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The Book of Daniel

3.87  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,563 Ratings  ·  268 Reviews
As Cold War hysteria inflames America, FBI agents knock on the Bronx apartment door of a Communist man and his wife. After a highly controversial trial, the couple go to the electric chair for treason despite worldwide protests. Decades later their son, Daniel, grown to young manhood, tries to make sense of their lives and deaths - and their legacy to him. Like millions of ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 1st 1996 by Plume (first published 1971)
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Paul Bryant
Oct 02, 2010 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
Governing emotion : white-hot anger

Underneath that : confusion (for the characters, for the reader)

Style : I’m EL Doctorow and it’s 1971 and society is caving in and I’m gonna put anything I like in my novel, chunks of political analysis, satires of hippy revolution, childhood memoir, denunciations of the old left, lists of candy bars I once ate. And I'm gonna drop from first person to third person and back again sometimes in mid-sentence. Live with it, baby! This is the way novels are these day
Feb 25, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing
I bring this book almost every time I talk to writers or editors. The story was almost secondary to the incredible way the book was written. I wonder though if someone could read this alongside Atlas Shrugged and have a nervous breakdown, or an epiphany. Maybe both.
The way point of view and tenses shifted so fluidly was really something to study. If an author ever wonders why his switches in either aren't working I direct them to this book to see why this one worked so well. I ask editors all t
Sep 14, 2015 ☮Karen rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, read-in-2015
The Rosenbergs' trial and executions took place before I was born, and I had only a passing knowledge of their story heretofore. The couple left behind two little boys who I assume did not have an easy go at life after losing their parents. That true story is the foundation of this novel, only here the name is Isaacson and the children are Daniel and his younger sister Susan. Daniel indeed is affected by the news-making events of his childhood, as he reveals in this "autobiography" which he ends ...more
***SIGH*** Damn. Wow. What a novel. What a work of genius. Wow. Without a doubt this must be one of the greatest literary masterpieces ever written. The Book of Daniel is a work of genius like no other. It's sad and harrowing and breaks your heart with its sincerity cruelty, and deft perception and revelation of the human condition striped of all pretensions. It's a political novel, but that's not all it is. It's a novel about family, but goes well beyond that marginal construct. It's all encomp ...more
Jeff Jackson
Jul 22, 2015 Jeff Jackson rated it it was amazing
One of the great political novels. An emotional jeremiad about the fallout from the Rosenberg spy case and Communist witch hunts, viewed from turbulent perspective of the late 1960s. Much more radical in terms of both structure and content than Doctorow's reputation would lead you to believe. A harrowing howl of a book that's been overshadowed by famous lesser work.
Apr 27, 2007 Summer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007, novels
I loved the prose style, and the subject matter was heavy and riviting, but this book suffered from having an utterly unlikeable narrator and from that irritating brand of misogyny that one so often sees in the writing of progressives in that era. Every woman in this book, including the narrator's mother and sister, is described in terms of her fuckability. And let's not forget the sexual violence!

I suppose this is supposed to make the narrator levels of complexity, a tortured aspect, a counter
Mar 02, 2014 Steve rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
To date, this is the best Doctorow book that I've read (the other two being Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, both of which left me underwhelmed). But I'm not sure what that signifies? Doctorow, as is usually the case with this author, has latched on to an historical event -- here it is the trial and execution of Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (yes, they were spies) -- changed some names and characters, and built himself a novel. And it's an interesting novel, up to a point. Considering it wa ...more
Mar 11, 2008 Steven rated it it was amazing
Ficitional account of the events surrounding Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Although this book was written much later, it was assigned as part of my "Law and Literature" class in law school to represent the period of the 1950s and it could not have been a better choice.

