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Andrew's Brain

3.21  ·  Rating details ·  4,344 ratings  ·  885 reviews
This brilliant new novel by an American master, the author of Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, Billy Bathgate, and The March, takes us on a radical trip into the mind of a man who, more than once in his life, has been an inadvertent agent of disaster.
Speaking from an unknown place and to an unknown interlocutor, Andrew is thinking, Andrew is talking, Andrew is telling the s
Hardcover, 200 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Random House
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Average rating 3.21  · 
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 ·  4,344 ratings  ·  885 reviews

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Oct 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
PROPER DISCLAIMER BEFORE REVIEWING: Not only do I work for Random House, but I copyedited this manuscript. I hope that doesn't disqualify me from saying publicly how much I admired and enjoyed the book and how much it got under my skin for weeks after I'd finished with it.

I was fascinated by the complete removal of any security in objectivity for the reader. This book has as unreliable a narrator as can possibly be imagined, and yet I didn't find myself spending so much time trying to suss out
Ron Charles
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: guys-wandering, 9-11
Cut the music. E.L. Doctorow’s new novel is no “Ragtime.” The author who once orchestrated grand plots involving Houdini, Freud, J.P. Morgan and a host of other real-life luminaries is now working in a cramped, dark cell. Instead of the breathtaking sweep of Sherman’s “March” through Georgia and the Carolinas, “Andrew’s Brain” leaves us trapped in the airless monologue of one hapless man. Fans of Doctorow’s award-winning historical novels will find this slim book especially puzzling. But that’s ...more
Oct 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
I've been reading E.L. Doctorow's novels for more than thirty years, starting with “The Book of Daniel,” a fictionalized account of the lives of the sons of executed spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Among my favorites are “World's Fair,” the most clearly autobiographical of Doctorow's novels, about a young boy growing up in New York City in the 1930s; “Billy Bathgate,” about another New York City youngster taken in by Dutch Schultz's mob; “The March,” about the Civil War; and of course, “Ragtim ...more
L Fleisig
Dec 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Cold hearted orb that rules the night, Removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white. But we decide which is right. And which is an illusion? "

In his book The joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten describes the difference between a schlemiel and a schlimazel. Both types of people suffer from chronic bad luck of one sort or another. The difference is that while the schlemiel is the type of person that trips while carrying a tray of soup in the cafeteria, the schlimazel is the person it
This novel was too bizarre and scattered and I couldn't finish it. The narration jumps all over and I didn't care enough to see if the ending gets better. If you're a fan of experimental fiction, you might appreciate this more than me.
Aug 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
I have tried to think of a word - a single word that is suggested by reading this book. Fascinating is too remote, to inexact. Surprising has no real connotation. Unsettling is good because it reflects the fact that the narration is of a type I am not used to reading and it takes time to be brought in to Andrew's brain, Not the book title, but the neurological narrator. Insightful? Yes, but while the brain takes us on a path that is convoluted, like the brain itself, and it provides social and p ...more
Jan 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014, e-books
4.5 Stars

“I asked this question: How can I think about my brain when it’s my brain doing the thinking? So is this brain pretending to be me thinking about it?”

Wow, what a read! Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow is an exercise in mental manipulation. Our protagonist Andrew is a professor of cognitive science. He studies the mind, not the brain…Andrew gives the definition to unreliable narrator and as a result this story is not an easy read.

First, this is the first E.L. Doctorow book that I have rea
Nov 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
I received Andrew's Brain as a First Reads Giveaway. If you're interested in reading the ramblings of a self-adsorbed man who lacks maturity, then this book is for you. If you’re looking for a book with plot or direction, then you’re not going to find it here. I assume that part of the allure of this book is supposed to be the fact that Andrew’s thought patterns are quirky and unique, but I believe it could have been achieved more effectively. I didn’t care about Andrew (or any of the characters ...more
Nancy Oakes
Jan 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction

Let me just say at the beginning here that I loved this book, but I didn't realize how much I liked it until it was over. Add this one to your list of most-unreliable-narrator novels, or just to your list of books you should definitely read. It is a novel filled with surprises, the entire book a conversation between Andrew, a cognitive scientist whose life up to this point has been one of inadvertent disaster, and a psychotherapist/psychologist/shrink to whom he tells his "not pretty" story. Or
Yes, this is not the E.L. Doctorow you know. Don't bug out, though, okay? I mean, the dude is 83 and has won or been nominated for every major fiction award since his career began in 1960. Let's cut him some slack, yeah?

