From that followed bestsellers, movie versions (four of his books have been filmed; "Ragtime" was also made into a hit musical), critical acclaim and major literary prizes.
Although a few of his works have contemporary settings, Doctorow has gravitated toward the historical because "somewhere along the line I realized a period of time was as much an organizing principle for a novel as a sense of place." This has also allowed him to create works that are filled with heightened emotion and indelible set pieces.
"The March," publishing Tuesday, is filled with scenes that seem to have jumped out of a Mathew Brady photo album yet have the richness of finely wrought literature. Still, it's this pictorial quality, the cinematic nature of the work, that seems to stand out.
"I think all of us have learned from the history of film," says Doctorow. "We don't write the way we wrote in the 19th century, because of film. We don't use as much exposition. We do jump cuts. We let the reader find out as he goes along exactly what is happening. We don't overexplain things."