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World's Fair

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  3,730 ratings  ·  297 reviews
"Something close to magic." The Los Angeles Times

The astonishing novel of a young boy's life in the New York City of the 1930s, a stunning recreation of the sights, sounds, aromas and emotions of a time when the streets were safe, families stuck together through thick and thin, and all the promises of a generation culminate in a single great World's Fair . . .
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 10th 2007 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1985)
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Richard Conrath We are using it in our Men's Book Club here in Naples. So far a great book--nostalgic and simple in tone (but beautifully written). Doctorow takes su…moreWe are using it in our Men's Book Club here in Naples. So far a great book--nostalgic and simple in tone (but beautifully written). Doctorow takes su back to the days when our country moved at a slower pace. Lots of problems back in the 20s and 30s for sure--but a simpler life in that TV had not appeared and the radio was in its inception as a form of mass communication, eventually knocking the newspaper off its lofty pedestal. I'm looking forward to Doctorow's discussion of the World's Fair. (less)
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3.83  · 
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 ·  3,730 ratings  ·  297 reviews

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Hope Is Where You Find It

Doctorow's World's Fair is, for me, an important document touching on family history. My mother was 11 years old when she visited Flushing Meadows in 1939 and it influenced her life as significantly as it did Doctorow's. Both he and his avatar 'Edgar' were two years younger than my mother. New York City was (and of course largely still is) a city of immigrants and the children of immigrants. In other words it is a place of constant dislocation and dissolution. It doesn't
Jul 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m not sure what you’d call this (memoir? novel? cultural history book?), but whatever it is, it works. Young Edgar, bright and observant, describes Jewish family life as he knew it growing up in the Bronx in the 1930’s. E. L. Doctorow (E for Edgar) presumably didn’t stray far from his own experiences to write this. The boyhood sketches spanned the whole decade, ending the year of New York’s iconic Fair when Edgar was 9. It was told in a voice that combined a kid’s sense of wonder with an adult ...more
Connie G
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Adult Edgar Altschuler is looking back on his 1930s childhood with the wonder and fears of a young boy. The story is full of the sights and sounds during the Great Depression in New York City. In the background in their Jewish household radio reports tell about Hitler's advances. This is not a book with a lot of action, but it's a good character study of a boy growing up in that era. Although it is fiction, E.L. Doctorow incorporates events from his own childhood into the story.

Two visits to the
Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
I believe World’s Fair is a literary reproduction by E. L. Doctorow of his own childhood – the novel is so compassionate and it is full of authentic feelings.
I imagined houses as superior beings who talked silently to each other.

Child’s imagination, child’s fantasies and memories of our childhood are all dear to us. And I suppose there is always some central recollection that remains with us during our entire life.
My father had predicted the Fair would be good for business. He explained that p
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The World’s Fair was written by E.L. Doctorow and won the National Book Award in 1986. It is largely an autobiographical novel of a boy, Edgar, growing up in the Bronx in the 1930’s. His fun-loving father owns a prominent music store. His mother is the adult in the relationship who constantly worries about the finances which are tight during the Depression even before his father loses the store. At some point young Edgar begins to figure out what romantic relationships are about and what his dad ...more
I wanted to like this more than I did. It is filled, filled, filled with accurate details of life in the Bronx during the 30s, ending in 1940 with the New York World's Fair. Everything is described, and all is well described - the news, the clothes, the food, new inventions, the street life, games, parks, Jewish traditions. This is a secular Jewish family. Seeing the Hindenburg airship was excitingly told to site just one fun episode. What you get is a million and one descriptions. The book ends ...more
Will Byrnes
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Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
"World's Fair" is a novel that sort of creeps up on you. It has no discernable plot; it is merely snippets of moments in a young Jewish boy's life in New York City in the 1930s. It is a very detailed work; E.L. Doctorow creates the sense of place vividly. You are there when he describes something.
The book is told from the perspective of Edgar Altschuler, a young man looking back on details of his youth. Of the text's 31 chapters all are from his point of view with the exception of four from his
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This was a wonderful story of a boy growing up in the 1930s. He happens to be in the Bronx, but except for not climbing trees, he could have been almost anywhere in the US. He has an imagination. He reads and the characters in his book become part of his playing. He has adventures, mostly of his imagination, but a few real ones. Over the course of the novel, he grows from a pre-schooler to a boy in the fifth grade.