Really, you should. Because Andrew's Brain is — oh, I'm trying not to overreact here, believe me, but... — in fifty years, this may be one of those kinda-sorta career-defining novels.

I know, I know. Ragtime! Billy Bathgate! The March! Dude's got chops. Dude's got a shelf full of
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-thing

The word that came to mind while reading this is "self-indulgent". The narrator, Andrew, who refers to himself in the third person sometimes for no apparent reason, is a faceless, unidentifiable, and unsympathetic character prone to psychobabble ramblings and laundry lists of how he's been responsible for random tragedies throughout his life. The one question that kept me reading was: How did Briony die, and was Andrew responsible? The answer is... really? You went there? Then, he ends up
May 07, 2015 rated it liked it
That was a surprisingly good book. I went into it not knowing what to expect. It was my first Doctorow novel. The wiring is impeccable, the flow of narration spotless, the idea original and it's execution skillful. 3 stars only bcd of it being a bit narrow in scope. Short novella which although I enjoyed immensely felt like something that would be better suited for a bigger novel. I feel like I skimmed through it barely touching the surface of something potentially great. Sill would recommend it ...more
May 25, 2014 rated it liked it
So. That was weird. It seems there are two possibilities here. Either I am way out of my depths and too obtuse to cotton on to what Doctorow is trying to do, or he is, in his old age, going a bit dotty.

I'm reading along, and yes I know the narrator-- since this is I'd say, a confessional novel and we know he's talking to some kind of therapist-- I know he's unreliable, but you get to a certain point and you wonder how far gone is this Andrew person, can you trust anything he's said so far? Delu
Aug 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
**I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.**

This was a waste of my time. It made me feel stupid because I really couldn't follow it, it made no real sense and I didn't even care about the character. If I hadn't said I would review it, I wouldn't have finished it.

Next day: After thinking about it more, I think I understand a little more what the author was trying to do, however he didn't make me care enough about Andrew to care what he thought
Sep 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A unique and fascinating book. The story, which seems to be Andrew's 10 sessions with his psychiatrist about the disasters that keep befalling his life, is tragic, funny and insightful. I loved the way E.L. Doctorow brilliantly showed the way memories stream and shift into consciousness through the dialogue between the two characters. At the beginning of the book I abhorred Andrew's narcissistic, cold narrative but as his sessions continued with his sometimes patient, sometimes inept therapist, ...more
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
This short volume functions as a character sketch rather than a novel. It is the conversation (more of a monologue) between a man who has suffered some sort of psychotic break and his psychiatrist. It is never clear what is fact and what is fantasy, what is memory and what is delusion. But through this psychotic recounting of this man’s life, the insanity in much of society is brought into question. Andrew is the “holy fool: to a society that is a grand “pretender”. This is less of an engaging r ...more
Scott Southard
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I reviewed this book on WKAR's Current State. You can listen to my book review here:

You can also read my book review below.


Book Review: Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow

When your mind often swims in the written words of others sometimes the water can get a bit muddy. You don’t mean for this to happen, but plots might intermingle in your head, characters might meet up even though they are in different stories and sometimes, honestly, you might point the fin
Roger Brunyate
Jul 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Mind/Brain Problem

This was a wonderfully easy book to get into and enjoy; now I just need to figure out what it was about! Although there are no quotation marks, it seems to be a dialogue: a man whom we later identify as Andrew talking to what appears to be some kind of psychologist, someone who studies the mind. Andrew himself is a cognitive neuroscientist; he studies the physical brain. On one level, Doctorow seems to be examining the distinction between the two, as though Andrew's mind we
Washington Post
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
"Andrew's Brain" is the rambling testimony of a depressed scientist being patiently interviewed, possibly by a government psychiatrist. Andrew flits around the events that led him here. He sometimes speaks of himself in the third person, he regularly mocks his unnamed interrogator and he pays no attention to chronology. It’s our job to put the tragic incidents of his life in order, to unscramble the taunting clues, to unearth the profundities buried in this misanthropic rumination.

The problem i
Dec 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: pop-bestsellers
Hyperliterate, hyperbolic

Unfamiliar with Doctorow’s work, I cannot compare this to his previous, well-regarded fiction. “Andrew’s Brain” is the story, recounted to a psychiatrist, of a middle-aged cognitive scientist and the many tragedies that have befallen him. He has found and lost love and loved ones. The novel will appeal to those who like overbearing, hyperarticulate characters who exist in that fantasy Earth wherein a good job and sharp intellect lead you down a path of utter despair. The
Elizabeth (Alaska)
It's sad to realize there will never be another new novel from Doctorow. The writing is such a pleasure to read. Descriptions of this novel speak of an "unknown interlocutor" but it is clear very early, that this unknown interlocutor is either a psychiatrist or psychologist. Andrew tells of his life thus far, but also wanders off philosophically and scientifically.

