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City of God: A Novel
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City of God: A Novel

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  1,801 ratings  ·  197 reviews

With brilliant and audacious strokes, E. L. Doctorow creates a breathtaking collage of memories, events, visions, and provocative thought, all centered on an idea of the modern reality of God. At the heart of this stylistically daring tour de force is a detective story about a cross that vanishes from a rundown Episcopal church in lower Manhattan
ebook, 288 pages
Published November 6th 2001 by Random House (first published 2000)
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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
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
Dhanaraj Rajan
About the novel:

1. It is a bit of everything and whole of nothing.

2. There are themes in the novel and they are either undeveloped or underdeveloped or overdeveloped. No theme is well developed.

3. The premise is good. But the execution is floppy.

4. There are characters. But there is no deep understanding into a character. The characters are wooden.

A Small Explanation:

The novel contains a real appreciable premise: "the search for a believable God in the times of great scientific discoveries on th
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
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
Dick Reynolds
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. And it’s a difficult one to read.

The threadbare plot of this novel involves the theft of a cross from a rundown Episcopal church in downtown Manhattan only to appear atop the roof of an Upper West Side synagogue. The church’s rector, Reverend Tom Pemberton, meets the synagogue’s rabbi, Joshua Gruen, and they decide to play detectives and find out the ‘who’ and ‘why’ surrounding the mystery of the stolen cross.
Gruen’s wife, Sarah Blumenthal, is also a r
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
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
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
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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 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
Read Sherman
This is a book I've owned for years but never found the right time to pick up and read. Maybe July/August wasn't the best time to read it, given the distractions of beautiful weather outdoors, a new city to discover, and lots of weekend guests. As has been well-rehearsed by other reviewers, the plot in this book can be hard to follow (or even discern). Also, although I found passages of descriptive brilliance related to the cosmos, heaven and hell, religion and more, I was rarely moved emotional ...more
Billy Sheppard
City of God is like Koyaanisqatsi rendered entirely in words. There is a repetitious yet evolving throb of philosophical musing more imperical than minimal, though sonehow to the same effect. Doctorow literally describes the filming of more than one mivie. All in words. This novel is a meditation on meaning. it has a plot similar to Descartes "Meditations on First Philosophy." it's a talkie.

Doctorow may be another example of an accomplished writer in one style longing to master a form that won't
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
Chris Laskey
An interesting book - though I think a weaker work by author. At times it rambles between the different stories and themes but it gradually coalesces into a primary theme . The crisis in faith -supplanting Jewish faith from Christian somewhat goes against the concepts presented in the novel - that religion isn't about God but the people who created it. All religions whatever the age and origins are painted - why pick on Christianity over Judaic precepts? - Because one is older than the other? To ...more
This may be one of the most unreadable books I've ever attempted. The back of this book says that "With brilliant and audacious strokes, the author... creates a breathtaking collage of memories, events, visions, and provocative thought, all centered on the idea of the modern reality of God". The reality is that what you have here is a big dumb mess of non-sequitur nonsense, with the author jumping between unconnected characters, all of whom write in the first person, with no identification as to ...more
Extremely difficult to describe or rate this book. I disliked reading it (rating 1) but hung in there--the last 50 pages made me glad I did (and indeed would have to rate it 5). The sheer beauty and expanse of the writing are staggering. The plot and character development are secondary. It is verbally brilliant and philosophically dense but overwhelming--I couldn't read every word because I couldn't sustain my concentration on the constant flow of intellectual, historical, scientific, cultural a ...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
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
Disliked By Vegetables
Very much a patchwork book, a high-energy convergence of disparate forms, thoughts and stories, executed with really commendable vigour: great fun to absorb, sentence by sentence. The highest compliment I can give, since it is by design a hodge-podge, is that it never actually reads like one: it flows wonderfully and feels right, though I’m not remotely sure to what it all amounts. A concern with communication of all kinds, transmission of thought through history, but also with unravelling the t ...more
Jt Nelson
On the whole it is not an easy read, a multi-narrative that is loosely constructed. Many will struggle with that, I did as well but decided to let it go and realize the crux of what the author was conveying wasn't predicated on a storyline. It's a messy stew of experiences and observations, like the mind itself in reality. Beautiful, insightful and frustrating. Striving to expose meaning. It is more poetry than novel, and the parts that I connected with remain with me, reminding that I am not al ...more
Tohle byla hodně zvláštní knížka. Nemá žádný kontinuální děj a i do toho fragmentárního základního příběhu (Pem a Sarah) se neustále nabourávají další linie, vsuvky s životopisy Einsteina či Wittgensteina, fyzikální pojednání o vzniku světa, ale třeba také fragmenty filmových scénářů atd. Zorientovat se v tom je zpočátku dost problematické a především ten začátek je dost zahlcený tou fyzikou a byl pro mě docela problém se do knížky začíst. Vlastně až tak ve dvou třetinách, kdy se to trochu usadi ...more
Iván Leija
Ésta es la cita que más me gustó:
"Las devociones ortodoxas que no dejan entrar la luz del conocimiento moderno no son más que una forma de devoción por los ancestros (...) Dice usted que los antiguos tenían una comunicación más estrecha con el Creador que nosotros. Que sabían más, que comprendían todo lo que había que comprender. Y ahora todo es fijo e inmutable. ¿No significa eso que estamos venerando algo o a alguien entre nosotros y Dios?"

Mi intrerés por seguir leyendo fue una consatante osil
I usually go ahead and give up on a book if I can’t seem to get engaged in it or if what the author is trying to do ends up eluding me. But this time I kept trying…and trying…to stick with it because I’d heard this was supposed to be such a phenomenal book about the search for God and the interplay between the sacred and the profane. An intriguing premise. And since I’ve read other books by Doctorow and liked them, I figured it would be worth sticking with this one for a while. Besides, it was a ...more
1. City of God is a book by E.L. Doctorow.
1.01 This book contains many fragments that appear somewhat like parables: interviews, song lyrics, biographical vignettes, philosophical musings, scientific theory, and spiritual and religious debate.
2. Characters: Tom Pemberton as "Pem," Sarah Blumenthal, Joshua Gruen, Everett, Yehoshua, and others who shall remain nameless (because I couldn't identify who they were).

Favorite quote: "Listen: It doesn't matter what maniacs put it there or why t
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Boxall's 1001 Bo...: April {2009} Discussion -- CITY OF GOD by E.L. Doctorow 49 219 May 26, 2009 03:57PM  
  • Small Remedies
  • Dining on Stones
  • Adjunct: An Undigest
  • Celestial Harmonies
  • Schooling
  • Spring Flowers, Spring Frost
  • Thursbitch
  • Gabriel's Gift
  • That They May Face The Rising Sun
  • Islands
  • Shroud
  • An Obedient Father
  • The Heart of Redness
  • In the Forest
  • The Red Queen
  • How the Dead Live
  • Nineteen Seventy Seven (Red Riding, #2)
  • The Light of Day
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

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“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
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