In the "olden days" you waited until the baby was born to find out whether a boy o
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. It is set in the Bronx of the 30s. My mother grew up there in those days and told me many stories about it. Reading about Morris High School (her alma mater), the Grand Concourse, Jerome Avenue, the automat, and more made it seem very special to me, although I haven't seen any of those places for nearly 50 years and then only once. It was kind of like City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder, a well-loved book of my youth, and Radio Days, one of my favorite films. Will pr ...more
Andy Weston
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set during the 1930s this is the story of the boyhood of Edgar Altschuler growing up in the Bronx. It is wonderfully told and set against the backdrop of the Depression and the start of the Second War.

The best books have memorable passages. When I look back to my favourites that is what stands out, and World’s Fair has plenty of them. These key passages for me are ones that resonate with my own childhood, albeit three or four years older than Edgar.

Edgar’s appreciation of music comes from his
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nearly perfect coming of age story, set in NYC, during the 1930s, capping off with the World's Fair in '38. This looks to be based on Doctorow's early life.
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-books, owned
hmmm...this is going to sound lame-ass, but when a book is titled 'world's fair' and the fair in nyc is noted on the jacket kind of expect the world's fair to be an anchor in the story. it's not. not until nearly the very end of the book. so that was a bit weird for me.

but...E.L. DOCTOROW! there. i feel better getting that out of my system.

the man is awesome-sauce. in reading this autobiographical story, i loved the interesting blend of memoir-type remembrances, (doctorow's first name
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
While I was reading this book, I thought--THIS is why I read books. We can't experience everything during our lives. I will never walk on the Moon--or go to Middle Earth or Pellucidar, for that matter. If we use our imaginations, guided by good writing, we can gain new experiences beyond what is possible in our own lives. That's how I feel about E.L. Doctorow's book "World's Fair," published in 1985. I felt like I was living in the Jewish community in the Bronx in the 1930s, growing up along wi ...more
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
World’s Fair is the story of a Jewish boy growing up in New York in the ‘30s. It’s told in his voice, with occasional chapters written from the point of view of family members—as if the boy, now older, had questioned them about his childhood and family. There are dual forces at work here—present and future, freedom and restriction, mother and father, fact and fiction (for it seems that much of this book is autobiographical)--perhaps all represented by the Trylon and Perisphere sculptures of the ...more
Roger DeBlanck
Jan 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, favorites
World’s Fair is a marvelous and heartwarming novel of a young boy’s coming of age. Taking place before the Second World War in Doctorow’s hometown of New York City, the book relives a quest for memory through the recollections of the young protagonist, simply referred to as Edgar. The novel captures the time period in all its momentousness and brings loveliness and compassion to the occurrences of everyday life. The story's energy and lyricism generate a magical feeling around the valuable lesso ...more
Adam Rabiner
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some readers have been frustrated by this book's lack of a strong plot or storyline along the lines of Billy Bathgate or Ragtime but what it lacks in this regard it makes up in other ways. The characters are to me more realistic than in his other more conventional novels. The family members' personalities and characteristics are captured vividly as are childhood memories, concerns, anxieties, fears, excitements, and play. The protagonist is a bright and engaging young boy and the narration is bo ...more
I read this book at the same time as Jane Smiley's upcoming novel Some Luck, which was an interesting experience. While Smiley's characters are given voices appropriate to their age (a child sees the world through a child's eyes), Doctorow's Edgar is looking back at his childhood and waxing philosophic. There are also a few odd chapters here and there told by other characters, as if written in a letter to Edgar. Interesting and unique story structure for an interesting and unique story. For a lo ...more
Bob Redmond
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: americana
From the jacket, and true: "World's Fair is better than a time capsule; it's an actual slice of a long-ago world, and we emerge from it as dazed as those visitors standing on the corner of the future." [--Anne Tyler]

Yep... Doctorow's craft is dated (uh, like Tolstoy is dated); to read it is to watch the literary equivalent of a furniture maker who doesn't use nails. The story, which won the National Book Award in 1986, takes you back to the late 1930's and fixes your gaze towards the present. "L
Harold Titus
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair chronicles Edgar Altschuler’s recollections of his first ten years of existence, the growth of his childish awareness of the difficulties of life, and the personal handicaps placed on him as he attempts to acquire self-assurance and experience happiness. Edgar is a Jewish boy growing up in New York City’s Bronx during the rise of Nazism in Germany. His health is problematic. His family’s economic stability is tenuous. His parents’ relationship is combative. The youn ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

