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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 April 2013
The notorious Dutch Schultz gang is revered by the young deprived boys of the Bronx, among them and no less impressed is Billy Bathgate who is keen to become involved, so when the chance arises he does not hold back and soon this precocious young fifteen year old finds himself accepted into the gang. This is the world of protection rackets, gang enforced business monopolies and tax evasion set against the background of drive by shootings and big black Packards.

Billy's diligence, inventiveness and initiative is such that very soon Schultz is referring to Billy as his protege. We follow Billy's rise within the gang, and his various assignments through to the ultimate fate of the gang, and to what becomes of Billy thereafter.

The shear beauty of the prose is enough to keep one going through this involving account, even if I did hesitate when just a few pages in it seemed we were going to witness a brutal gang retribution; while the horrors of gang life are there it never descended into any unnecessary gruesomeness, but maintains the emphasis on the individuality of the various characters, primarily the members of the gang and the beautiful young women who becomes involved with Schultz, and through such, Billy.

Billy Bathgate is a most involving novel, the character of the title is most endearing, but above all it is the high quality of the flowing prose that is the real pleasure of this book.
3 people found this helpful
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I'm a Doctorow fan, but this one did not get to me. A slow and disjointed story which I was glad to get through . I had no fealings for the characters and latterly I couldn't care less for the " plot".
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on 30 July 2017
Loved the language,the writing and was totally drawn in by the story. One of those books to be read slowly and mindfully a marvellous alternate reality brilliantly evoked.
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on 8 January 2016
Given the theme, a brilliant book,
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on 4 October 2013
Doctrow writes a descriptive narrative that presents a clear picture of the mob activities in New York during the 1930s but avoiding the common pitfall of the descriptions becoming protracted and tedious.

The narrator of the story is the eponymous Billy Bathgate a smart but poorly educated teenage apprentice gangster from the New York Bronx and describes his journey into a life of serious crime in the concluding days of the Dutch Shultz gang. It is difficult to reconcile how someone with a limited education can write such flowing sophisticated prose until you reach the end of the novel when it becomes apparent.

There perhaps have been better stories published on this subject but few have been better written.
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on 9 May 2016
Gave up after 30 pages. Film is much better.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 27 February 2007
Much of E.L Doctorow's finest writing celebrates the vibrancy, brashness, and diversity of New York City. Doctorow's novels also show a fascination with secular Jews -- with individuals who abandon traditional Jewish religious practice and adopt various other types of life. Thus, "The Book of Daniel" explores New York City in the 1940s in a historical novel based upon the Rosenbergs. Doctorow's remarkable novel, "City of God," explores contemporary New York City in the context of secular Jews and of highly liberal Jews who have adopted beliefs and practices far different from traditional Judaism.

In "Billy Bathgate", Doctorow offers an unforgettable picture of gangland New York City and of Jewish mobsters dominated by the figure of Dutch Schultz, as Doctorow takes the reader away from the humdrum everyday and into a world of rawness, danger, and excitement. Life needs its dangers and risks, Doctorow seems to be telling the reader, if it is not to be stupyfing, dull, and conventional.

"Billy Bathgate" is a coming-of-age story set in the New York City underworld of the 1930s. The book is told in the first person by its hero, the fifteen-year old Billy (who takes the name "Bathgate" from the chief commercial street in the East Bronx) who becomes attached to the gang led by the notorious Dutch Schultz (1902 -- 1935), born Arthur Flegenheimer to a poor Jewish family in the Bronx. The book is told in a breathy, highly excitable and emotive style appropriate to the voice of its young, naive protagonist. Billy's father had disappeared when the boy was young, and Billy lives with his poor, at best marginally sane mother. He seems destined for a life of petty thievery and cheap tawdry sex until Dutch Schultz notices the boy juggling on a street corner near a beer drop-off. Billy ingratiates himself with the Schultz gang in its declining days. Schultz becomes a father-figure to Billy. Schultz basks in the attention he receives from the boy and in his public notoriety.

Doctorow has written a richly-textured historical novel which shows us New York City and the gangland world. While the reader comes to understand and sympathize with Billy, Doctorow does not allow the reader to lose site of the random viciousness of gangland life. There are scenes of shocking violence and killing, the most fully developed of which involves the murder of Schultz' former associate, Bo Weinberg. Dutch Schultz in all his brutality and intensity come to life in this book as do the members of his inner circle. His chief lieutenant, Otto Berman, known as "Abadabba" Berman, a mathematical genius, becomes a mentor to Billy and is one of the most sharply-drawn characters in the novel. At great peril to himself, Billy becomes involved with Schultz' final mistress. This affair becomes the focal point of his coming to a degree of self-understanding. Rival gangs and New York officialdom, including District Attorney Thomas Dewey also receive a rich portrayal.

Much of the symbolism of the book revolves around the use of words and of change, as Billy Bathgate, Abadabba Berman, and Dutch Schultz, among others, adopt names not their own. Billy's skill at juggling, which appears at many points in the book, becomes a metaphor for the importance of adopting to change and of being light on one's feet if one is to succeed in the world. As Berman counsels Billy in many of their astonishing conversations, only the numbers are real while words change. Religion, and Jewish-Christian relations play a role in this book as well, illustrating the theme of constant change, as Dutch Schultz appears to convert from Judaism to Catholicism late in the novel. The book captures the fast-paced, slangy style of speech of its protagonists and includes as well heady, striking, and detailed passages of description.

This is a tough-minded novel, a gripping read, and, in its own way, an inspring tale. "Billy Bathgate" is an unforgettable work by one of the United States' major living storytellers.
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on 3 October 2014
It was in German, had to return this twice!
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on 6 February 2015
the book of Billy Bathgate was printed in German so I could not read it
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on 5 August 2011
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Billy Bathgate. I love what Doctorow manages to do with language, at first it's like a fast flowing river, then it slows down and eventually it reaches the sea. Brilliant.
3 people found this helpful
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