His best known works were Ragtime, about a suburban New York family in the first two decades of the last century, and Billy Bathgate, about a protege to New York mobster Dutch Schultz. Both became movies.
"I don't agree with that. I think all novels are about the past, the near past, the far past, some of them have a wider focus and include more of society and recognizable events and people. The historical novel seems to me a misnomer, and many of my books take place in different places, in the Dakotas, or down south in Georgia or the Carolinas, so it's just as valid to call me a geographical novelist as an historical novelist. I think of myself really as a national novelist, as an American novelist writing about my country."