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The Book of Daniel

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  2,846 ratings  ·  220 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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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsWatership Down by Richard AdamsThe Stand by Stephen KingInterview with the Vampire by Anne RiceThe Shining by Stephen King
Best Books of the Decade: 1970's
150th out of 807 books — 752 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
American Literature
69th out of 237 books — 142 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul
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...more
Andrew
I'd never read any Doctorow, but I got curious about this book after reading a Book Forum article about politics and the novel and why so few American writers don't touch politics in their work. There are understandable fears, no doubt, about ideology and heavy-handedness. Whatever. The BF article held The Book of Daniel up as exemplary and I have to say I agree. This was fantastic. It's a fictional account of the Rosenberg's (American Communist Party members convicted of intent to spy and sente...more
Sarah
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...more
Steve
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
Steven
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...more
Derrick
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
Bucket
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
Summer
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...more
Dana Susan
As always am awed by Doctorow, a really really good writer! This is a must-read, fictionalized account of the Rosenberg trials and executions and the America of the 50's and 60's told through eyes of their son Daniel. Heartbreaking scenes of the two children shuffled to foster homes and shelters, courtrooms and prison visits.
I well remember the nite of the actual executions, June 1953, and my parents' somber looks and subdued conversation with friends, sitting on a park bench in our Bronx neighb...more
Kristin
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.
Lennie
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
Stefan
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 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Charly
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Lindsay
Jul 26, 2010 Lindsay rated it 1 of 5 stars
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...more
Yemoss
I thought this work was a knockout. Doctorow's writing style recalls Don DeLilo; his characters that of Philip Roth. At its core, the story unveils America's political immune system during the Cold War: it regards Communism as a virus deigned for interminable eradication. Our way of life, our entire system gets housecleaned. Uprooted in the inoculation are Daniel's revolutionary parents, Paul and Rochelle, two practicing Jewish Communists embedded in the Bronx. The parents basically host occasio...more
Cocodras
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Suzanne
Three stars is sort of a compromise for me. At times, I hated the book - the stream of conscious writing style, the shifting from first person to third person, the switching from past to present and back again within a page, and some of the sexual images were a bit over the top. BUT, on the plus side, it's an incredible story of the McCarthy era / Red scare / Cold War. At times I was so absorbed in the book, trying to follow the story of Daniel's parents' arrest, trial, and execution. And, as mu...more
Neil
I remember reading, 40 years ago, an account of the trial of the Rosenbergs, in a book by Louis Nizer. I have long held objections to the death penalty, and the thought that we had executed a father and mother of two boys, 6 and 7 years old when their parents were killed in the electric chair, made me sick. There is evidence that Julius was a spy, but no good evidence against Ethel appears to exist. She was evidently framed and tried in order to pressure Julius to give up the names of others inv...more
Connie
The Book of Daniel esxlores two interesting times in U. S. history--post World War II Communist witch hunt and 1960's Hippie culture. Doctorow interestingly omits references to the 1960-70's "contemporary" anti-communist foray of the U. S. in the Vietnam War.

I liked the book (enough to read it a second time after 20 years or so) but was challenged by determining the voice of the narrator and time setting. I suspect I just read fast and didn't worry about that on my first reading.

Doctorow did an...more
Lisa
I've loved the other dozen or so of Doctorow's novels I've read and I've been fascinated by the Rosenberg trial since having written many of my school papers about them from 7th grade on. But this novel didn't work for me. It's much more fictionalized than others of his works. For instance there were two kids but one was a daughter. The fictionalized Ethel had no siblings but actually her brother had implicated her. It is really difficult to keep up the drifting nearly mid-sentence between 1949-...more
Gabriel Oak
Doctorow is perhaps the leading historical fiction writer in America, and the Book of Daniel is his take on the McCarthy era and the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. I thought the novel did a wonderful job humanizing the fictional family based on the Rosenbergs and bringing home the tragedy of the Red Scare, the human costs of the paranoia. On the other hand, I wasn't fully sold on Daniel Isaacson as a narrator, especially the device of having him switch between third- and first-person n...more
David
This book took a different approach than I was expecting after the last Doctorow book I read and what I was expecting after reading the back cover. It was less clear, less fixed, but much more interesting. Much more complex. In short, I dug it.
Danyellemastro
I really, really, really wanted to like this book. The plot seemed so original and fresh and...tragic. But I couldn't get into it much at all. I kept detaching, only to come to and realise I'd read the same lines about something something Russia and something something revolution three times without taking any of it in.

Also, all of the characters are really unlikeable. All of them. I know they were traumatised. I understand the author was trying to create a constant distance, between us the read...more
Bryan
E. L. Doctorow is a wonderful writer with talent to burn. In this book, he burns a little bit of it.
Lynne
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joshua
It isn't just named after a book of the bible. It is My Bible!
Kristyh
A fictionalised account of the hysterical cold war trial of the Rosenbergs and told from the point of view of an obviously traumatised and damaged, now adult, child. The style was out there, changing from third person to first person perspective, sometimes mid sentence, it could be a little confusing, but this is literary fiction 1971 style I guess. A scathing indictment of the justice system and the rampant capitalism of the U.S. (the Disneyland passage was troubling and fabulous) and not a lik...more
Dennis
If nothing else, this novel inspired in me an interest in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg espionage case of the 1940s/50s, which author E.L. Doctorow used as his own inspiration/foundation for the novel. In fact, as I was reading this novel, I thought I was actually reading a nonfiction account of the Rosenbergs, such was the strong nonfiction writing style of Doctorow. By the time I was done, I didn't feel like I read a novel at all, but a biography of the Rosenbergs. It's odd: what I liked and...more
Jani
Besides Sf my reading year's second building block has been for some reason books about the two cold war giants USA & USSR. Some I've read due to courses, some just 'cause they've been in my shelf for ages (bought myself or received as presents) and some, well, because I've felt like it. No matter the route these books have taken to my hands, I've found myself reading a lot about individuals and their relationships to the state, the latter mostly as individuality killing machines.

These books...more
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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
More about E.L. Doctorow...
Ragtime The March Homer & Langley Billy Bathgate World's Fair

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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
“We may prefer a more primitive analysis: that when you defeat an enemy you are required to eat his heart. In this way is your victory recorded with The Gods. In this way too do The Gods ensure the continuation of their amusement: you consume the heart of your enemy so that it can no longer be said of him that he exists -- except as he exists in you.” 0 likes
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