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The Book of Daniel

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  4,661 ratings  ·  375 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  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,661 ratings  ·  375 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
...more
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/>
It’s
...more
Fabian
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is GREAT! One Original American Classic. (Is there something to denote just how close to the perfect five stars this work truly is?) The type of novel Europeans, Latin Americans,& all other 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.
Sarah
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
...more
Patrick
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.
Derek
***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
☮Karen
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
Steve
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 was published in 1 ...more
Summer
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
...more
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.
Steven
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 i
...more
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.
Magnificent.
*******************
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 t
...more
Derrick
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
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.
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 tha
...more
Cphe
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.
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
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
Kaycie
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
Dan
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).
Fatma
Oct 02, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
it's gonna be a no from me
Jenna
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, university
Read for class and utterly unenjoyable.
Mimi
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
...more
Ian
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
For what I thought was going to be a bitter polemic against American society in 1971, I felt Doctorow was surprisingly even handed. The Cold War execution of the Rosenbergs is more than echoed in Daniel Isaacson's parents. But despite the obvious loaded dice of the authorities in stitching up his parents (whether they did pass secrets to the Russians or not is almost irrelevant), their naive communist faith is exposed as much as the fatuous Hippie protests. Daniel's sister's hospitalisation and ...more
Sherril
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book so many years ago that I can't really be specific in reviewing it. What I do remember is that I absolutely loved it. Doctorow is a master of weaving real historical events and people into fiction. I may have forgotten the book's details, but I never forgot the Rosenbergs, their execution or their children and to this day, my ears perk up when they come back into the news. I don't ordinarily reread books because there are so many more to read, but I might one day make an exceptio ...more
Marc
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.
Kristin
Jun 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Bryan
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
E. L. Doctorow is a wonderful writer with talent to burn. In this book, he burns a little bit of it.
Joseph Stieb
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting piece of Cold War-era literature, and my first Doctorow. I really liked his fast-paced, vivid writing, which had the dynamism of stream of consciousness without the confusion (me being the confused one here). It is also a good story with well-drawn characters. He captures the radical mindset very well in the two parents, who are substitutes for the Rosenbergs. While the story is a little drifty and doesn't have much of a resolution, I greatly appreciated his sense of how a crime o ...more
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Reading 1001: The Book of Daniel, by E.L. Doctorow 1 5 Aug 09, 2019 04:04PM  

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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 conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was short listed for the Man Book ...more
“Many historians have noted an interesting phenomenon in American life in the years immediately after a war. In the councils of government fierce partisanship replaces the necessary political coalitions of wartime. IN the great arena of social relations -- business, labour, the community -- violence rises, fear and recrimination dominate public discussion, passion prevails over reason. Many historians have noted this phenomenon. It is attributed to the continuance beyond the end of the war of the war hysteria. Unfortunately, the necessary emotional fever for fighting a war cannot be turned off like a water tap. Enemies must continue to be found. The mind and heart cannot be demobilised as quickly as the platoon. On the contrary, like a fiery furnace at white heat, it takes a considerable time to cool.” 4 likes
“On the labour front in 1919 there was an unprecedented number of strikes involving many millions of workers. One of the lager strikes was mounted by the AF of L against the United States Steel Corporation. At that time workers in the steel industry put in an average sixty-eight-hour week for bare subsistence wages. The strike spread to other plants, resulting in considerable violence -- the death of eighteen striking workers, the calling out of troops to disperse picket lines, and so forth. By branding the strikers Bolsheviks and thereby separating them from their public support, the Corporation broke the strike. In Boston, the Police Department went on strike and governor Calvin Coolidge replaced them. In Seattle there was a general strike which precipitated a nationwide 'red scare'. this was the first red scare. Sixteen bombs were found in the New York Post Office just before May Day. The bombs were addressed to men prominent in American life, including John D. Rockefeller and Attorney General Mitchell Palmer. It is not clear today who was responsible for those bombs -- Red terrorists, Black anarchists, or their enemies -- but the effect was the same. Other bombs pooped off all spring, damaging property, killing and maiming innocent people, and the nation responded with an alarm against Reds. It was feared that at in Russia, they were about to take over the country and shove large cocks into everyone's mother. Strike that. The Press exacerbated public feeling. May Day parades in the big cities were attacked by policemen, and soldiers and sailors. The American Legion, just founded, raided IWW headquarters in the State of Washington. Laws against seditious speech were passed in State Legislatures across the country and thousands of people were jailed, including a Socialist Congressman from Milwaukee who was sentenced to twenty years in prison. To say nothing of the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 which took care of thousands more. To say nothing of Eugene V. Debs. On the evening of 2 January 1920, Attorney General Palmer, who had his eye on the White House, organized a Federal raid on Communist Party offices throughout the nation. With his right-hand assistant, J. Edgar Hoover, at his right hand, Palmer effected the arrest of over six thousand people, some Communist aliens, some just aliens, some just Communists, and some neither Communists nor aliens but persons visiting those who had been arrested. Property was confiscated, people chained together, handcuffed, and paraded through the streets (in Boston), or kept in corridors of Federal buildings for eight days without food or proper sanitation (in Detroit). Many historians have noted this phenomenon. The raids made an undoubted contribution to the wave of vigilantism winch broke over the country. The Ku Klux Klan blossomed throughout the South and West. There were night raidings, floggings, public hangings, and burnings. Over seventy Negroes were lynched in 1919, not a few of them war veterans. There were speeches against 'foreign ideologies' and much talk about 'one hundred per cent Americanism'. The teaching of evolution in the schools of Tennessee was outlawed. Elsewhere textbooks were repudiated that were not sufficiently patriotic. New immigration laws made racial distinctions and set stringent quotas. Jews were charged with international conspiracy and Catholics with trying to bring the Pope to America. The country would soon go dry, thus creating large-scale, organized crime in the US. The White Sox threw the Series to the Cincinnati Reds. And the stage was set for the trial of two Italian-born anarchists, N. Sacco and B. Vanzetti, for the alleged murder of a paymaster in South Braintree, Mass. The story of the trial is well known and often noted by historians and need not be recounted here. To nothing of World War II--” 4 likes
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