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Ragtime Audiobook

Ragtime

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Publisher's 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

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (761 )
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3.8 (597 )
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  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 01-03-14
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 01-03-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Syncopated, tight, urgent historical novel"

    So my first book of 2014 isn't even on my to-read list. Must be good. Yes, in fact it is the killer historical novel of the Ragtime era. It is the big uncle to late 90s Philip Roth ('I Married a Communist', 'American Pastoral') , Don DeLillo ('Libra', 'Underworld'), Gore Vidal ('Empire, Hollywood') & Norman Mailer* (Executioner's Song & Harlot's Ghost) novels which seem to all bend a little to the wind that blew out of this syncopated, tight, urgent historical novel. Doctorow captures a swift and direct channel of New York's energy, contradiction, growth, insecurity, isolation as America transformed between the late 1800s and early 1900s. It captured the race, immigrant, monied, and cultural changes that griped New York as cars were beginning to roll down the streets and planes and Houdini were both beginning to float, briefly, in the air.

    * Doctorow actually edited Norman Mailer's 'An American Dream' so it might seem odd to call Doctorow a literary uncle to Mailer since 'Ragitme' was originally published in 1974, but as most large families invariably find some nephews ARE actually older than their biological uncles. But I still hold that 'Ragtime' was influential on Mailer's later historical novels and even nonfiction. OK, so, perhaps Mailer and Doctorow are more like kissing cousins. Fine. I'll call them cousins.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
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    P 04-05-14
    P 04-05-14
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    "Why couldn't it all be as good as its best?"
    If you could sum up Ragtime in three words, what would they be?

    Moments of greatness


    Would you be willing to try another book from E. L. Doctorow? Why or why not?

    Yes. He's a suburb writer and can spin a great story. Parts of Ragtime were so good I couldn't get them out of my mind for days. But seeing his best then makes the less successful chapters seem a little lazy.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The early chapter walking through the horrors of industrial America on the working class was as good as Leaves of Grass -- powerful, lyrical, and fast paced.


    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dubi New York, NY 07-20-14
    Dubi New York, NY 07-20-14
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    "Ragtime Still in Sync"

    As I revisit some of the landmark works from my younger days, in literature, film, music, whatever, I discover that some remain as fresh as ever, the very definition of classic, while others do not withstand the test of time -- time may have passed them by, or maybe so much time has passed me by that I am no longer able to see in them what I saw back then.

    Ragtime holds its own forty years later. I read the book when it was originally published, found the movie version just OK, and stayed away from the musical version because I stay away from all musicals as much as possible. I had no particular plans to re-read it, but being immersed this past year in the world of audiobooks, I could not resist listening to it because of one reason -- E.L. Doctorow himself is the narrator.

    It's just about a truism that one will always get more out of a book when an author reads his own work. But this is a step beyond. Ragtime was hailed, rightly so, for its lyrical writing style, so hearing Doctorow read it in (what I assume) is the way he wrote it, that's a real treat. Surprisingly, after quoting Scott Joplin in his epigraph, saying that ragtime is meant to be played slowly, Doctorow narrates rather quickly, but this is no complaint -- the pace is perfect.

    Ragtime music is noted for is syncopated rhythm. Doctorow clearly was inspired to apply that syncopated style to what would normally be called historical fiction, although that term does not do him enough justice. He masterfully interweaves the tales of three fictional families with a stream of true historical characters from the early years of the 20th century, taking on issues of social, racial, and economic justice that still resonate today, and the rhythm is perfectly timed.

    Many works of historical fiction are described using a visual metaphor -- as tapestries. Ragtime is all of that, but it also appeals your another sense, with the musical metaphor of the title.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 07-17-14
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 07-17-14 Member Since 2005
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    "Hot times in the nineteen-o’s"

    This is one of those books I had to read for class in high school, but which was somewhat wasted on me at the time. I didn’t know enough about history and adult psychology to really appreciate Doctorow’s portrait of the roiling, chaotic, ever unsatisfied nature of turn-of-the-20th century America, with its class struggles, expanding immigrant population, media celebrities and their sordid scandals, racism, squalor, and energetic search for something better.

    This is a novel where the author’s technique shines as much as his story or characters. Assuming an omniscient, godlike point of view that seems to pay homage to John Dos Passo’s America Trilogy, Doctorow swoops above the day, taking in the events of the newspaper headlines, then zooming down into dining rooms, meeting halls, and bedrooms, for a closer look into his characters lives, then diving into their thoughts and emotions, before flying away again. This approach creates a sense of urgency and burgeoning unrest, not surprising in a novel written soon after the late 1960s.

    The story blends history with the lives of a fictional middle-class white family in a New York City suburb, who are named only as Father, Mother, Younger Brother, and The Boy. The bourgeois Father owns a business that sells patriotic supplies, and joins Robert Peary on his expedition to the North Pole, which seems to mark an apex of Father’s life. Younger Brother is a troubled young man who obsesses over an equally troubled young starlet, the real Evelyn Nesbit, and loses himself in designing fireworks, then in radicalism. When Mother takes in a young, unwed black women and her infant, the family becomes involved with a successful, cultured black pianist named Coalhouse Walker, who refuses to back down from his demands for redress after his car is vandalized by a racist fire chief. Things escalate, and the Family finds itself connected to a righteous terrorist, who acts out a fantasy that many blacks at the time probably had.

