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The Book of Daniel

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In 1967, Daniel, the son of two convicted spys executed by their own country, ponders his life, his sister's radicalism, his appreciation for his wife and son, and the hypocrisy of the moralistic ideals upon which this country was based. Reprint.

320 pages, Paperback

First published April 12, 1971

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About the author

E.L. Doctorow

91 books1,041 followers
History based known novels of American writer Edgar Laurence Doctorow. His 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 Booker International Prize honoring a writer’s lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN Saul Bellow Award given to an author whose “scale of achievement over a sustained career places him in the highest rank of American Literature.” In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction.

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5 stars
1,619 (29%)
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2,127 (38%)
3 stars
1,278 (23%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 463 reviews
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,466 reviews3,623 followers
September 8, 2022
To hunt hunters need game… And witch hunters need witches… If there are no real witches then 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. Russia! Who’s free in Russia? All the Russians want is steel up everyone’s ass. Where’s the Revolution in Russia?

And politicos need stuff out of which they can tailor their politics… Otherwise everyone will see that the king is naked… And the stuff of which politics is tailored is people…
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,217 reviews9,900 followers
October 2, 2010
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 days,you got to write each one like it might be the last novel ever.

So this is a fictionalised version of the story of the Rosenbergs who were executed for treason in 1953. ELD changes all the names and details around slightly. I would say it’s made up of 30% Daniel’s memories of childhood and the great dramas playing around the heads of him and his sister; 40% the story of the mother & father; and 30% Daniel’s present day life & times - he is now a hippy revolutionary and his sister is in a mental hospital. ELD's daniel is a very nasty young man. You can see why he might have a few chips on his shoulder, but really, he seems quite close to being unbalanced. At many points in this book I wouldn’t have minded throwing the switch myself, so long as uber-angst Daniel was in the chair. This sourest, most rancid of political novels disgorges the most stupid parts of the red scare 50s and the radical hippy 60s into a blender and the gunk we are then served with is poisonous, it reeks with all the least attractive aspects of people, of American people, no one comes out of this shitstorm looking pretty. I had a hard time liking this book. I liked it in short sharp surges, there are sweeps of bristling bellowing rhetoric, but these are usually felched into a rictus of pain by the time you turn the page. If anyone smiles in these 386 pages it’s because someone has died. It’s all a bit angst. Daniel has angst in his pangst.


I like to say to anyone in earshot that the difference between American and British art is that we British have the history but those Americans have the geography. It’s one of my sayings. They have the broad sweep of the present, to match the broad sweep of their land - we have the intricate knowledge of the past. Or : they have the confidence from which we have now withdrawn. Or : they now have the empire which we relinquished. It’s kind of true – look at the fantastic boldness of some American authors with their huge projects to write out the secret (read “real” or “underground”) history of America – DeLillo in Underworld, Ellroy in his trilogies, going back further Vidal in his presidents series. British authors just don’t do that. The Book of Daniel falls into this bold brash genre. So I admire it. I also admire the audacity of ELD – right at the end, when, in classic Hollywood fashion, our flawed hero Daniel is chasing down our deadly villain, the government stooge Mindish, he suddenly stops the narrative for a six page essay on the cultural ramifications of Disneyland. I also admire the large areas which aren’t explored in this novel, like Daniel’s awful treatment of his wife. Loose wires hang out all over the place.


This novel’s present is 1967, twelve years after the execution of Daniel’s parents. In the 20th century the speed of cultural change could be breakneck, and often skews my own view of history. The Red Scare was 1947-57 roughly – but a mere eight years later the hippies began and by 1968 everything looked completely different. Within the 1960s, the changes were hectic, irresponsible, giving us all the bends - Beatles yeah yeah moptops in 1963 turning to druggy beardy mystics by 1969; things were common by 1970 which couldn’t have been conceived of in 1960. 12 years separates the past and the present of this novel but it seems like 50. It’s disorientating. Things don’t seem to move so fast these days, or is it me?


It’s not easy to like. You end it feeling like you’ve been yelled at for several hours. Your head is ringing.

Four stars for ambition and for getting the thing done.
Two stars only for enjoyability.
I should compromise with three, then.
Four stars it is.
Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
September 15, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 12 books26 followers
February 26, 2012
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 the time what they would do if they got something like this. I still wonder if this would be published today, or if the agents and editors who came across it would just say it was "confusing."
There were some exceptional bits of sex writing in here as well. Often sex in literary novels is so bland and here it was disturbing, erotic, embarrassing and awful, often at the same time.
This is a must read for anyone interested in the craft of writing, politics or history.
Profile Image for Derek.
997 reviews74 followers
October 29, 2015
***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 encompassing! And as for the style, wow! Fiction writing teachers must be flipping out when they read this, for it breaks all their feeble rules about style and point of view, etc, etc., but the truth is only a writer like E. L.Doctorow could've attempted a novel like this, there's no one I can think of who could try this and pull it off. Bravo. This is a work that will resonate with me for a long time whether I reread it a million times or not.
Profile Image for Solistas.
147 reviews103 followers
October 16, 2016
"Κάθε άνθρωπος είναι ο εχθρός της χώρας του. Κάθε χώρα είναι ο εχθρός των πολιτών της"

