The Book of Daniel

The Book of Daniel Summary and Analysis of “om om om omm omm omm omm om om ommmmmm” – “The Truman Doctrine will not be announced as a policy…”


The section opens with a strange poem, meditation, or song featuring multiple ohms and enigmatic lines such as “what is it that moves through others, comes from the sky and is invisible, can only be detected after it’s gone – not God, not the Lone Ranger…”

Daniel continues his narrative by discussing a University of Virginia review of the trial that concluded there were several errors in due process. Robert Lewin is trying to reverse the verdict, but Daniel found himself getting tired of the reformers. He expresses his feeling that “we are dealing with a failure to make connections. The failure to make connections is complicity. Reform is complicity.” At the library, Daniel has several books on the trial featuring differing perspectives on the conviction and penalty before him.

Daniel imagines a party held after the trial whose guests include Robert Lewin; Judge Hirsch; Ascher; the writers of opposing views on the trial, Margolis and Krieger; Feuerman; the frequent testifier for the government, Talking Tom; the famous anti-Communist expert, Boris Brill; Mindish; and the Isaacsons.

Daniel returns to his childhood memories, picking up from where he left off after he and Susan escaped from the East Bronx Shelter. Ascher takes him before Judge Greenblatt of the Children’s Court. The two men argue until Judge Greenblatt calls the children to his bench. He asks them if they are happy at the Shelter. Both are terrified; Susan will not answer any questions. Ascher protests and the judge decides to take all three into his private chambers. He explains that he is trying to ascertain whether or not it would be better for Susan and Daniel to remain in the Shelter or to be placed with a family. Ascher believes Paul and Rochelle’s wishes should be honored; the children should stay in the Shelter until they are released and are reunited as a family. The Judge, clearly tired and frustrated by the complex situation, reasserts that his primary role is to act in the best interests of the children.

Daniel introduces more historical facts in the next section: “True History of the Cold War: A Raga.” He writes about the origin of the term “Cold War” and the career and beliefs of Harry Stimson, a senior man in Truman’s cabinet. Stimson believed that the United States had to get rid of their bomb if they expected negotiations with the Soviets to bear fruit. The Yalta Conference was a fraud; there was never any attempt for diplomacy with the Soviet Union. At the Potsdam Conference, the Americans had to learn the art of “giving [the enemy] nothing while making him think that you’re giving him something.”

Russian policy in 1946 was inconclusive although Americans were quick to paint them as aggressive, belligerent, bellicose, unstable, and single-minded. A large amount of anti-Soviet propaganda emerged from the U.S. government during this time. Even though she considered herself the wealthiest, most powerful, most influential country in the world, America still believed Russia was a military threat. The American government had to “scare the hell out of the American people” to maintain their edge.


Doctorow’s novel is an avowedly political one. Indeed, almost all of his novels engage in some way with the evils of capitalism and entrenched political power. In the Book of Daniel, the tensions of the Cold War and the Old Left are mirrored by the turmoil of the 1960s and the New Left. That the nexus of the novel is the infamous Rosenberg trial reinforces Doctorow’s clear agenda of presenting a mid-century America at the height of her hypocrisy, anxiety, prejudice, and ignorance.

John G. Parks writes that Doctorow’s “ultimate political enterprise is to prevent the power of the regime from monopolizing the compositions of truth, from establishing a monological control over culture.” What this means is that culture should include “the other” and difference, and not be constructed in a purely hegemonic, heterogeneous, and authoritarian fashion. Doctorow is successful in his literary endeavors because his “dialogue or polyphonic fiction is both disruptive or even subversive of regimes of power, and restorative of neglected or forgotten or unheard voices in the culture.” Some critics disagree with Parks’ largely positive discussion on Doctorow’s role as a political novelist. Some claim Doctorow too strongly espouses leftist ideals and thus undermines his own message. Others believe him anti-American and that his novels are “rigged for political purposes.” These claims seem short-sighted, however, and do not fully perceive the central issues of the novel.

Indeed, Doctorow himself has shied away from being deemed a political novelist, and his works, particularly The Book of Daniel, reveal that “his passion is quite unprogrammatic” and that he is “suspicious of grand political schemes and knows that ‘no system, whether it’s religious or anti-religious or economic or nationalistic, seems invulnerable to human venery and greed and insanity’” (this is Parks quoting the scholar Richard Trenner). While the larger concepts of politics are intrinsically linked to his characters, Doctorow explores personal themes as well. Daniel wrestles with his identity and, though it has been shaped and manipulated by political forces, his journey remains a personal one.

In terms of the Old Left and its legacy, what we have is quite complex; members of the New Left are constantly trying to come to terms with what they have inherited and why their political ancestors generally failed. For some New Left radicals, the way to deal with the Old Left is to declare the movement irrelevant and backward, as Artie Sternlicht does. His excoriation of Daniel’s parents’ behavior at trial demonstrates that many of the New Left radicals consider the Old Left stodgily complicit with the system they claimed to want to overthrow.

Paul Levine takes up the idea of what radicalism means and where Paul and Rochelle Isaacson failed. Paul was “an idealist who could not distinguish between the splinter political groups at the CCNY and the mainstream of American life. Paul Isaacson’s failure to make the ‘violent connections’ between his beliefs and American praxis is a sign of his myopia.” As for Rochelle, she “was a realist motivated by the politics of want, resentment of her poverty and the frustration of her ambitions.” Neither of them can make the connections between desire and reality and “become accomplices in their own destruction.” Levine also reminds the reader that Artie Sternlicht’s type of revolution is just as problematic as that of the Old Left. In The Book of Daniel, the relationship between the Old and New Left is complicated and shifting. Daniel himself is a composite of the successes and failures of both radical movements.