So many people think of the 1950s in America with such fondness as a simpler time wherre things were great for everyone. Well, not really. It certainly wasn't so great if you were black and it certainly was not so great it you were a
Dec 16, 2008 Derrick rated it liked it
Well, the style was certainly a shock to me, as I typically read the classic romantics. I had just finished reading "Death in Venice" prior to this book, where even abhorable acts suck as pedophilia are presented in such a passive way, and with such tact, that they almost seem respectable, or at least understandable. So the overtly upfront sexuality (male dominant sexuality) and courseness of this book sort of smacked me upside the head at first. Once I adjusted I did begin to enjoy the book, th ...more
Jun 30, 2015 Kaycie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001_read
There was one point in "The Book of Daniel" where I thought that every American needed to read it, and was going to recommend it that strongly. I got THAT into it. TBoD touches on hysteria in America as it pertained to a fictional Rosenberg-like couple as told through the eyes of their son Daniel. This book was also published only roughly a decade out from the Rosenberg executions, so it was written in the heart of the communist hysteria. Crazy good look at hysteria and what it does to people an ...more
Ellen Lee
Jan 16, 2016 Ellen Lee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a stunning book to start off the new year. im inspired, im angry, im so so sad.
I really enjoyed the premise here - that Daniel is procrastinating on his dissertation and what we're reading is what he is writing instead. It's clear that he's reliving his and his sister's childhood because it's the only thing he can write while his sister is fading. He unconsciously switches from 3rd person to 1st in his writing and he holds places for vignettes and scenes he wants to add later. He also gets a little meta about the reader, especially when discussing things that make him look ...more
Patrick Power
This is a fictionalised account of the execution of the Rosenbergs told through their son a decade later.ELD shifts the perspective and addresses the relationship between the sovereign state and the individual,modern American history,it's politics and movements and its judicial system and of course the Cold War.The characterisation and dialogue are strong.Written In 1971 the themes of this novel may still be relevant in modern America.
Jun 06, 2007 Kristin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. One of the best books written about the "event" that was the Rosenbergs (read with Kushner's "Angels in America" and [for a heaping of sardonic satire] Coover's _The Public Burning_). Doctorow draws us into questions of self, nation, and other that feel particularly relevant during this time of "patriot acts." A must-read for anyone interested in postwar American lit.
Ash Cb
Nov 23, 2015 Ash Cb rated it it was amazing
This has to be one of the most overwhelming books I've ever read. I just started cause of the plot, and I gotta say that it took me a while to adjust myself to the style. I haven't read anything more from Doctorw (and looking forward) but I kind of sense that it is his way: double speeches from the same character at the same time but with different voices, inner reflections, informative summaries, historical refferences (that represented a challenge cause of my ignorance 'bout american political ...more
May 30, 2013 Lennie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Daniel grew up in a poor family living in the Bronx. His dad, Paul, owned a struggling radio repair business and his mom, Rochelle, was a housewife. Both his parents were full of radical passion and loyal to the Communist Party but for them it was a bad time in history to be “Red”. In America, there was a fear of Communists taking over. Daniel’s parents found themselves being hounded by FBI agents who harassed them with questions and staked-out their home. They even searched Paul’s place of busi ...more
Jul 04, 2012 Stefan rated it really liked it
If there is anything that E.L. Doctorow can be faulted for is his unrelenting ambition. The Book of Daniel is only his second published work, but he does things with it that an author penning his 50th wouldn't, in his or her right mind, pursue. The novel is written as a rough draft for a graduate school dissertation by the book's protagonist Daniel Rosenberg - son of alleged Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his largely autobiographical dissertation Daniel writes about the tumultuou ...more
Molly Jones
Mar 03, 2007 Molly Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone, especially those who enjoy political novels
This is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read it at least four times and have enjoyed it more with every read. This book causes one to question what it is to be American--what are our principles and how do we stand by them or abandon them during times of international uncertainty. In Doctorow's fictionalized version of the Rosenberg case, he clearly takes the liberal side of things and implies that the Rosebergs (here, Isaacsons) weren't actually guilty of anything, but instead used as sc ...more
Jul 23, 2010 Charly rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 26, 2010 Lindsay rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Nobody
February 2010: This book is not doing much for me so far. It makes me want to punch the narrator in the face. I will probably finish it eventually because it fits in my purse quite nicely, but in the meantime I'll be reading other things, too.

July 2010: Okay, I finally made it through this. I think maybe the story might possibly have been interesting, but I was too distracted by wanting to do violence to the narrator to really be able to tell you what happened. He does get beaten up at least onc
Patrick Di Justo
Aug 07, 2015 Patrick Di Justo rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Are we less bold than they were in 1971? maybe. maybe we're more timid, more simple. Maybe.

All I know is that reading this book made me feel like someone was yelling at me for hours.
Mar 17, 2012 Alice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alice by: Modern American Literature Module UKC
One word. Brilliant.