Είναι δύσκολο να φανταστώ πως υπάρχει συγγραφέας που γράφει καλύτερα ιστορικά μυθιστορήματα απ'τον Doctorow (έχω βέβαια μια αδυναμία στην παρέα των Ιταλών που υπογράφουν ως Luther Blissett/Wu-Ming) αλλά αυτό μάλλον συμβαίνει γιατί ο Αμερικανός είναι ένας χαρισματικός γραφιάς, κάτι που αποδεικνύεται περίτρανα στο πραγματικά δύστροπο Βιβλίο του Ντάνιελ (τέταρτο δικό του που διαβάζω αν κ έχω ξεκινήσει ένα ανεπίσημο project να διαβάσω τα άπαντα με τη σειρά κ έτσι να ξαναδιαβάσω Ragtime κ Παγκόσμια έκθεση που δεν θυμάμαι ούτε πως μου είχαν φανεί). Ο Doctorow πιάνεται απ'τη περιβόητη εκτέλεση των Ρόζενμπεργκ όπου με ελάχιστα στοιχεία εκτέλεσαν το ζευγάρι με την κατηγορία της εσχάτης προδοσίας, κ αφηγείται την ιστορία αυτών που έμειναν πίσω, δηλαδή των δύο παιδιών τους που δεν κατάφεραν ποτέ να ξεπεράσουν όσα τους επιφύλαξε η ζωή μετά τη σύλληψη των γονιών τους.

Με τον Ψυχρό Πόλεμο να βρίσκεται σε πρώιμο στάδιο, η ολοκληρωτική εκκαθάριση της αριστεράς της Αμερικής έχει ξεκινήσει κ σε δίκες παρωδία που βασίζονταν σε καταθέσεις ανθρώπων υπό μεγάλη πίεση για τη ζωή τη δικιά τους κ των οικογένειων τους, ο ένας κομμουνιστής μετά τον άλλο κατέληγε στη φυλακή ή την ηλεκτρική καρέκλα. Ο συγγραφέας περίτεχνα κ αλλάζοντας χώρο, χρόνο, πρόσωπο ακόμα κ στην ίδια πρόταση, αφήνει τον Ντάνιελ να παλέψει να διατηρήσει τη μνήμη ζωντανή, σκηνικό που γίνεται εντυπωσιακό για τον απλούστατο λόγο ότι κι αυτός είναι ένα κάθαρμα με τη σειρά του που φέρεται άσχημα στις γυναίκες της ζωής του (κι όχι μόνο), αν κ ο Doctorow φροντίζει με λεπτό τρόπο να ξυπνήσει ανεπαίσθητα ίχνη συμπάθειας κάθε φορά που επιστρέφει στην περίοδο της παιδικής του ηλικίας.

Δεν μπορώ να κρύψω ότι υπάρχουν μέρη στο βιβλίο που κυλούν με δυσκολία (με διαφορά ήταν το πιο ζόρικο βιβλίο που διάβασα τον Αύγουστο κ διάβασα πολλά) αλλά έτσι κ αλλιώς δεν είναι ζητούμενο για μένα ούτε η ευκολία ούτε η ταύτιση με τον ήρωα, δεδομένα που ίσως αποτρέψουν επίδοξους αναγνώστες, όπως μάλλον έχει συμβεί γενικότερα με τον Doctorow που δεν χαίρει της εκτίμησης που του αναλογεί ως ένας εκ των κορυφαίων αμερικανών μυθιστοριογράφων. Στο δικό μου κώδικα αξιολόγησης εδώ υπάρχουν μερικά απίθανα αποσπάσματα όπως η συνάντηση του Ντάνιελ με το δειλό φίλο της οικογένειας του που πρόδωσε (κ με το παραπάνω) τους γονείς του στη Disneyland. Κι επειδή δεν μπορώ να το μεταφέρω αυτούσιο κλείνω με αυτό:

