Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

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Knowing your propensity for evil, understanding the genetics that births Corporate/State zombies capable of horrible human suffering, maybe you should read a book? Probably you are just a terrible person.

Read a book.

The truth is stranger than fiction. That’s why E.L. Doctorow’s historical fiction is the best. Wrap your head around the first American sex symbol, Evelyn Nesbit, and her scandalous affairs in New York City.

Evelyn Nesbit 1900

Welcome to the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike where the national guard prevented the children of Lawrence Massachusetts from boarding a train to escape worsening strike conditions.

Look it up! Part of the joy of reading the text is knowing you can search it on wikipedia.

JP Morgan tries to convince Henry Ford they are magical gods sent from ancient Egypt. Ragtime pianist, Coalhouse Walker, was roughed up by a racist gang of volunteer firemen. He became a vigilante hero when he took justice into his own hands.

Pure genius. Seriously fun storytelling. I can’t get enough. Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow.


  1. Fast Before The most startling thing about Ragtime is the pace of the narrative. It never slackens, even to allow direct speech. It moves relentlessly from place to place, person to person, with non-stop description, assertion, connection, reversal. There are crowds and traffic and excitement wherever you look. If there is temporary equilibrium, it is fragile: a tour boat listing first to starboard then to port; a motor car belching steam at the crest of a hill, a chauffeur No One Ever Drove “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

  2. Sometime early in his career E.L. Doctorow figured out a great formula for historical fiction. He takes real life iconic figures from whatever era he’s covering and has them interact in believable ways with his fictional characters. It makes for a “show, don’t tell” scenario that brings history alive. With is set in the decade leading up to WWI. There was a lot going on in those days, especially in a place like New York. It was a period of social unrest, brought on, no doubt, by the great divide between the haves and the have-nots. An upper middle-class family in New Rochelle was one focal point of the book, and a Jewish immigrant and his young daughter were another. Their changing fortunes were charted in revealing ways. A ragtime pianist also featured prominently – as articulate and clean as a President (sorry, Joe Biden has always seemed blunderously funny to me) until racist stupidity on the part of a fire chief pushed his buttons. Doctorow, as usual, weaved the stories together well. He was long on conflict, too, which kept the pages turning.

  3. The novel centers on a wealthy family living in New Rochelle, New York, referred to as Father, Mother, Mother’s Younger Brother, Grandfather, and ‘the little boy’, Father and Mother’s young son. The family business is the manufacture of flags and fireworks, an easy source of wealth due to the national enthusiasm for patriotic displays. Father joins Robert Peary’s expedition to the North Pole, and his return sees a change in his relationship with his wife, who has experienced independence in his absence. Mother’s Younger Brother is a genius at explosives and fireworks but is an insecure, unhappy character who chases after love and excitement. He becomes obsessed with the notorious socialite Evelyn Nesbit, stalking her and embarking on a brief, unsatisfactory affair with her. Into this insecure setup comes an abandoned black child, then his severely depressed mother, Sarah. Coalhouse Walker, the child’s father, visits regularly to win Sarah’s affections. A professional musician, well dressed and well spoken, he gains the family’s respect and overcomes their prejudice initially by playing ragtime music on their piano. Things go well until he is humiliated by a racist fire crew, led by Will Conklin, who vandalize his Model T Ford. He begins a pursuit of redress by legal action but discovers he cannot hope to win because of the inherent prejudice of the system. Sarah is killed in an attempt to aid him, and Coalhouse uses the money he was saving for their wedding to pay for an extravagant funeral. Having exhausted legal resources, Coalhouse begins killing firemen and bombing firehouses to force the city to meet his demands: that his Model T be restored to its original condition and Conklin be turned over to him for justice. Mother unofficially adopts Sarah and Coalhouse’s neglected child over Father’s objections, putting strain on their marriage. With a group of angry young men, all of whom refer to themselves as “Coalhouse Walker”, Coalhouse continues his vigilante campaign and is joined by Younger Brother, who brings his knowledge of explosives. Coalhouse and his gang storm the Morgan Library, taking the priceless collection hostage and wiring the building with dynamite. Father is drawn into the escalating conflict as a mediator, as is Booker T. Washington. Coalhouse agrees to exchange Conklin’s life for safe passage for his men, who leave in his restored Model T. Coalhouse is then shot as he surrenders to the authorities.

    1. I think it is. Allow me to think clearly. Four or five cups of coffee. Something about a bunch of union men pledging their allegiance to the flag. The epiphany is crowning. Give me a moment to birth a golden calf.

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