book about everything. (I am now the first person to have put Seinfeld & E.L. Doctorow together in the first two sentences of anything!) And having started off with my own big bang there, next I shall steal from someone on Amazon who wrote about this book that it will provide you with “retrospective gratification”. I couldn’t possibly think of a way to put it better. City of God is not always fun while you’re reading it, but...more
i keep reading this quotation over and over:

"...there are billions of galaxies with stars beyond number, so that even if a fraction of stars have orbiting planets with moons in orbit around them...a few planets, at least, may have the water necessary for the intelligent life that could be suffering the same metaphysical crisis that deranges us. So we have that to feel good about."

what draws me to it? it's a concise, perfect, indirect summary of the human psyche. what more do you want?

then this:

A stand up fun read if you're a spiritual person not religious (and in the context of this book I'd probably lump atheist with religious). I'm not usually a big fan of things being "interestingly written"--wonky margins, aimless perspectives, radioplays, whatnot--but this book kept all its zany-ness in focus and created a kind of lexicon or inner-dialogue with its various speaking parts. And even though I could have guessed the ending, I still really liked where it went and how Doctrow brought i...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Hmm...a musing on the state of society, our modern cities, through the eyes of a priest who loses one faith to convert to another for the love of a woman. This is another of the books to drop off the list, and I can easily see why. I'm sure if you know things about narrative structure and rhythms and all that kind of stuff then this novel is interesting, it skips rapidly between ideas, philosophical musings and recent history, falling out of standard narrative paragraphs into what I might tentat...more
I will say this: stay far away from this book if you can't tolerate ambiguity. There are multiple story lines and narrators that weave in and out with no warning at all. There are no chapters. I spent the first 20 pages thinking I forgot how to read! But once you find your groove, it gets pretty easy.
I did not finish this book, but that doesn't mean I didn't like it, because I did for the most part. Doctorow's musings on faith and religion were really interesting and gave me a lot to think about...more
I was completely blown away by the first 50 or so pages of this book. Doctorow's prose is beautiful and his description of living in New York City was strikingly accurate. As the book unfolded, however, I couldn't quite tell what he was trying to do. There were many different narrators, some of whom were never identified. Although the many different stories Doctorow incorporates into "City of God" are interesting in themselves, the book did not seem like a cohesive whole. That said, the ending t...more
I cannot believe a) how terrible this book is and b) that I read it. This is godawful garbage from top to bottom. The entire thing is smug, self indulgent stream of consciousness unburdened by things like plot and characterization. The writing is terrible: the type of meaningless word salad generated by the mentally ill or those who have suffered traumatic brain injury.

This book thinks it is really deep. It reads like Doctorow pulled a muscle patting himself on the back for all his supposed dee...more
From the inside flap of City of God; "In his workbook, a New York City novelist records the contents of his teeming brain," as though trying to cram everything onto a Voyageur Golden Record, in a last ditch attempt to preserve what remains of the world.

Doctorow tries to use an interpretive approach to the city of New York as an allegory of the, 'Tower of Babel,' deciphering for us segments of political discourse, philosophical premises and religious pov told in varying voices such as infomercia...more
Stephen Gallup
I've admired Doctorow's writing for a long time, starting with his novel Welcome to Hard Times , which I read more than 30 years ago. This newer one has recognizable bits/characters from the previous works, but it's altogether different in the very ambitious attempt to make an all-encompassing statement.

At least half of the readers commenting on City of God admit to having trouble with the interwoven narrative fragments. One captivating story line concerns a kid living in a Jewish ghetto under t...more
Not sure I understood this book, it does jump around a lot and I was not always sure who I was reading about or when. I found the making of the earth got a bit scientific as well! I did however enjoy the story of the jewish runner during the war and was disappointed this was cut short and you never really found out what happened after the train journey.
I love reading brave, bizarre books like this: I don't pretend to have understood it all, but I really, really liked it. To see my review please visit
An even-handed philosophical and religious treatise on the role of God upon our cosmogony? A gripping Holocaust account? A free verse poetry collection? An Audubon bird-watcher guide? All or none-of-the above?

"City of God" is a novel espousing some interesting (sometimes compelling) ideas, but its narrative structure, its lack of a cohesive plot, its eschewing of normal storytelling convention (Mr. Doctorow: can you PUHLEEZE explain why 9/10ths of your book fails to utilize quotation marks when...more
Brent Godwin
I almost gave up in the first 10 pages of this book. I'm glad I kept reading.
Doctorow makes some brilliant assertions, as well as some incoherent dribble.
I did really like how what seems to be complete randomness comes together to make sense and tell a story at the end.
This book has caused me to think more than any book I've read in quite a long time.
I especially liked the parts that were narrated by the philosopher/scientist, the stories of the Jewish boy in the ghetto, the story of the ex-N...more
Like my previous Doctorow read (Ragtime), in City of God it takes a long time to figure out what is going on. Doctorow asks us to ponder such things as the origin of the universe, God and religion, and "the monstrously evil mortifiers of humanity" of the 20th century. And if they weren't obvious, they include Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and one which I am chagrined I wasn't aware of (King Leopold of Belgium) who led the massacre of millions in Africa in the early 20th century. There are too many ot...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This is a beautifully written book with so many fascinating perspectives on faith, religion, meaning, our place in the universe, the existence of god, suffering, humanity, relationships -- basically everything in the human experience. It's also a bit of a mystery and love story. It's not an "easy" book to ready, as it's told from different perspectives and can be confusing until you get into the rhythm of it. Now that I've finished it, I want to start over from the beginning, since I think it wi...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in July 2001.