"...Όταν είσαι φτωχός, δεν παίρνεις ρίσκα. Όταν κάθε σεντ μετράει κι ο κόσμος χρειάζεται οποιονδήποτε μπορεί να βοηθήσει, δεν κάνεις σεξ. Κ που να το κάνεις, άλλωστε. Η αλήθεια είναι πως, αν μπορούσες θα το 'κάνες. Μαθαίνεις την τέχνη της συντροφικότητας, το βαθύ νόημα που έχει το να κρατάς το χέρι του άλλου, ή πως σε κοιτάζει εκείνη σε μια στιγμή ευτυχίας κ πώς νιώθεις αυτή τη ματιά ώς κάτω κάτω στο υπογάστριό σου, ή πως να της πεις αυτά που σκέφτεσαι, ή το ωραίο της στοματάκι, ή πως μαθαίνεις όλα της τα λιγοστά ρούχα, ή τις άσχημες στιγμές που είσαι μόνος κ κατηγορείς τον εαυτό σου που αφέθηκες να τη θεωρήσεις τόσο σημαντική αυτή την κυρία, αυτή τη μικρή επαναστάτρια, που νιώθεις να κοκκινίζουν τ'αυτιά σου καθώς πασχίζεις να τη βγάλεις απ'το άχρηστο κ διεστραμμένο σου μυαλό, κ με τη δύναμη της θέλησης να επενδύεις αυτή σου την ενέργεια στην επανάσταση - δε σκέφτεσαι τη δύναμη αυτής της κοπέλας. Μόνο την τρυφερότητά της..."
Profile Image for Patrick.
17 reviews77 followers
August 9, 2016
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.
July 1, 2020
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. Behind them left two stigmatized orphans, victims of the communist phobia of their time, two boys, Michael and Robert. In Doctorow's story, the children are a boy, Daniel, and a girl, Susan.

In this book, the sexual act is presented as a political, social, moral, and mental activity that suggests a form of rape, a systemic form of abuse. This is the author's ideological framework. To deliver this "fuck", the author chooses Daniel, presenting him as the rapist of his wife, whom he wants to (and maybe does) burn and brand with the electric lighter of his car. He abuses her verbally using her as his personal punching bag while her parents see her bruised limbs but as long as she doesn't speak, they can't intervene. Daniel also turns against his own baby son, there is a scene in the park, where he throws him in the air and grabs him just before he hits the ground, while his wife begs him to stop.

Doctorow thus associates his - pretty much one dimensional - fictional character with the real Rosenberg children and does them injustice just for the shock value of it all. Nothing deep or profound just a bunch of metafictional mumbo jumbo delivered in the most insensitive way possible. To set the record straight: The actual Rosenberg kids turned out to be ok.

Αυτό το βιβλίο είναι μέτριο με κάποιες δυνατές στιγμές και κάποιες θεμελιώδεις αδυναμίες, τεχνικές και αφηγηματικές. Ως εκεί δεν είναι ένα κακό βιβλίο. Τουναντίον. Ο συγγραφέας όμως αυτού του βιβλίου κάνει κάποιες επιλογές τις οποίες θεωρώ επιεικώς απαράδεκτες. Τα επιχειρήματά του δεν με πείθουν και το αποτέλεσμα με κούρασε, με ενόχλησε και με απογοήτευσε.

Προσπαθεί να κάνει μια μεταμοντέρνα αφήγηση της αληθινής ιστορίας του Julius και της Ethel Rosenberg οι οποίοι στο ξεκίνημα του ψυχρού πολέμου καταδικάστηκαν και εκτελέστηκαν στην ηλεκτρική καρέκλα με την κατηγορία πως έκαναν κατασκοπία για λογαριασμό της Σοβιετικής ένωσης. Πίσω τους άφησαν δύο στιγματισμένα ορφανά, θύματα της κομμουνιστικής φοβίας της εποχής τους, δυο αγοράκια, τον Michael και τον Robert. Στην αφήγηση του Doctorow τα παιδιά είναι ένα αγόρι, ο Daniel, και ένα κορίτσι, η Susan, που υποτίθεται πως σε ένα βαθύτερο gestalt (Στραπατσίρεν ντι γκεστάλτ) ενσαρκώνουν τις βιβλικές μορφές του προφήτη Δανιήλ και της Σουζάνας.

Ένα θέμα που διατρέχει την αφήγηση είναι η διαστροφή της σεξουαλικής πράξης ως πολιτική, κοινωνική, ηθική, ενδοοικογενειακή και διανοητική πράξη, η οποία χαρακτηρίζεται με το ρήμα fuck και υποδηλώνει μια μορφή βιασμού, μια κακοποίηση από το σύστημα. Αυτό είναι το ιδεολογικό πλαίσιο πάνω στο οποίο βασίζει ο συγγραφέας την αφήγησή του. Και για την ενσάρκωση αυτού του fuck επιλέγει ο συγγραφέας τον Daniel παρουσιάζοντάς τον ως βιαστή της συζύγου του, την οποία θέλει (και ίσως το κάνει) να την κάψει και να την σημαδέψει με τον ηλεκτρικό αναπτήρα του αυτοκινήτου του. Σε άλλο σημείο κακοποιεί το παιδί του στο πάρκο, το πετάει στον αέρα και το πιάνει λίγο πριν σκάσει στο έδαφος ενώ η γυναίκα του τον ικετεύει σταματήσει και ο κόσμος κοιτάζει σοκαρισμένος. Την κακοποιεί αδιάκοπα λεκτικά, την περιφρονεί, ξεσπάει επάνω της τα νεύρα του και την χρησιμοποιεί σαν τον προσωπικό του σάκο του μποξ ενώ οι γονείς της βλέπουν τα μελανιασμένα της μέλη αλλά όσο εκείνη δεν μιλάει, δεν μπορούν να παρέμβουν. Ο ίδιος ο συγγραφέας αιτιολόγησε την επιλογή του ως εξής:

