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3.88  ·  Rating details ·  38,940 ratings  ·  2,550 reviews
In America at the turn of the twentieth century, when society abounds with movers and shakers such as Houdini, J.P Morgan, Henry Ford and Emma Goldman, and the sultry rhythms of ragtime permeate the city, ex-chorus girl Evelyn Nesbitt inspires a mad millionaire to murder architect Stanford White. In this stunning kaleidoscopic chronicle of an age, Doctorow juxtaposes patri ...more
Paperback, 270 pages
Published 2011 by Penguin Books (first published 1975)
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Bonnye Reed Click the check mark on the reading list drop down. A box will come up telling you that you will lose your notes and reviews - click ok and the book w…moreClick the check mark on the reading list drop down. A box will come up telling you that you will lose your notes and reviews - click ok and the book will go away.....(less)
Brendan Shea (not sure; maybe see the outstanding 1981 film with the late Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Downton Abbey's Elizabeth McGovern, and late classic movie star J…more(not sure; maybe see the outstanding 1981 film with the late Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Downton Abbey's Elizabeth McGovern, and late classic movie star James Cagney. The American pop-culture references might be clearer in that context)(less)

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Ahmad Sharabiani
335. Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow

Ragtime is a novel by E. L. Doctorow, published in 1975. This work of historical fiction is mainly set in the New York City area from 1902 until 1912, with brief scenes towards the end describing the United States' entry into World War I in 1917.

The novel centers on a wealthy family living in New Rochelle, New York, simply named Father, Mother, Mother's Younger Brother, Grandfather, and 'the little boy', Father and Mother's young son. The narrator is never identified.
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A ragin' feelin' I had during the first half of "Ragtime" was... oh-my-gawd, this may possibly become my favorite novel all year. Yeah. That overwhelmingly delicious feeling last year achieved during my "Where'd You Go Bernadette"/"The Godfather" double whammy was reproduced, until it, almost organically, chose to focus on one specific era in U.S. history! Ragtime is just so majestically beautiful, taking on the whole of America between 1903 & 1915, aka the dawning of the 20th century, displayin ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No One Ever Drove This Fast Before

The most startling thing about Ragtime is the pace of the narrative. It never slackens, even to allow direct speech. It moves relentlessly from place to place, person to person, with non-stop description, assertion, connection, reversal. There are crowds and traffic and excitement wherever you look. If there is temporary equilibrium, it is fragile: a tour boat listing first to starboard then to port; a motor car belching steam at the crest of a hill, a chauffeur
Henry Avila
The time from 1902 to about 1914, the place around New York City an its prosperous suburb New Rochelle, New York, the Ragtime Era, Scott Joplin lively, syncopated music has swept the nation ( if you ever seen the film The Sting, you will recognize the sounds). A wealthy family, they make fireworks and American flags, living contently in all appearances outside the city, Father, Mother, Mother's Younger Brother, Grandfather and the little boy...yes... no proper names given here, kind of quirky to ...more
Paul Bryant
Nov 07, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Today I was thinking of the 101 reasons why I love books, the actual physical papery pagey spiney things with words all over them, and one of the reasons was that they're not machines. Everything i seem to have to do these days is with some kind of machine. At work, of course, chained to the pc - actually it's a laptop on a docking station with two screens, I wonder when they'll add me a third, and although I'm emailing and talking to people all day long (sexy voiced nurses from France and Argen ...more
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
― E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime


So my first book of 2014 isn't even on my to-read list. Must be good. Yes, in fact it is the killer historical novel of the Ragtime era. It is the big uncle to late 90s Philip Roth ('I Married a Communist', 'American Pastoral') , Don DeLillo ('Libra', 'Underworld'), Gore Vidal ('Empire, Hollywood') & Norman Mailer* (Executioner's Song & Harlot's
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometime early in his career E.L. Doctorow figured out a great formula for historical fiction. He takes real life iconic figures from whatever era he’s covering and has them interact in believable ways with his fictional characters. It makes for a “show, don’t tell” scenario that brings history alive. With Ragtime, we get to peek inside the heads of Houdini, Freud, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Henry Ford and others. In the process, we learn the issues of the day and get an authentic feel for the s ...more
"Patriotism was a reliable sentiment in the early 1900's. Teddy Roosevelt was President. The population customarily gathered in great numbers either out of doors for parades, public concerts, fish fries, political picnics, social outings, or indoors in meeting halls, vaudeville theatres, operas, ballrooms."

