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Billy Bathgate [Hardcover]

E.L. Doctorow
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 4 1993
In 1930's New York, Billy Bathgate, a fifteen-year-old high-school dropout, has captured the attention of infamous gangster Dutch Schultz, who lures the boy into his world of racketeering. The product of an East Bronx upbringing by his half-crazy Irish Catholic mother, after his Jewish father left them long ago, Billy is captivated by the world of money, sex, and high society the charismatic Schultz has to offer. But it is also a world of extortion, brutality, and murder, where Billy finds himself involved in a dangerous affair with Schultz's girlfriend. Relive this story through the title character's driving narrative, a child's thoughts and feelings filtered through the sensibilities of an adult, and the result is E.L. Doctorow's most convincing and appealing portrayal of a young boy's life. Converging mythology and history, one of America's most admired authors has captured the romance of gangsters and criminal enterprise that continues to fascinate the American psyche today.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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From Amazon

In the Bronx of the 1930s, 15-year-old Billy Bathgate hooks up with a legendary mobster, Dutch Schultz. Schultz becomes an unlikely surrogate parent to the boy, introducing him to the ways of the world and training Billy to follow in his footsteps. After Billy falls for Schulz's latest girlfriend, he begins to question the actions of the mob he was so eager to join. As he seeks to protect the young woman, he gains strength in following his own heart and makes a courageous passage from boyhood to adulthood. E.L Doctorow won the 1990 PEN/Faulkner Award for this novel. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the poorest part of the Bronx, in the depths of the Depression, a teenage, fatherless street kid who will adopt the name Billy Bathgate comes to the attention of his idol, master gangster Dutch Schultz. Resourceful, brash, daring and brave, the narrator understands that morality will have no influence in lifting him from his poverty; by hitching his wagon to the mobster's star he can hope to provide his gentle, mad mother and himself with a way to rise out of their desolate existence. The astonishing story of Billy's apprenticeship to Shultz and his education at the hands of the mobster's minions is related by Doctorow with masterful skill, grace and lucidity of prose, inspired inventiveness of scene and true-voiced dialogue. Equally a rollicking adventure and a cautionary tale, both parable of the prodigal son and poignant coming-of-age story, it is mesmerizing reading that soars from the shocking first scene of a gangland execution through episodes of horror, hilarity and sudden, deepening insights. In his odyssey, Billy will learn about human nature as well as extortion and policy rackets; he will travel to the upstate rural community of Onandaga where Schultz will be brought to trial by special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey; he will be exposed to the world of Park Avenue socialites; he will acquire a gun and better manners; he will discover that the "glamor and class" of a big time racketeer is achieved through good business methods as well as violence; he will comprehend the seamy relationship between criminals and politicians, and he will fall in love. Perhaps the most affecting example of the dichotomy that rules his life occurs when, after having witnessed the most vicious brutalities, he returns to the Bronx and goes shopping with his mother for his first suit. In this stunning, lyrical novel, Doctorow has perfected the narrative voice of a lower-class boy encountering the world (surpassing those of the protagonists of Ragtime , Loon Lake and World's Fair ). He falters only in a sentimental, almost fairytale ending that belies the harsh realities by which the narrative is propelled. But so fine and convincing is this story that the reader accepts in its entirety Doctorow's mythical vision, a dark version of the Horatio Alger fable related with a brilliant twist. 100,000 first printing; first serial to GQ and Granta; film rights to Touchstone/Disney; BOMC dual main selection; QPBC featured alternate; major ad/promo.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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First Sentence
He had to have planned it because when we drove onto the dock the boat was there and the engine was running and you could see the water churning up phosphorescence in the river, which was the only light there was because there was no moon, nor no electric light either in the shack where the dockmaster should have been sitting, nor on the boat itself, and certainly not from the car, yet everyone knew where everything was, and when the big Packard came down the ramp Mickey the driver braked it so that the wheels hardly rattled the boards, and when he pulled up alongside the gangway the doors were already open and they hustled Bo and the girl upside before they even made a shadow in all that darkness. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Letters and numbers Oct. 27 2003
Format:Paperback
BILLY BATHGATE is E.L. Doctrow's poignant look at Depression era gangsterism through the eyes of the young boy after whom the book is named. Much to Doctrow's credit, there is no sentimentalizing or romanticizing of criminals here. Almost legendary gangster, Dutch Schultz, who befriends Billy, is depicted clearly as a vicious, sadistic thug teetering on the edge of insanity.