"Τα βάσανα δεν κάνουν τους ανθρώπους ενάρετους, όχι τουλάχιστον βάσει της προσωπικής μου εμπειρίας. Αλλά βλέπω τον σαδισμό του με έναν διαφορετικό τρόπο. Βλέπω τη σκηνή που κακοποιεί τη σύζυγό του, για παράδειγμα, σε αναλογία με εκείνη που πετάει το γιο στον αέρα. Αυτή πράξη έχει υπαρξιακές διαστάσεις. O Daniel έχει ακυρωθεί από τον κόσμο. Δεν χάνει τίποτα. Είναι ένας ήρωας - ή ένας εγκληματίας της αντίληψης και επιβιώνει από το αγκάλιασμα με την αλήθεια όσο παγωμένη και τρομαχτική κι αν είναι αυτή" (βλέπε Douglas Fowler, Matthew J. Bruccoli, Understanding E.L. Doctorow, σελ. 51).

Σιγά μη χαθεί κανένας φιλολογικός πόντος από το λογοτεχνικό σου καλτσόν ω μεγάλε συγγραφέα, ινστρούχτορα του μεταφίκτσιον και φορέα της σύγχρονης διανόησης. Η αλήθεια είναι πως από κάποιο σημείο και μετά η ιστορία για τους Rosenberg δεν του έβγαινε και την βαλσάμωσε με μια σειρά από δεύτερες και τρίτες αφηγήσεις με διάφορα πρόσωπα για να καλύψει τις προσωπικές του αδυναμίες και αδιέξοδα.

Δεν δένει με την ιστορία η κοινωνιοπάθεια του Daniel, το κάνει για προσθέσει shock value σε μια ιστορία η οποία ως έχει δεν χρειάζεται κι άλλη σκληρότητα ούτε περισσότερη χυδαιότητα ή ωμότητα. Αρκεί η πραγματικότητα καθεαυτή. Αλλά ακόμα κι αν έδενε, ακόμα κι αν είχε καταφέρει να πλάσει έναν αυθεντικό λογοτεχνικό χαρακτήρα, για ποιο λόγο να τον πλασάρει ή έστω να τον συσχετίσει με τους απογόνους των πραγματικών Rosenberg; Τα παιδιά των Rosenberg είναι αυτά που τελικά δικάζονται μέσα από αυτό το μυθιστόρημα. Γιατί να συνδέσει το τερατώδες κατασκεύασμά του με αληθινούς ανθρώπους που καμία σχέση δεν έχουν με αυτό; Μήπως όλο αυτό εξυπηρετεί το μεταμοντερνιστικό του όραμα και προσδίδει εγκυρότητα στον όρο - καραμέλα metafiction;

Ούτε καν. Για να πουλήσει καμιά κόπια παραπάνω έγιναν όλα. Ένας αχταρμάς στον οποίο η πολυφωνική του αφήγηση πνίγεται. Θάβεται μέσα στις υπερβολές και σε μια αρρωστημένη επίδειξη κακίας και απανθρωπιάς. Όχι για να βγάλει κάποιο νόημα όχι για να προβάλλει την απουσία νοήματος. Απλώς για να προκαλέσει μια αντίδραση και να την πουλήσει ως Τέχνη. Φτηνά τρικ. Είναι παλιανθρωπιά να παίζεις με το δράμα, τον πόνο, τον εξευτελισμό, τον διασυρμό και τα ψυχικά τραύματα αληθινών ανθρώπων. Μπορείς να το κάνεις. Είναι νόμιμο. Είναι όμως και ηθικό;

Θα μπορούσε ωστόσο κάποιος να αναρωτηθεί γιατί σπεύδω να υπερασπιστώ τους απογόνους των Rosenberg; Γιατί τόσο αυτοί όσο και οι γονείς τους αποτελούν τον αντίποδα αυτού το τοξικού κατασκευάσματος του Doctorow. Χρόνια μετά τη συγγραφή του βιβλίου αποδείχτηκε με ακλόνητα στοιχεία πως τελικά οι Rosenberg δεν ήταν τα αθώα θύματα που διώχθηκαν για ��ην αριστερή τους ιδεολογία. Όντως ήταν κατάσκοποι. Διαφωνώ με την θανατική τους εκτέλεση, είμαι ενάντια στη θανατική ποινή, κυρίως γιατί τρέμω στην ιδέα πως θα μπορούσε να εκτελεστεί κάποιος αθώος. Δεν μπορούμε να ξαναζωντανέψουμε τους πεθαμένους.