Doctorow's most recent novel manages to be both intensely baffling and immensely satisfying. Fragmentary and ironic, it is hard to say what it is about, beyond its major theme of Jewishness in New York. The two main characters are the Episcopalian rector of rundown St Timothy's in Manhattan and the rabbi of a progressive synagoge on the East side; they meet when the cross disappears from the church altar and is found on the synagogue roof.

This sy...more
The Doctorow book I almost didn’t read or should I say the one I almost couldn’t read. Is this a novel about writing a novel? Well, maybe I thought…but that was wrong…or I thought it was wrong. This began as the most disjointed, incoherent collection of thoughts and ideas I could imagine but I pressed on and I’m really glad I stuck it out. It was well worth it. The thoughts, ideas, sketches, poems, song lyrics and mythical histories are revealed as the notes of a novelist attempting to bring his...more
Perry Whitford
A conflicted priest from a small New York diocese hunts down the people who put his alter crucifix on the roof of a jewish synagogue; a Jewish Holocaust survivor tells his daughter about his childhood experiences under the Nazis in a Lithuanian ghetto; a writer ruminates on various plots and big themes, from a modern day rendering of the Amphityron myth to the laws of the universe; reminicescess and thought-experiments from the mind of Einstein; de-constructions of old song standards delivered t...more
A beautifully written, intriguing, but ultimately frustrating book.
I spent the first hundred or so pages thinking that this was the first novel from the 2000s section of the 1001 Book Challenge that actually deserved to be there. I do still feel that City of God deserves its spot on the list but am disappointed that the book had no 'resolution' and therefore, in my mind, no point.
City of God is a story told in small sections rather than chapters; they are all seemingly narrated by different peo...more
"City of God" by E. L. Doctorow
(from inside flap)
In his workbook, a New York city novelist records the contents of his teeming brain--sketches for stories, accounts of his love affairs, riffs on the meanings of popular songs, ideas for movies, obsessions with cosmic processes. He is a virtual repository of the predominant ideas and historical disasters of the age. But now he has found a story he thinks may become his next novel: The large brass cross that hung behind the altar of St. Timothy's,...more
This is the first book I downloaded and read on my Kindle and as I read through the first third of the book, I started worrying that maybe the electronic book reader was not for me. I had trouble following the narrative -- who was speaking? what was the context? why did it feel like the author was jumping among too many thoughts without helping the reader to follow along? In short, I wanted to be holding a book so that I could flip back and forth to try to figure out the structure and meaning of...more
initially somewhat confusing as the book shifts from narrator to narrator, it all works marvelously when you give up trying to figure out identities of who's speaking and just bathe in the stream-of-consciousness. once you just let it wash over you, all of a sudden, the shifts are perfectly reasonable, and each narrator has their own "voice" anyway. it should scare the hell out of me that doctorow has won a faulkner award being as how i absolutely despised the faulkner i was bashed over the head...more
Jul 01, 2009 Bill rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bill by: 1001
Shelves: fiction
I was disappointed with this book. One of the reviews on the cover of the paperback edition claims that "City of God restores one's faith in literature." Well, I wish it had done that for me; if anything - it re-affirmed my preference for non-fiction. Doctorow is an occassionally great writer ('Ragtime') who does produce some fascinating little scenes in this book, but the novel never comes together for me. It is a hodge-podge of little unrelated fragments that don't seem to add up to any kind o...more
I wouldn't wish this upon my most vilest of enemies--it reads like a 600 page collection of sloppy, unpretty mixed media--too bad it doesn't make a SINGLE IMPRESSION. Doctorow takes on very heavy stuff (...RELIGION!!!!) and gives us an even heavier account rife with questions... more questions. YUCK! Sad--I can now safely vouch for this--sad and misdirected and confusing was the mindset of 9/11 victims. Here is a testament on how f***ed we truly were as a result of 2001 crashing down upon an alr...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Boxall's 1001 Bo...: April {2009} Discussion -- CITY OF GOD by E.L. Doctorow 49 218 May 26, 2009 03:57PM  
  • London Orbital
  • Adjunct: An Undigest
  • Small Remedies
  • Schooling
  • An Obedient Father
  • Islands
  • Gabriel's Gift
  • Spring Flowers, Spring Frost
  • Thursbitch
  • Celestial Harmonies
  • The Heart of Redness
  • Shroud
  • That They May Face The Rising Sun
  • Super-Cannes
  • In the Forest
  • The Red Queen
  • Nineteen Seventy Seven (Red Riding, #2)
  • How the Dead Live
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 presidential...more
More about E.L. Doctorow...
Ragtime The March Homer & Langley Billy Bathgate The Book of Daniel

Share This Book

“And so the ordinary unendurable torments we all experienced were indeed exceptional in the way they were absorbed in each heart.” 4 likes
“But I can stop on any corner at the intersection of two busy streets, and before me are thousands of lives headed in all four directions, uptown downtown east and west, on foot, on bikes, on in-line skates, in buses, strollers, cars, trucks, with the subway rumble underneath my feet... and how can I not know I am momentarily part of the most spectacular phenomenon in the unnatural world? ...The city may begin from a marketplace, a trading post, the confluence of waters, but it secretly depends on the human need to walk among strangers.” 3 likes
More quotes…