Books: A Student Of History

E.L. Doctorow brings to life the last mad stretch of the Civil War

History. James Joyce called it a nightmare from which he was trying to awake. But for E.L. Doctorow it's more of an ill-defined dream state that he doggedly revisits, working all the while to get the thing decoded. In his best books, like Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, Doctorow mixes historical figures with fictional characters to discover the submerged foundations of the American psyche. His spellbinding new novel, The March (Random House; 363 pages), is one to put beside those, a ferocious reimagining of the past that returns it to us as something powerful and strange.

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