Οι αληθινοί, Michael και Robert σε αντίθεση με τους μυθιστορηματικούς Daniel και Susan κατάφεραν να διαχειριστούν με τεράστια αξιοπρέπεια το τραύμα. Ο ένας μόνο από τους δύο αδερφούς,ο Robert, εξέφρασε μια μετριασμένη αρνητική γνώμη για το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο (βλέπε αρθρο της Gianna Palmer με τίτλο Rosenberg Sons Revisit Secretive Past στο ηλεκτρονικό περιοδικό Forward, 21 Οκτωβρίου 2011) ενώ ο άλλος, ο Michael, το εκθείασε ως έργο μυθοπλασίας διευκρινίζοντας πως δεν έχει ιδιαίτερες ομοιότητες με τον Daniel (I am not much like Daniel) αν και ψάχνει και ξαναζεί και αναζητεί απαντήσεις (βλέπε Cushing Strout, Reconsidering the Rosenbergs: History, Novel, Film, στο Reviews in American History Vol. 12, αριθμ. 3 (Σεπτεμ. 1984), σελ. 309-321) .

Δεν νομίζω πως έχουν καταφέρει να απομυθοποιήσουν τους γονείς τους, αλλά σε τελική ανάλυση αυτό είναι δική τους υπόθεση. Η μετριοπαθής τους στάση απέτρεψε ένα σκάνδαλο που θα πουλούσε ακόμα περισσότερες κόπιες.

"There’s no accounting for taste" και η ζωή συνεχίζεται.
Profile Image for Cherisa B.
521 reviews42 followers
February 11, 2023
The Biblical Book of Daniel is about the end of times with a political scope. Daniel is a prophet to whom God gives visions and insight. We might know the prophet best for getting thrown into into the lion's den and emerging unscathed, but there are many more chapters about his visions of the rise of great kingdoms and wars and political dissolution. In Doctorow's novel, Daniel's book is the thesis of a PhD candidate, Daniel Isaacson, who was the elder child of socialist parents executed for espionage. Loosely based on the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Daniel is trying to make sense of his parent’s story and the aftermath for him and his younger sister. It was Doctorow's first major novel, published in 1971, and fuses Cold War hysteria, anti-Soviet conspiracy theories, hippie culture and rebellion, and commentary on the US's justice system, post-WWII politics and diplomacy, and national culture. There is some novelistic experimentation, such as switching voices (omniscient narrator, Daniel as a child or as an adult) and times (1950s and '60s), abrupt ends of passages, lack of punctuation, etc., but it mostly follows standard conventions that make it fairly easy to follow.

The blend of personal and political, of living with economic and political policies that trickle down into the lives of families, and seeing them at street level and birds-eye and historical views makes this book both insightful and maddening at times. But Doctorow even early in his career was a master, and he pulls it off so the threads form a coherent tapestry of America at a certain time in its history. Though it does not predict an American apocalypse, it illustrates possible seeds of its decline including how our politics leverages conspiracies, and how media and industry (including Disneyland) help manage and narcotize the citizenry while dumbing down our culture and masking the true commercial motives. Spooky, prescient and still relevant 50 years later.
Profile Image for Steve.
820 reviews237 followers
May 31, 2018
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 1971, the hippie stuff doesn't overwhelm or date the novel. If anything, it complements it. The vehicle of (sometimes confusing) narration is Daniel Isaacson, in the (creaky) guise of a stream of consciousness dissertation. The subject of his story is the Isaacson family during the chilly times of the Cold War (and beyond). Some of these family scenes are quite touching, but at its best, The Book of Daniel serves as something of an American history lesson, with primary focus on the commie Left. Doctorow, to my mind, doesn't preach, which is remarkable given the times, and Doctorow's own age (41?) at the time of the book's composition. The reader, much like Daniel, is never really sure just what the Isaacsons' actually did (if anything) as far as espionage goes. Were they set up? And by who? The Communist Party itself (in order to protect the real spies)? The FBI? It's all left murky, and that's a good authorial choice.

Not so good is the scant space given to Daniel's sister, Susan. I suppose that would have messed with Doctorow's narration, but even then it seems like Daniel would have spent more time telling her story. Especially so since he spends considerable time reminding us that he does care for her (and not always in a healthy way). Then again, I don't know if Daniel is capable of such feelings. He has been so twisted by events (at least Doctorow would have the reader believe that to be the case) that he is left a tragic figure just trying to find his own way in this messed up country. I think I would simply call Daniel an asshole. Early on in the book, he commits an act of sexual cruelty on his sweet hippie wife that I found so reprehensible, so disturbed (as in Paris Trout or Faulkner's Sanctuary), that I had some trouble caring about his whiny bitching and riffing on history (though some of these interludes can be fascinating). Doctorow further compounds this by having Daniel slowly, finally, get it together (a chip off the old block after all!) as the Vietnam war protests kick into gear. Sorry Doctorow, Daniel is still a fucktard in my book. You went there, to some sort of Freudian bullshit land (that you seem to return to again and again in your novels), and you can't bring him back. The novel concludes, very improbably, with a confrontation that is meant to be cathartic, truth-seeking, closing the circle, etc., but instead had me thinking it simply a Bad Move by an author caught in a box. The Book of Daniel is a frustrating example of a novel whose often brilliant parts are greater than its whole.
Profile Image for Summer.
298 reviews147 followers
April 27, 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 countercultural antiheroic identity, but it really just takes away from the narrative and doesn't support the text. Otherwise, it was a decent read.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,533 reviews9 followers
September 15, 2015
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 ends up writing when he cannot find a subject for his dissertation.  I would call Daniel a first class a-hole through most of the book.  He confesses to the ill (sadistic?) treatment of his young wife, his sister, his adoptive parents.  He tells the story of his birth parents and their politics as he remembers it.  How the children came to know that first their father and then their mother were jailed for conspiracy; very sad for the kids.  How they felt that  the children's home in which they were then placed equaled their "jail."  How the case can be, and has been, analyzed to death.

