Ragtime changed our very concept of what a novel could be, blurring the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imagined characters. The setting is New Rochelle, New York in 1909, and the characters are three remarkable families whose lives become entwined with the likes of Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J. P. Morgan and Sigmund Freud as well as an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose sense of justice drives him to revolutionary violence. Basis for the 1991 movie with James Cagney and the 1998 Broadway musical of the same name .
He wrote twelve novels, three volumes of short fiction and a stage drama. They included the award-winning novels Ragtime (1975), Billy Bathgate (1989), and The March (2005). These, like many of his other works, placed fictional characters in recognizable historical contexts, with known historical figures, and often used different narrative styles. His stories were recognized for their originality and versatility, and Doctorow was praised for his audacity and imagination.
A number of Doctorow's novels were also adapted for the screen, including Welcome to Hard Times (1967) with Henry Fonda, Daniel (1983) starring Timothy Hutton, and Billy Bathgate (1991) starring Dustin Hoffman. His most notable adaptations were for the film Ragtime (1981) and the Broadway musical of the same name (1998), which won four Tony Awards.
Doctorow was the recipient of numerous writing awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Ragtime, National Book Critics Circle Award for Billy Bathgate, National Book Critics Circle Award for The March, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Fiction. Former President Barack Obama called him "one of America's greatest novelists".