    This central plot, though absorbing, is only an eye of the storm for the rest of the book. Doctorow spends as much time with other figures, fictional or historical, whose energies intersect and rise into the same sublime madness. An immigrant Jew living in the slums of New Yorks, who struggles after a better life for his daughter and is pulled towards a new industry. Anarchist labor organizer Emma Goldman, who gives a scathing critique of capitalist society and its moral hypocrisies. Plutocrat J.P. Morgan, who searches for higher purpose, now that he’s achieved the pinnacle of success and found it wanting, and fellow capitalist Henry Ford, who gives a folksy comeuppance. Escapist artist Harry Houdini, who pushes back against his own inner emptiness with ever more dangerous and unreal stunts.

    This is a brilliant book, swirling with color and energy, but also wit and insight into the psyche of America at a significant moment. There’s a strong whiff of counterculture and the kind of creative, what-if reimagining of hidden moments of history that I enjoyed in Doctorow’s Civil War novel The March. Readers who dislike the cinematic, somewhat fanciful staging of such scenes, or prefer a more conventional, grounded plot might not enjoy this book, but I’d recommend Ragtime to anyone who wants to better understand the US, or this time period in particular.

    Doctorow, who obviously isn’t a trained voice actor, narrates his own audiobook. The recording isn’t of great quality, being a little muffled in places and making him sound like he has a cold. Still, I appreciated knowing that all the verbal emphasis in the reading was just as the author intended.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
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    MiMi Travel Nashville, TN USA 01-26-15
    MiMi Travel Nashville, TN USA 01-26-15 Member Since 2015
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    "Amazing story!"

    This was a required reading book for one of my college courses and it was one the first times I'd actually really enjoyed a required book! It's a wonderfully told story that has many adult elements, but the writing style makes it a light and easy read. The only complaint I have is the narrator (who's the author of the book). He does an okay job but I really wish there was more emotion. His voice was so calm and peaceful that I almost wanted to fall asleep!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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    B. Siemens Vancouver, BC 07-05-14
    B. Siemens Vancouver, BC 07-05-14 Member Since 2017
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    "Left me breathless--not in a good way"

    Having read some very positive reviews, I had high hopes for this book. E.L. Doctorow narrates his own book and his lack of breath control was the first thing that I noticed. He gasps for air multiple times during a sentence and swallows consonants. It affected how I was breathing while listening to him. I had to stop after 30 minutes. Sad, that. I have no idea about the story--couldn't focus.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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    Shirley DELTONA, FL, United States 04-25-14
    Shirley DELTONA, FL, United States 04-25-14 Member Since 2002
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    "waste of time"

    This book consists of a bunch of rambling scenes that never really connect. There are far too many characters and none are fully developed - just a glimpse here and there. Many scenes are included just for shock value - and the value is not much in my opinion.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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    Andrea 02-16-16
    Andrea 02-16-16 Member Since 2016
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    "Only read this for a class."

    I absolutely HATED this book. There's no storyline, so it's random and boring. Sure, most of the characters were real people, but that doesn't make this book okay. It was so dry. I downloaded the audiobook, only because I could not pay attention when trying to read the book alone. It was still hard to pay attention listening to it. I have no idea how my professor has read this book 20 times and loved it. It's just SO BORING. Nothing interesting happens until the end, and it still wasn't exciting enough to draw me in.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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    Amy 06-30-14
    Amy 06-30-14
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    "Good Historical Novel. Needs Professional Narrator"
    Any additional comments?

    This book was a little hard to get into as an audiobook (and probably in its written format) because it spends so much time setting a historical stage and introducing a mulititude of characters. That said, if you stay with the story you can start to see novel take form and watch the divergent story lines cross and merge. I have to say that it's the opposite of melodrama in that the characters are tightly drawn. Often its enough and sometimes you wish you had more insight, but it was never overblown.


    I have to say that this book was done a disservice by having it narrated by the author. I think the author has a fine reading voice and enough intonation to be a decent narrator in most context. However, most audio book narrator's are professional performers way better voice quality, tone, and performance ability.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Mcferran Georgetown, IN 05-09-14
    J. Mcferran Georgetown, IN 05-09-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Ragtime: Engaging mixture of fact & fiction"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, I would. The book held my interest well. I love stories involving several story lines, and am always pleased when the author weaves them together well as in this novel. The mixture of fact and fiction breaths life into the story - there is a lot of history presented in novel setting - yet it's never boring or overbearing but manages to be instructive and engaging at once.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Mother - I loved her compassion and strength in defying social censure when she not only rescues Sarah, but then raises her baby as one of her own. Also Tateh and his daughter - I loved their rags to riches story. But only slightly more than other story lines - all of which I liked. Many of the characters are well developed and the author has a subtle and deft hand at fleshing them out.


    What about E. L. Doctorow’s performance did you like?

    I liked the timbre of his voice - he was a pretty good reader - clear and easily understood. However, he wasn't a great reader. He starts out telling us that it is never right to play Ragtime fast, and says he makes that the epigraph of his novel - but he would have done well to also follow that advice in his performance. There are sections of the novel where it feels he is racing through it rather than telling the story as a story teller should. In addition, he mispronounces more than a handful of words - which is really odd as he is the author. My guess is that he is familiar with the words through reading, but has not heard them pronounced aloud. Overall, though he is far from my favorite narrator, I thought he did a pretty solid job and I wouldn't mind listening to him perform another book.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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