While this book was enjoyable overall, certain aspects yielded mixed feelings. My only other Doctorow novel prior to this was Ragtime, which easily secured a place among my favorite books of all time—intricate and gorgeously written. It was through this novel that I discovered Doctorow’s dazzling flair for historical fiction, for reimagining vivid panoramas of the past and immersing one in the sight, sounds, and smells of a bygone era. I can’t sing enough praises for that novel. So, when I
Robin Friedman
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The late E.L. Doctorow's (1931 -- 2015) novel "World's Fair (1985) is a lyrical autobiographical story about growing up in the New York City during the Depression.. Most of the book is told in the first person by an adult, "Edgar", who reflects upon his childhood up to the age of about nine. The adult writer has also approached family members for their reminisces, and some chapters of the book are in the words of the boy's mother, Rose, brother, Donald, father, Dave, and his Aunt Frances.

A beaut
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the writing style for the most part - the snobby adult voice in the body of a child narrator. It did drag a bit at times, and I felt like the chapters from other characters' perspectives were unnecessary. If you're looking for plot you won't find much here but a satisfying read nonetheless.
Oct 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Many thanks to Steve, who picked up this book at the 2009 Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago. If not for his enthusiastic suggestion that I read it, I would have missed this simple but powerfully truthful story of a young Jewish kid growing up in the Bronx during the Depression. World's Fair is structured as a series of memories mostly recounted by Edgar, whom we first meet as a pre-schooler and last see as a fifth-grader who's sorted out some of life's questions and seems ready to take on a few ...more
Sarah Coleman
Mar 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This autobiographical novel is very evocative of New York in the 1930s. Compared to Doctorow's other novels like 'Ragtime' it could be considered small-scale, but it is so rich in detail and atmosphere that the scale hardly matters. The narrative is delivered by a grown man reflecting back on his childhood in a Jewish section of the Bronx in the 1930s. He captures both personal and political events with a child's sense of awe and half-understanding. There's certainly a lot going on, with the Dep ...more
Sep 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
E.L. Doctorow's 'World's Fair' is amazing. It's easily one of the most evocative expressions of childhood that I've read.

The story - largely autobiographical - takes place in the 1930s, at war's brink. The World's Fair is taking place in NYC, and young Edgar, a Jewish kid, is desperate to attend. What unfolds between the start of the book and the inevitable trip to the Fair is nothing short of brilliant.

Keenly-felt explanations of what it meant to be a youth in the 30s (and a Jew) are offered w
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the juicy language and especially how Doctorow brings to life common childhood experiences, with all their mystery and confusion, in such rich and gratifying detail.
Pamela Mclaren
An endearing and timeless story about a young boy who grows up in New York during the 30s. Remember, this is the time before America got into the second World War; its the time where Americans are still looking to the future envisioned in part during the World's Fair.

Its also a time of change for Edgar's family. And it is this, rather than the momentous times in which they live that are at center stage. And we see it through young Edgar's eyes.

This is a rare treat of a book — there are scary thi
Mike Zickar
A truly enjoyable book written with such a gentle eye of observation from the boy narrator. There really isn't a plot to this novel (I would classify this more as a memoir, though I have no idea how true it is to Doctorow's childhood), it is the chronicle of roughly the first 9 years of life for the narrator, a kid growing up in the South Bronx of the 1930s. This is written with such tenderness and attention to detail that it felt like I was reliving my own childhood, even though our paths were ...more
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
World's Fair is a book which made this reader feel like he was holding a series of jewels up to his eye and reveling in the sheer loveliness of them. It's a novel that gives the sensations of discovery and enlightenment that the very earliest moments of literary awareness gave me in my youth. This is either a novel garbed in memoir, or a memoir viewed through the patina of a novel, but in either case, World's Fair is an incredibly moving and engaging book to read.
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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 presidentia ...more
“I knew he was unreliable, but he was fun to be with. He was a child’s ideal companion, full of surprises and happy animal energy. He enjoyed food and drink. He liked to try new things. He brought home coconuts, papayas, mangoes, and urged them on our reluctant conservative selves. On Sundays he liked to discover new places, take us on endless bus or trolley rides to some new park or beach he knew about. He always counseled daring, in whatever situation, the courage to test the unknown, an instruction that was thematically in opposition to my mother’s.” 12 likes
“The Shadow had no imagination. He neither looked at naked women nor thought of ridding the world of dictators like Hitler or Mussolini.” 6 likes
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