This relatively short novel is jam-packed with a myriad of characters – some fictional and some real-life individuals. It is a grand undertaking that introduces us to the events and people of
Peter Boyle
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
E.L. Doctorow was not on my radar at all until my local bookstore proprietor sang his praises to me. He mentioned Ragtime as a good place to start. So thanks to Brian from Marrowbone Books for the excellent suggestion.

The story is set in New Rochelle, New York at the beginning of the 20th century, and mostly focuses on one well-to-do family. Father owns a successful flags and fireworks business. At one point, he sets off on Robert Peary's expedition to reach the North Pole, but on his return, he
When we read history books, we are given a rather wide view of a tapestry of interconnected events: what Doctorow did with "Ragtime" is to take a magnifying glass to that intricate tapestry to give the reader a much, much closer look at some events that we thought we were familiar with. As such, it's a bit hard to summarize: we follow some episodes of the lives of a Upstate New York family and how their existence is linked to such famous figures as Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, Evelyn ...more
Allie Riley
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just stunning. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Beautifully written and utterly engrossing, I didn't want it to end (which is one reason I took so long reading it). Very cleverly plotted and extremely atmospheric. The way Doctorow weaves together all the loose ends is masterful. His blending of fact and fiction works superbly well. A wonderful novel. ...more
Bonnie Shores
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book.


I went back and forth between giving it 3 or 4 stars. What to do? I decided that, since I was unsure, erring on the higher side would be more fair. I mean, the content of the book was really good. There were stories centered around a diverse mixiture of people from the early 1900s that included Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, Emma Goldman and Henry Ford. And therein lies my problem. The collection of stories, imho, didn't tr
Jun 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, own-a-copy, 2013
And though the newspapers called the shooting the Crime of the Century, Goldman knew it was only 1906 and there were ninety-four years to go.

Ragtime is a vivid, colourful patchwork-like picture of America in the early XX century, when …patriotism was a reliable sentiment…everyone wore white in summer…there were no Negroes. There were no immigrants . It’s a story in which fates of fictitious heroes intertwine with authentic figures of epoch like magician Houdini, tycoons J.P. Morgan and Henry For
Raul Bimenyimana
The early nineteenth century epoch seemed like the main character in this story. Filled with historical figures from Booker Washington to Emma Goldman to Archduke Franz Ferdinand to Houdini to J.P. Morgan and more, this book does a wonderful job of giving the reader an idea of the times.

Within the story, laying beneath the historical figures are the fictional characters some with such general names as Father, Mother, Boy, Younger Brother that represent the white upper middle class of the time, a
Apr 14, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
Wildly Overrated (2013)

Doctorow, E.L. (1974). Ragtime. New York: Penguin.

This impressionistic portrait of New York in the early 1900’s has been widely praised as a “classic,” and has been made into a movie and a Broadway show. I can't understand the attraction.

The story is roughly centered on the life of an upper-class family in New York, but dozens of other sub-stories flare up and die down around them. A rich socialite who married for money defends her husband who killed her lover, a famous ar
Very enjoyable novel of turn of the century America. The central plot element is a modernised retelling of Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas - foreknowledge of which is not required for enjoyment of this novel. In a sense I feel it sells that story a little short because it has to share Ragtime with a bunch of other elements and Doctorow doesn't to my taste project the same kind of moral outrage as Kleist but making race the equivalent of late medieval/early modern social structure is still a strong sta ...more
Mattia Ravasi
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Video review:
Featured in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2017

