Set in turn-of-the-century New York, E L Doctorow’s Ragtime seamlessly blends fictional characters and realistic depictions of historical figures to bring to life the events that defined American history in the years before the First World War. Welcome to America at the turn of the twentieth century, where the rhythms of ragtime set the beat. Harry Houdini astonishes audiences with magical feats of escape, the mighty J P Morgan dominates the financial world and Henry Ford manufactures cars by making men into machines. Emma Goldman preaches free love and feminism, while ex-chorus girl Evelyn Nesbitt inspires a mad millionaire to murder the architect Stanford White. In this stunningly original chronicle of an age, such real-life characters intermingle with three remarkable families, one black, one Jewish and one prosperous WASP, to create a dazzling literary mosaic that brings to life an era of dire poverty, fabulous wealth, and incredible change – in short, the era of ragtime.
With an introduction by Al Alvarez.
Penguin Books, 2006 (1974)