Summary

Ragtime, a classic work of historical fiction first published in 1975, details the lives of three families in early 20th-century New York. The novel interweaves fictional characters with actual historic events and figures. The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. Almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.
A rich tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in a unique historic context.
Time magazine included the novel in its Time 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923-2005.
©1997 E. L. Doctorow (P)1997 E. L. Doctorow
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Critic reviews

"Doctorow does a fairly nice job reading his justly celebrated portrait of 1906 America. He has a sandy, pleasant, lightly accented voice and a fine sense of the dramatic." ( AudioFile)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Darryl on 19-09-13

Good book, passable narration

I like the novel. It is written in a rather newspaper-ish/history book type style and blends in fictional people with historical, most notably Houdini, and still delivers a good story with people you care about revolving around racism in NY. I would say that Doctorow isn't quite the stylist I thought he was, and like many authors reading their own work, not a good narrator. He does have the virtue of reading quickly and moving along so that it never drags. He does not do voices very well at all, to the point there is no differentiation between characters, but again this can be overlooked as the story moves briskly and is filled with historical tidbits that never let my interest flag. Compared to the Pynchon Bleeding Edge narration debacle, this is a masterpiece of voice work. It would be nice to see it redone some day by a better reader, but until then this will work.

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13 of 14 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By connie on 05-10-08

too good for words

Too good for my words, anyway! I downloaded this because it was cheap and I was dimly aware that was supposed to be a good novel (but must confess that I am a Can Lit and Brit Lit fan and not so much interested in Americana - so I didn't approach the listen with great expectations.) I think it one of the most fascinating novels I've ever come across! I can't believe I was given a degree in literature and history without being advised to read this imaginative cross pollination somewhere along the way.

Doctorow begins by telling us that he is going to "say" us a novel. So -- he is not a professional narrator with stage voices- but in this case author narration works wonderfully. I felt like I was sitting at his feet listening as he invented the tale. I am going to buy a paper copy, and I know that I will listen to the audio again. Though it was written before folks began to think of how a book would "Play" in audio, it is one of the few novels that I will have enjoyed more in audio than paper format I think.

I am motivated to see Milos Foreman's film version, too, though that seems to represent only a small part of the novel as a whole from what I've read..

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48 of 54 people found this review helpful

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