I thought the book went all over the place with little or no transition, and it was often too bogged down in details and politics for my tastes. The last third of the book bored me. But I still kept reading (listening) to see what else would happen to Daniel and Susan. And of course it was made 110% better by the narrator, Mark Deakins, my boyfriend.

This makes you wonder about the innocents left behind when grown ups go off to change the world. But not a book I'd strongly recommend.
Profile Image for Panos.
76 reviews
May 9, 2016
Το δεύτερο μυθιστόρημα του Doctorow που διαβάζω (πρώτο ήταν το Ragtime). Πρόκειται για αριστούργημα: καλογραμμένο, με σύνθετη δομή και αριστοτεχνική σκιαγράφηση των χαρακτήρων. Περιστρέφεται γύρω από τον ίδιο άξονα με το Ragtime: την επανεξέταση της ιστορίας, όχι βάσει της επίσημης καταγραφής της, αλλά από τη σκοπιά των "έκκεντρων", των καταπιεσμένων και περιθωριακών φωνών. Ο συγγραφέας στηρίζεται αρχικά σε ένα πραγματικό γεγονός και στη συνέχεια υφαίνει γύρω από αυτό το μυθοπλαστικό του σύμπαν.

Είναι τυπικό παράδειγμα μυθιστορήματος στο οποίο ιστορία και μυθοπλασία διαπλέκονται και, χάρη στον έντονα μεταμυθοπλαστικό χαρακτήρα του και τη διάχυτη ειρωνεία που διαρκώς υποσκάπτει την αλήθεια και αντικειμενικότητα των ντοκουμέντων (κείμενα δημοσιογραφικά, νομικά κ.λπ.) που εντάσσονται στην αφηγηματική ροή, το έργο επιτυγχάνει να προβληματίσει τον αναγνώστη για την ίδια τη φύση της ιστοριογραφίας: μήπως όσα καταγράφονται ως ιστορία είναι απλώς μια κατασκευή; Μια μυθοπλασία;

Στο τέλος του μυθιστορήματος δεν δίνονται ξεκάθαρες απαντήσεις· η αναζήτηση του κεντρικού ήρωα σχετικά με τα γεγονότα του παρελθόντος δεν καταλήγει σε συγκεκριμένα συμπεράσματα. Αυτό που ωστόσο εντυπώνεται με ενάργεια στον αναγνώστη είναι σίγουρα η πολιτική (ψυχροπολεμικό κλίμα και κυνήγι μαγισσών-πρακτόρων), κοινωνική (εξεγέρσεις, διαδηλώσεις) και πολιτισμική (βλ. σελίδες για τη Disneyland) κατάσταση της Αμερικής στις δεκαετίες του '60 και '70.
Profile Image for Jeff Jackson.
Author 4 books478 followers
July 22, 2015
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.
Profile Image for İpek Dadakçı.
192 reviews160 followers
June 20, 2023
Müthiş bir zihnin muazzam bir edebi yetenekle buluşmasının ürünü, çok güçlü ve zengin bir siyasi roman Daniel’in Kitabı. Doctorow’dan daha önce Ragtime/Caz Dönemi’ni okuyup çok beğenmiştim, bu romanını da okuduktan sonra diğer eserlerini de kesinlikle okumak istediğim bir yazar oldu.

Çok güçlü bir Amerikan siyaseti, kültürü ve kapitalist düzen eleştirisi olan kitap, kısaca Julius ve Ethel Rosenberg’in 1953 yılında Sovyet ajanı olma suçuyla yargılanıp idam edilme s��recinden hareketle yazılan bir kurgu. Eser, kız kardeşi intihara teşebbüs eden Daniel’in onu ziyarete hastaneye gitmesiyle açılıyor. Sonrasında, zamanda sıçramalarla kâh 1940-1950 yılları arasına gidip bu iki kardeşin ve ailelerinin geçmiş hikayesine yöneliyor kurgu, kâh bugüne, 1967’ye gelerek şimdiki hayatlarını anlatıyor. Birkaç yerde de Daniel’in doktora teziyle bölünüyor hikaye ve bu kısımlarda da muhteşem metaforlar kullanan Doctorow’un Tevrat’ın bir bölümüyle ABD arasında çok dahiyane bir şekilde paralellik kurduğunu görüyoruz.