I had to read this for my Modern American module and at first I was skeptical, it's pretty dark and I found it hard to want to listen to Daniel. But this narrative draws you in, by the end I just wanted to wrap my arms around Daniel and Susan and keep them safe. This book is dark, truthful and endears characters to you without you even knowing.
It's not a beach read, but if you want a truly touching read, if you want to beat your emotions with a hammer then this is the book
خالد العثماني
Mar 18, 2016 خالد العثماني rated it really liked it
This great novel first introduced me to E.L. Doctorow as one of the best, yet underrated, American novelist. Doctorow's depiction of the plight of the Isaacsons with much realism, and even with much more bitterness, will surely strike the reader as something either "too real" or "too romantic" to be portrayed in a work of art! furthermore, his use of various narrative techniques signals his diparture from the conventional, modernest novelistic writings, though it does not utterly proclaim him as ...more
September book club. Frankly, I've found Doctorow to be kind of tedious and elliptical, so I'm not eager to read it. We'll see.
Update: well, I admit, this was more engaging than my other experiences with Doctorow. It wasn't bad. Can't say I thought it was great, either.
It's really a book of its time (the late '60s or very early '70s). It was probably noteworthy at the time for its style and daring. Today, it all seems more than a little forced.
It doesn't help that this is an extremely fictionali
Nov 04, 2015 M. rated it it was amazing
This novel is astonishing, brilliant, unforgettable. The central story—the effect on Daniel and Susan Isaacson of the arrest, trial, and execution of their parents, Paul and Rochelle--- is sorrowful. However, it is not the only story. There is the story of the adult Daniel, abusive husband and 60s leftist, a man so divided and often so cruel that one can’t rely on what he says, even though it is “his” book. There is the story of 40s radicalism as it is represented in the lives of the Isaacson pa ...more
Jun 15, 2015 Layla rated it it was ok
I remember liking this book a lot more in college, but over my beach vacation this weekend, I picked it up at a used bookstore and tried to re-read it. I don't like it so much this time and had to put it down. In short, I'm having the same problem with this book as I did with the book Rabbit, Run...the narrator/main character is a misogynistic, borderline psychotic a-hole who treats his wife like a blow-up doll/punching bag. I think in both cases the authors play this up to make it like these gu ...more
Apr 22, 2015 Paul rated it liked it
"The Book of Daniel" offers its readers the rare but not always welcome opportunity to witness a young, budding, immensely talented writer . . . indulge himself to an almost masturbatory degree. When he published this book in 1971, Doctorow had not developed the narrative discipline or journalistic objectivity that would serve him so well in "Ragtime." Instead we spend a little over 300 pages in the mind of the emotionally damaged but operatically annoying hippie son of two Communist radicals ex ...more
Joe Rodeck
Apr 08, 2015 Joe Rodeck rated it it was amazing
Dark. Brilliant. Too red-friendly for most (probably).

This could be on the short list of the most depressing novels ever written. But the tone is appropriate. It might be criticized for gratuitous scatology and gruesome tangents, but then again the narrator (the son) might be half cracked.

The trial of the century is a most readable of topics and this one is well-rendered, especially as it conjures up Cold War paranoia. The author does not try to retry the case or cast judgment.

I'm surprised thi
Mar 04, 2015 Elena rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Elena by: my English teacher
Ho scoperto questo romanzo durante i miei studi Universitari, quando al corso di cultura Americana abbiamo affrontato l’analisi gli anni ’50. Ricordo che mi aveva colpito, per lo stile e per l’argomento. Così a distanza di parecchi anni ho deciso di rileggerlo e con piacere ho scoperto nuove sfaccettature.

Il protagonista è Daniel Isaacson.

Daniel conduce una vita all’apparenza normale, di tutto rispetto, sposato, con un figlio, una borsa di studio per un PHD alla Columbia University. Invece di la
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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
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“A stydy today of the products of the animated cartoon industry of the twenties, thirties and forties would yield the following theology: 1. People are animals. 2. The body is mortal and subject to incredible pain. 3. Life is antagonistic to the living. 4. The flesh can be sawed, crushed, frozen, stretched, burned, bombed, and plucked for music. 5. The dumb are abused by the smart and the smart are destroyed by their own cunning. 6. The small are tortured by the large and the large destroyed by their own momentum. 7. We are able to walk on air, but only as long as our illusion supports us.” 2 likes
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