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The Book of Daniel

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  5,053 ratings  ·  401 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 April 12th 1971)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  5,053 ratings  ·  401 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Jun 29, 2010 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
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is GREAT! One TRUE Original American Classic. (Is there something to denote just how close to the perfect full five stars this work truly is?) The type of novel Europeans, Latin Americans, & all other form of world Masters tremble at. One can say this novel is absolutely magical... Devastating and lifeaffirming. Art-affirming. Definitely my favorite novel now by Mr. Doctorow.
Vit Babenco
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To hunt hunters need game… And witch hunters need witches… If there are no real witches then the ordinary people may always be dyed as the ones.
It’s too fucking hot. This fucking city is like an oven. You want to know what was wrong with the old American Communists? They were into the system. They wore ties. They held down jobs. They put people up for President. They thought politics is something you do at a meeting. When they got busted they called it tyranny. They were Russian tit suckers. Rus
Feb 25, 2012 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
Το Άθχημο γατί του θενιόρ Γκουαναμίρου
This book is mediocre with some strong moments and some fundamental weaknesses. Not a bad book. On the contrary. But the author of this book makes some choices that I find unacceptable. His arguments do not convince me, the result tired, bothered and disappointed me.

Doctorow attempts to make a postmodern narrative based on the true story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who at the beginning of the Cold War were convicted and executed in the electric chair on charges of spying for the Soviet Union.
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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. ...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
Feb 26, 2014 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
Jul 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015, audio
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 e ...more
Apr 27, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, 2007
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
Jeff Jackson
Mar 01, 2008 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. ...more
Jun 14, 2007 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
Christopher Saunders
Doctorow examines American radical politics in the late '40s through this fictionalized recounting of the Rosenberg spy case. Doctorow parallels the harried lives of the Isaacsons, two Jewish immigrants accused of espionage for their socialist politics, and their children, who involve themselves in the '60s antiwar movement to cope with the loss of their parents. The flashback storyline is far more compelling, with richly drawn portraits of husband-and-wife idealists in over their heads in a cou ...more
Nagisa Furukawa
May 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Review, second time around:
Still a five stars read.
A tragedy.
What can I honestly say about this book?
My words can't do it justice!
It was a story, it taught me history and politics of America... It pained me, it caused me to cringe and my face to contort at some events and descriptions and all. It confused the hell out of me because of its multiple narrators: Daniel himself, third person, then Daniel addressing the reader... Reading the book was a labor on its own
Jan 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, 2020-favs
I finally managed to finish this book before the end of the year
To be fair this is definitely a 5-star book but I'm taking 1 star off because it's so exhausting and gruesome probably the heaviest book I've ever read I think that it may be even heavier than the 1000 pages+ Les Miserables or Gone with the Wind.
The book of Daniel is loaded with references and criticism of capitalism, socialism, McCarthyism, society, religion, and humankind even Disneyland got its fair share. The author does whateve
Dec 16, 2008 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
Zeineb Nouira
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Daniel", etymologically speaking, translates to "God is my judge" in Hebrew. Given the fictionalised rendering of the Rosenbergs' trial and eventual execution, this book is a true questioning of the issue of justice whether it being unachieved in the Land of the Free, or longed for from the Divine Creator.

Doctorow merges incredible literariness with a sharp sense of cultivated study of history and politics (there are many instances that deal with monumental historical milestones that serve the
Oct 09, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
There are two parts to this novel that are very hard to reconcile.
The first element is an amazing fiction (it was contemporary at the time it was written, although now I'd consider it historical fiction) filled with religious imagery, fabulous thoughts on the Red Scare, the effect of a treason charge on the children of the person, our government's culpability, and the legal process. I'd give this part of the novel 4 stars
The second part was that this novel is extremely cruel, violent, and misog
Plenty of reviews already on offer regarding the synopsis of the novel. Found this a difficult book to get into initially, it seemed to go all over the place and the delivery jumped between the first and third person. Difficult to find a reading rhythm.

An interesting time in history and based on events that I'd heard of although knew very little about. A novel about coming to terms with events beyond control, of powerlessness.
Ellen Lee
Jan 02, 2016 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.
Oct 02, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
it's gonna be a no from me ...more
Nate Williams
Not every leftist is a sexually depraved sociopath like Daniel. For example, I just mostly have a smooth brain and like DQ Blizzards
When I was 16 years old, E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime changed my life. I know that's hardly a hip answer for a Millennial, but it remains true, and it would forever color the way I viewed fiction. I saw a totally new way of telling a story.

The Book of Daniel employs many of the same devices, but the whole is rather less compelling. I was at points fascinated with how each character responded to the thinly veiled Rosenberg trial, and I loved the points where Doctorow went meta, but on the whole, it di
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
Brian Bess
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Post-traumatic Cold War Disorder

The first fact about E.L. Doctorow’s 1971 novel ‘The Book of Daniel’ that everyone learns is that it is based on the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the first people in U.S. history to be executed for espionage. In Doctorow’s novel, the Rosenbergs are renamed Paul and Rochelle Isaacson and, rather than the two sons of the Rosenbergs, the Isaacsons have a son, Daniel, and a daughter, Susan. Daniel and Susan were children in the early 1950’s when their parents w
Jun 27, 2015 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
Feb 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Intriguing book. Daniel Isaacson is trying to come clean with the death of his parents, commited communists that were tried to death and executed in the America of the fifties. The story is modelled on the real one of the Rosenbergs. Doctorow offers an ingenious mix of politics, sociology, psychology etc, in a very complex style and composition. Nevertheless I am in doubt: the very straightforward style is difficult, especially in the beginning.
Mar 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
This novel is a comment on the shifts in progressive politics in America in the mid-twentieth century. In the late 60s, a graduate student writes a dissertation on execution; the dissertation has particularly personal meaning for the student, whose parents were executed as spies in the early 50s (the parents are based partly on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were electrocuted in 1953).
Owain Talfryn
Occasionally excellent, sometimes tedious, the novel is at its best when Daniel confronts the injustice of American capitalism with a barely contained rage, always edging towards breakdown. Some moments were genuinely powerful but wasn't a fan of the (mostly) unchecked misogyny on display. ...more
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great, and I loved the last chapter!
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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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