Daniel doktora tezi için ailesinin hikayesini yazıya dökerken bir yandan da geçmişle ilgili bazı sorulara cevap arayışına giriyor. Yüzyıl başında Polonya’dan ABD’ye göç eden bir ailenin ikinci kuşağı olan anne ve babası, bu ülkede yaşam mücadelesi verirken, McCarhtycilik ya da Kızıl Panik döneminin kurbanı oluyor ve devlet sırlarını Sovyetler’e satmakla suçlanıyorlar. Bu hikaye ekseninde İkinci Dünya Savaşı’ndan Vietnam’a kadar olan süreçte Amerikan siyasi tarihi ve kültürünü, Soğuk Savaş döneminde yaşananları anlatıyor Doctorow; ABD’nin siyasi tarihindeki kara lekelere tanıklık ederken ABD özelinden hareketle siyasi düzen, kitlelerin manipülasyonu, kamuoyunun ortak düşman ilüzyonuyla yönlendirilmesi gibi daha genel çerçevede de yine çok güçlü fikirlerini okuyoruz yazarın.

Fikirleri kadar anlatım tekniğiyle de çok başarılı ve özel bir roman Daniel’in Kitabı. Gerek yazarın birinci ve üçüncü tekil şahıs anlatıcıyı bir arada kullanması gerek hikayelerdeki zaman sıçramaları nedeniyle dikkati yoğunlaştırarak okunması gereken kitaplardan biri. Hatta ilk 50 sayfada ne olduğunu anlayamıyorsunuz ve yaklaşık 100 sayfadan sonra yavaş yavaş aydınlanmaya başlıyor meseleler. Ancak bunun karşılığını fazlasıyla alıyorsunuz. Doctorow’un metaforları da üzerinde kafa yormayı kesinlikle hak ediyor ve müthiş ironileriyle bir araya gelince bunlardan etkilenmemek de elde değil. Bir insan komünist avını tiye alırken Poe’yu nasıl akıl eder, Disneyland üzerinden nasıl emperyalist düzeni eleştirir tahayyül edemiyorsunuz ama Doctorow’un zekasında görüyorsunuz bunun nasıl mümkün olduğunu ve muhteşem yapılabildiğini.

Kesinlikle okuduğum en iyi siyasi romanlardan biriydi. Politik kurgulardan hoşlananlara, Amerikan tarihi ve kültürüne meraklı olanlara ısrarla tavsiye ederim.

Profile Image for Christopher Saunders.
931 reviews861 followers
September 25, 2020
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 country gripped with Red Fever. Admittedly, it's challenging for a modern reader to embrace a novel that argues the Rosenberg's innocence, yet the book's powerful for rendering a time and capturing a mindset, if nothing else. Not only are its characterizations sharp and on point, Doctorow's recreations of key events (the Peekskill Riots of 1949, the Isaacson/Rosenberg trial and their ultimate execution) evoke the McCarthy era more vividly than many nonfiction works. On the other hand, the novel sags when Doctorow leaps forwards to the present, with characters who seem more shallow symbols than empathetic people, particularly the protagonist's odd, often cruel sexual hang-ups; some authorial devices, like unannounced changes in perspective and seemingly random injections of historical background, clunk as well. But the book's passionate empathy for political outsiders and the victims of hysteria remains a selling point nearly a half-century after its publication.
Profile Image for Steven.
526 reviews34 followers
March 11, 2008
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 suspected communist.

What I remember most from this book is the passages concerning Disneyland and how Doctorow distilled all that is wrong about it so perfectly. I also loved the passages concerning the transplant of organs. Just wonderful and awesome and one that I immediately loved after reading.
Profile Image for Mimi.
1,552 reviews
October 19, 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 misogynistic. This part gets a star, maybe.
How do you reconcile the two? Judicious skimming is definitely recommended.
August 26, 2018
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, I had to be careful and pay attention to ever detail all through the story so that I wouldn't miss a thing... I got mentally tired after reading it, not in a bad way though, in a way a day of hard work that you absolutely love makes you tired...
Idk,,, It just was a great a book... It made you feel the pain by using a very realistic, matter-of-fact language, and that is art!
Profile Image for Nate.
25 reviews
January 30, 2019
Not every leftist is a sexually depraved sociopath like Daniel. For example, I just mostly have a smooth brain and like DQ Blizzards
Profile Image for Amani-Bz.
71 reviews27 followers
January 2, 2020
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 whatever he wants with the story whenever he wants and the narrative shifts so briskly that in the same paragraph- voices, events, time and place all go back and forth and sometimes you get confused especially at the beginning but it still makes sense, you just need to have a background information about the world and America during the cold war( period50s-70s) it was a hard period to live in a time of fear, social upheaval, and chaos and so is this book hard to get into and chaotic but also so beautiful.
Profile Image for Kaycie.
358 reviews1 follower
June 30, 2015
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 and the justice system, as well as those on the margins of all of this mess (the kids and the people they know, as well as the world afterwards).

