E.L. Doctorow, a veritable master of historical fiction, died of lung cancer on Tuesday at the age of 84. The New York Times called Doctorow a “literary time traveler,” and paging through his oeuvre, it’s obvious why: He’s fictionalized the saga of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the 1939 World’s Fair, and major historical figures like Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Harry Houdini.
If you’re unfamiliar with Doctorow’s work—or even if you just need a refresher—here’s a list of the essentials:
Arguably the book for which Doctorow was best known, Ragtime is a subversive novel that follows a wealthy family in New Rochelle, New York in the early 1900s, as these fictional characters mingle with historical figures from Houdini to Freud. In 2013, EW included Ragtime as no. 15 on our list of the 100 best novels of all time.
World’s Fair (1985)
In this novel, which the Los Angeles Times called “something close to magic,” we see the world through the eyes of a young boy growing up in the ’30s, in a sensory work of art that builds to the 1939 World’s Fair.
Billy Bathgate (1989)
For this tale of a 15-year-old Bronx boy who falls in with a mobster, Doctorow won the 1990 PEN/Faulkner prize.
The Book of Daniel (1971)
Daniel’s parents—fictionalized versions of the Rosenbergs—were executed long ago, but Daniel has never gotten past it, despite having a life and child of his own. And his younger sister might be even more radical. While he is supposed to be writing his doctorate at Columbia University, Daniel instead writes this book of memories and confessions.
Loon Lake (1980)
Doctorow goes fully experimental in this Depression-era novel set on Loon Lake in the Adirondacks, weaving together poetry, traditional narrative, and stream of conscious writing, as well as a jumbled timeline.