Considering how often the narrative focus jumps from one character to the next, this should not be the easiest and most addictive of reads. But it fucking is! Ironic and witty and engaging, and so so tragic, Ragtime features an amazing cast of historical figures (Houdini! The Archduke Franz Ferdinand! Henry Ford! PJ Morgan!) and unforgettable fictional characters. You'll read it in one day it's so goo
Donald Powell
A well written story mixing in famous people and events into a novel about racial injustice, gender injustice, religious injustice, class struggle and ultimate justice outside of the legal procedures. A fun read and yet a very serious examination of right vs. wrong on an intimate level. Easy to see why this book is on so many lists and is so widely read.
Ragtime is like most reviews here describe it. A pulsing mosaic of real and fictional characters set at the dawn of the 20th century, when miracles where still a thing. I thoroughly enjoyed Doctorow's prose, while my favorite parts were those of Emma Goldman (of course) and Houdini. I was never really a fan of historical fiction but the man with the strange name made me want to reconsider. ...more
May 06, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, audible, magic, hf, 2014-read
How to best describe this book so prospective readers will know whether they w like it or not? Look at the beginning lines of the book description: "An extraordinary tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century & the First World War. The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, NY." Tapestry is the word you want to pay attention to. When you look at a tapestry you see a lot of small details, but you don't get much deep understanding. You are presented w ...more
Mar 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-novels
Very enjoyable semi-historical novel set in America at the turn of the 2oth century.
The novel revolves around the fortunes of three families; a white family who are unnamed and referred to as father, mother and mother's younger brother, a jewish family and a black family. Their lives intersect in happy and tragic ways. Interspersed are real life characters such as Houdini, Peary,Ford, Morgan (JP), Emma Goldman and part of the fun is spotting the real life characters amongst the fictional.
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
This is a fantastic work of historical fiction. My (somewhat stricter than other people's) definition of historical fiction is a novel in which historical figures not only play a part, but interact with the fictional characters in the story. This novel delivered that in spades! I don't have a large amount of background on the historical figures in the novel, but I read up a little on them and it became clear to me how well Doctorow had fit his fictional characters into their lives. None of what ...more
This rather short novel offers a true kaleidoscope of the United States, at the beginning of the twentieth Century. The story is told by a little boy in a well-off family, near New York. He speaks about himself als 'the boy' or 'the son', and tells about Father, Mother, Younger Brother, and so on, as if trying to present an objective report. In the story also real characters, like Henry Ford, Houdini and Booker T. Washington, play a part.

All that results in a magnificient view on the thriving A
Vit Babenco
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ragtime is piano music with a syncopated melody.
And I would call the novel Ragtime a highly syncopated prose…
“He suddenly had an idea for a film. A bunch of children who were pals, white black, fat thin, rich poor, all kinds, mischievous little urchins who would have funny adventures in their own neighborhood, a society of ragamuffins, like all of us, a gang, getting into trouble and getting out again. Actually not one movie but several were made of this vision. And by that time the era of Ragti
Jenny (Reading Envy)
The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow’s imagined fa ...more
Nandakishore Varma
From Wikipedia:

Ragtime is not a "time" (meter) in the same sense that march time is 2/4 meter and waltz time is 3/4 meter; it is rather a musical genre that uses an effect that can be applied to any meter. The defining characteristic of ragtime music is a specific type of syncopation in which melodic accents occur between metrical beats. This results in a melody that seems to be avoiding some metrical beats of the accompaniment by emphasizing notes that either anticipate or follow the beat ("a r
Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Doctorow has this magical talent of weaving multiple fictional narratives of characters both real from history and completely fabricated for his craft - all set in the diorama of time and place in American history that makes the reader experience the world in visceral Technicolor wonder.

Page-turning enjoyment of great story telling; a winning accomplishment when a reader can't put the book down and devours it in a day.
Celeste Ng
The dust jacket on my copy read: "It is a novel so original, so full of imagination and subtle pleasure, that to describe it further would only dilute the pure joy of reading it. Turn to the first page. Begin. You will never have read anything like _Ragtime_ before. Nothing quite like it has ever been written before."

I thought this must be a huge exaggeration. Then I read the book. In fact it's completely the truth. It blends historical personages with central characters who are given no names b
This is one of the finest American historical novels yet written. Doctorow recreates the turbulent atmosphere of the early 20th Century through wonderful characters, both historical (including Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Henry Ford) and many memorable fictional characters, like Coalhouse Walker. The book is about America at a time of increased prosperity, great poverty, racial inequality, immigrant sacrifice, and the road to the First World War ...more
robin friedman
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
America's Storyteller

The following Amazon review, titled "America's Storyteller" dates from December 6, 2005. I am posting the review here on Goodreads in commemoration of Doctorow's July 21, 2015, death.

E.L Doctorow's highly readable novels combine history, imagination, character development, a sense of time and place and beautifully controlled and paced writing. Doctorow's relatively early novel, "Ragtime" (1974) remains his best-known work. The book is a delight to read, moves with the feel o
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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 presidentially ...more

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