"The Book of Daniel" took me probably 1/3 of the book to really get into it. The narrator switches from 1st to third person seemingly at random, and is a generally awful person (so super hard to like). This book is also hard. The jumps from past to present combined with the narrator shifts, and the content that it deals with make it one that requires a good deal of thinking. I am so glad I read it, though.

For the reviewers who said that Doctorow was pushing a communist agenda, just replace "communist" with "Muslim" and "Russia" with "Middle East", and you'd have exactly the same book but about post-9/11 America. Terrifying yet? Wasn't there somthing about those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it? *shudder*

One of many favorite (of many great) quotes: "If justice cannot be made to operate under the worst possible conditions of social hysteria, what does it matter how it operates at other times?"

This was my first Doctorow novel, and I knew nothing about him before reading it. What a great choice, and his other books will have a hard time living up.
Profile Image for Leonidas Moumouris.
228 reviews29 followers
October 22, 2022
Ο Doctorow γνωρίζουμε όλοι ότι είναι ένας πολιτικοποιημένος αριστερών πεποιθήσεων συγγραφέας. Στο βιβλίο του Ντάνιελ καταπιάνεται με την ιστορία των Ρόζενμπεργκ που εκτελέστηκαν στις ΗΠΑ για κατασκοπεία.
Πάνω σε αυτό στήνει μια μυθοπλασία που πατάει σε πραγματικά γεγονότα, το αγαπημένο του δηλαδή μοτίβο, αλλά εδώ το γράψιμο του δεν έχει σχέση με οτιδήποτε άλλο έχω διαβάσει δικό του και είναι το τέταρτο βιβλίο που διαβάζω.
Η αφήγησή του αλλάζει από πρωτοπρόσωπη σε τριτοπρόσωπη ακόμα και στην ίδια σελίδα, οι χρονικές στιγμές από τη μια παράγραφο στην άλλη μπορεί να απέχουν 10 χρόνια χωρίς να το περιμένεις και αυτό σου δημιουργεί αρχικα ένα μπέρδεμα και μετά απλά καταλαβαίνεις και χρειάζεται να αφοσιωθείς και να συγκεντρωθεις στην ιστορία που έτσι κι αλλιώς είναι από μόνη της δυνατή.
Εκείνος αν τα καταφέρει να σε βάλει στο λαβύρινθο του, τελειώνοντας θα έχεις διαβάσει ένα βιβλίο που θα το σκέφτεσαι για καιρό και θα ψάχνεις λεπτομέρειες της πραγματικής ιστορίας ή θα σε χαώσει και θα το τρέξεις ή θα το παρατήσεις.
Λεπτομέρειες για την υπόθεση έχουν γραφτεί από άλλους εδώ μέσα, εγώ θα παραθέσω μόνο μια φράση που επαναλαμβάνεται στο βιβλίο και λέει πολλά ακόμα και για την εποχή που ζούμε, τρεις μόνο λέξεις.
Ακόμα μας γαμάνε.
Profile Image for Derrick.
24 reviews14 followers
December 16, 2008
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, though Daniel is pretty hard to like. I ended up having the most sympathy for the lawyers in the book (which is completely shocking and out of character for me), in Daniels adopted parents and the family lawyer.
Though my favorite aspect of this book was the historical value; the Red Scare, Russian history, and just the 60s. So much has gone on in this country, and the world, that is glossed over, brushed under the carpet, or just flat out denied, that we should know about, and since the media and schools won't talk about it, it's up to every citizen to go looking and make themselves informed.
91 reviews25 followers
August 30, 2019
"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 plot).

One may be taken aback by the abrupt and constant change of narrative perspectives. Yet, many critics account this to the fragmented state of the narrator who finds himself torn between a tormenting tragic past and an estranged present.

Doctorow's work is full of emotion and critical input that may change the reader's perspective on Western democracy for ever.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,135 reviews52 followers
February 26, 2023
I am not usually a fan of historical fiction but Doctorow is the one author in this genre whom I revere.

It is tough to say whether I enjoyed Ragtime or The Book of Daniel more, let's just say I liked them equally.

There are many quotable lines in this novel, there is a lot imagery and depth and there are a lot of historical figures. But the story of the main character Daniel, the son of American spies, is compelling. The story follows him as a child when his parents were arrested and executed and then later as a young father himself.

I read somewhere that one of the two Rosenberg children (both are still living) liked this book when it was published in 1970 but the other son was not happy about its publication. If you hadn't guessed the fictionalized story is about them.

5 stars. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Andrew.
2,024 reviews730 followers
January 12, 2021
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 didn't cohere as well as it could have – it came off as a weaksauce version of a minor Philip Roth novel.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,176 followers
March 9, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Kevin Adams.
372 reviews70 followers
April 30, 2022
So far, my favorite Doctorow. Absolutely loved. Creatively told and unabashed. Having Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as the true subjects of this book was riveting from page one. And makes me want to reread The Public Burning. I’ll continue to read the oeuvre of E.L. Doctorow this year but this is tops on the list.
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