The psychiatrist sometimes asks Andrew if something happened in a dream or was it real. Can we ever be certain? Andrew does wander i
Diane S ☔
Nov 06, 2013 rated it liked it
A look at the inner working of the mind, in particular, our unreliable narrator Andrews. Andrew himself is a professor of cognitive science, and in an ongoing session with his therapist the reader is treated to a up close and personal look at a brain slowly deconstructing.

Doctorow has long been one of my favorite authors, but this is not one of my favorite novels. He has done many I liked better. I just don't think I ever bonded enough with Andrew to really immerse myself in what he was going t
Aug 06, 2016 rated it did not like it
Either this book is too deep for my understanding or it's a pretentious load of garbage.
There were a few amusing bits.
Pamela Mclaren
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literary-fiction
I hate to admit it ... but I didn't enjoy this book as well as I expected. I've always been surprised by some of Doctorow's work and sometimes its taken a while to get into the stories, but this time I just couldn't get a bearing on the main character.

And without that, there is no story ... not really. Because that character is Andrew, a cognitive scientist who seems to be destined to always do something odd that leads to catastrophe. And by the time he sits down to tell his story to a psycholo
Mary Lawrence
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Andrew of Andrew's Brain is a neuroscientist and teacher who recounts his life's events to a seemingly sympathetic therapist. He divulges the human tragedies he's endured with a sentient and profound self-awareness that is worthy of Doctorow's choice in casting him as a cognitive scientist. Thoughtful and intelligent, one wonders whether the sadness Andrew describes is cursed bad luck, or the musings of a man who can't get past his grief without examining it from every possible angle and then wi ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it liked it
The novel in its entirety is a confusing mush of Andrew's dilemmas. I did enjoy the parts when it discussed human psychology but it unfortunately went on random tangents that was rather annoying. I commend Doctorow on his writing, he is a talented writer I just think that this shouldn't have been the novel to introduce me to him.
Feb 12, 2014 rated it liked it
I received an advance copy of this book for review (but didn't get around to reviewing it before the pub date: sorry, Random House). This review will contain some spoilers.

I'm not really sure what E.L. Doctorow is doing here. In interviews he says he left it ambiguous and open to interpretation—that can be said of lots of literature and especially of experimental fiction. But at the same time, he does seem to be trying to say something about the mind-brain-body connection. Only ... what? We alre
Aug 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways-winner
I was delighted to win a copy in a First Reads giveaway. I’d never read any Doctorow before, so this was definitely an interesting introduction (though I think for the real Doctorow experience I’ll need to read Ragtime – Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin ‘prescribe’ it for the problem of zestlessness in their bibliotherapy guide The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You, after all).

Andrew has had two wives and two baby girls; one of each is dead. In a sort
Brenda A
Aug 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
The style of dialogue in this took some getting used to, but once I was used to it it proved to be a really unusual and affecting novel. Andrew likes to talk about himself in the third person. I can only assume he does it to give himself distance from what he's discussing; it's only natural considering the subjects he chooses to talk about. The Doc is someone Andrew seems to talk about with a bit of condescension, and who does not really provide any other purpose besides being a soundboard for A ...more
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
So, I am just ho-hum with this. I like Doctorow and so maybe I'm just a bit bummed because I wasn't impressed with the transparent-y complexity of this book.

The entire thing is narrated through the lens of a conversation between Andrew and his therapist. Or maybe Andrew and his own psyche. Or, possibly Andrew and a computerized version of himself. O, potentially Andrew is the computer and the therapist is real.

In essence, Doctorow tries to convey the complexity of: "How can I think about my br
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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

Articles featuring this book

His Favorite Books About Memory: Don't forget! The acclaimed author of Ragtime and Andrew's Brain recalls five books about our unreliable minds.
22 likes · 15 comments
“I asked this question: How can I think about my brain when it’s my brain doing the thinking? So is this brain pretending to be me thinking about it?” 15 likes
“Where most people live, most of us, imagining it to be the real sunlit world when it is only a cave lit by the flickering fires of illusion.” 6 likes
More quotes…