Although it is the Dutchman who takes in the boy, Billy is drawn to Dutch's moll sexually, and to the gang's bookkeeper, Otto Berman, emotionally. Otto is the real key to the book. Billy, like Johnson's Boswell, is drawn to the accountant and his philosophy. Broken down, Otto explains to the boy that things like love, loyalty, knowledge, and spirit are meaningless--none of them can be proven. They are all bound by words. To Otto, words are just words. Numbers, however, is the only true language. One and one will always be two. Numbers never lie. (Spoken like a true accountant.) This has an enormous impact on a young boy whose mother is one step away from the nuthouse, and whose father took off years earlier.
I gave this book four stars because I had just finished re-reading RAGTIME, and this came up a little short. On the other hand, maybe RAGTIME was too high a standard to hold it up to. In any event, this is not your typical gangster novel, as I hope this review has made apparent. It is a complex and profound book and should satisfy the most literary appetite.
Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another book for the misguided youth Aug. 23 2003
By L
Format:Paperback
Its not easy to grow up without a role model. This book is about the need for a boy, Billy, trying to find himself while growing up in a poor neighborhood in New York. Billy's character was a symbol similar to the character Holden Caulfield in the book Catcher and the Rye but the difference between the two characters was that Billy was a little bit less in control of his destiny and was led on more in this story.
The character Billy becomes wrapped up in a gang led by an alcohol smuggler, Dutch Schultz, by doing menial tasks. But also he witnesses something brutal with the execution of one of Dutch's betrayers. Doctorow uses the naivety of Billy to accentuate the emotional scenes in the book and the execution in the beginning is merely one example.
Billy is also expressed as an outcast from society trying to find himself a feel like he belongs somewhere. And that is how he gets wrapped up in the gang and never thinks twice about it. He most importantly wants Dutch to like him for its own sake. Other characters in the book are in the gang for ulterior motives from the accountant to the grunts and drivers, that's to be expected. But for Billy, he just wants to be liked.
I thought that the scenes were pretty enjoyable. It's similar to the book of "The Catcher and the Rye" and the famous film "The Graduate" starring Dustin Hoffman who I believe is in the movie version of this book. Reading this book will make you think like a teenager and might even bring back some memories you might have of being unsure of yourself or wanting to be accepted within a group. It should take a week to a couple of weeks depending on the time in your reading sessions.
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Format:Paperback
Rarely does an award-winning work of literature read as easily as a Michael Crichton paperback. If you are in the mood for a quick read, you would normally turn to the pop fiction selections on your bookshelf and find something mindless and plot driven. If you are looking for a higher level of quality, such as a Pen/Faulker Award winner, you perhaps consciously prepare yourself for the added effort that reading a meaningful, elaborate, character-driven novel entails. You will almost certainly be rewarded for the effort, but it is an effort nonetheless. But in Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow blends the depth, substance, and beauty of a quality work of literature with the pace, suspense, and rhythm of a mafia thriller. The result is an imminently readable novel that is also an important contribution to 20th century fiction.
The plot itself bears much resemblance to countless other mafia stories, filled with shady characters, ruthless hit men, brutal murders, bribing of government officials, and steamy love affairs. The uniqueness lies in the fact that the narrator is a 15-year-old boy, Billy, eager to earn the trust of Dutch Schultz, the mafia kingpin, and his gang. He quickly progresses from simple errand boy, buying cigarettes and coffee, to a position of modest responsibility in this intriguing world of crime. Through Billy's somewhat naïve, innocent eyes, we observe Dutch as he manages his empire, carries out hits against his enemies and disloyal employees, and struggles to evade the attempts of law enforcement to bring him down. The story takes us from New York City to Onondoga, a small town where Dutch's trial eventually takes place. And in the process, we witness the growth of a boy into a young man as he enters a world of big money, intense loyalty, and vindictive violence.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Coming of Age in the 1930's Oct. 28 2001
Format:Paperback
An excellent tale of an aspiring young street tough's initiation into the dangers and excitment of the gangster life, circa the 1930's, this book captures its era and the personalities it portrays with an astonishing verve and veracity. The tone and "voice" feel right, speeding along brilliantly, while the tale, of a young fellow's awakening from gawking naivete to a certain street-smart cynicism, rings remarkably true. If there is a reason for reading fiction today, BILLY BATHGATE offers the perfect example: it is a means for carrying us into places and times now long gone which still may resonate in the contemporary soul. While the hero is a trifle too cloying for my tastes and seems rather more inured to the moral chaos he sees around him than his apparent sensibility suggests he should be, this is, finally, a small fault to find with such a deflty turned tale. Progressing from a 15-year old loner on street corners to mascot of the Dutch Schultz gang, as they hurtle down the spiral of their final decline, the self-named Billy Bathgate insinuates himself into the precarious confidences of this remakably unstable crew. Schultz, himself, the erratic gang leader, has already slipped into a dangerous condition of paranoia and isolation and his hangers-on live from moment to moment in fearful unease, unable to check the excesses of their leader or to separate themselves from him. Billy finds their life oddly mesmerizing as he gets sucked into witnessing outbursts of murder and coldly planned gangland executions, until his role brings him into the orbit of a flighty, if beautiful, society doll. Then a burgeoning adolescent crush seems to awaken him to what he has done and, as in a dream, he begins to seek a way out. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Unlike Billy, the novel fails to mature
Young Billy is green and fresh at the book's opening, and a seasoned young man by its end. Early in the book, you eagerly learn with Billy, through his neophyte eyes. Read more
Published on Dec 23 2002 by Quickhappy
5.0 out of 5 stars An ace of a story!
An engaging story of young "Billy Bathgate," who is enamored with the local Bronx gangsters in the 1930's. Read more
Published on Oct. 12 2002 by S. Griffin
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent story
I've only read two of Doctorow's books, this one and _The Book of Daniel_, and this novel is about as far from daniel as you can get (though both are excellent). Read more
Published on March 17 2002 by adead_poet@hotmail.com
5.0 out of 5 stars A Page turner
Great reading. Great prose. Great subject. What more can a reader ask for?
This is about as romantic as the tenements of New York get.
Published on Feb. 4 2002 by Miami Bob
4.0 out of 5 stars An instant classic!
Characters you care about, some with pathos, others with charisma. A historical time and place that is well-drawn and richly detailed. Read more
Published on Dec 25 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars A boy's urban adventure
Set in 1935, "Billy Bathgate" tells the story of how its title character, a 15-year-old street kid from the Bronx, apprentices himself to one of the most formidable... Read more
Published on July 10 2001 by A.J.
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Easily Forgotten
I recently finished Billy Bathgate, so the book is still fresh in my mind. I have to say, as a first-time reader of Doctorow, that I was not disappointed, and that I was definitely... Read more
Published on April 12 2001 by Scooper
3.0 out of 5 stars okay, but not up to snuff
Billy Bathgate is a young street urchin who attaches himself to Dutch Schultz and his mob & proceeds to narrate Dutch's decline and fall. Read more
Published on Oct. 13 2000 by Orrin C. Judd
4.0 out of 5 stars First Doctorow Experience
In Billy Bathgate, Doctorow writes a coming of age book about a 15-year-old boy from the Bronx. The story is set in the late 20's and early 30's. Read more
Published on Aug. 4 2000
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