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In Dubious Battle (Penguin Classics) Paperback – May 30, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


A man whose work was equal to the vast social themes that drove him. -- Don DeLillo

John Steinbeck knew and understood America and Americans better than any other writer of the twentieth century. -- The Dallas Morning News

About the Author

JOHN STEINBECK (1902–1968) was born in Salinas, California. He worked as a laborer and a journalist, and in 1935, when he published Tortilla Flat, he achieved popular success and financial security. Steinbeck wrote more than twenty-five novels and won the Nobel Prize in 1962. Nearly all of his books are available in Penguin Classics.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143039636
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143039631
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Steinbeck (1902-1968), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, achieved popular success in 1935 when he published Tortilla Flat. He went on to write more than twenty-five novels, including The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Edward Bosnar on March 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
"In Dubious Battle" is basically the first of Steinbeck's socially-engaged novels, in which he portrays a strike staged by itinerant fruit-pickers against price-cutting orchard owners. This is hardly a pamphlet for the labor movement or the Communist Party, though, as Steinbeck is less interested in pontificating than showing the frustations of the workers and the toll that their resistence actually takes on them and the local community. It also shows the organizational difficulties involved in getting a diverse group of dissatisfied workers to work for a common cause. The characterization is vivid and brilliant. Aside from its obvious literary value, this novel also has historical value, for like Sinclair's "The Jungle" (although with greater realism and much less pathos) it provides a powerful description of the plight of working people in America earlier in the 20th century. "In Dubious Battle" gives readers a good idea of the type of courage it took, and still does take, to fight for positive change and social justice.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Robert A. Giacobbe on March 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Steinbeck masters several different purposes with this book. First, he provides us with, in typical Steinbeck fashion, an in-depth character study of several figures worthy of discussion. The characters are intriguing, life-like and hold our attention as they move through their existence.
Second, he weaves a picturesque and spellbinding story with this ability to animate scenes with his words. He truly captures the idea of "suspension of disbelief;" the reader has no doubt he/she is reading about real places and people.
Last and most important, Steinbeck turns the tables on the reader in the last paragraph of the book. While this book may superficially appear to be a scathing commentary on the ruthlessness of unchecked capitalism, its really a singular question on human nature, regardless of the dominant socio-economic system, be it capitalism or communism. The reader must make up his/her mind at the end on which is the worse crime: exploitation of the masses for profit or exploitation of the masses for personal power and position, especially at the expense of a friend and allie.
One of the most powerful books I have read in such a few number of pages.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Joe on July 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
By far, Steinbeck had his finest moments writing this story. That says a lot about a man who did such great character studies as Of Mice And Men, The Grapes Of Wrath, The Winter Of Our Discontent, and The Pearl. In this story, Steinbeck hits a raw note rarely reached in American Literature. Few people would have it in them to write a story about the "Reds" in the 1930s. Steinbeck not only wrote the story, he made it his masterpiece. The story alone is the best he ever published. A story about a migrant worker strike in California and the effects of an ununionized strike unfold in the novel. The more important part of the novel is the humanist views Steinbeck took. Every man can feel the hate of the system tearing you apart. He captures that hate in all 300 pages of this story. In every aspect, he captured people who have been pushed too far in In Dubious Battle. He told the story of men who had nothing to lose and in the end lost anyway. This is not another story of the underdog. This is the story of the American Dream being left unfulfilled.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Eric Squire on July 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Like the preceding reviewer, I felt that Warren French's essay offered a very poor introduction to this novel. It isn't simply that French gives too much of the story away; that could be solved simply be reading the 'introduction' later. More bothersome is how his analysis is based mainly on elements that are exterior to the novel (a few comments in Steinbeck's personal letters, historical anecdotes...) but remains largely at odds with the novel itself.
Contrary to French's convoluted claims, the novel is first and foremost a careful study of various aspects of worker/capital confrontation, played out in the form a depression era fruit pickers' strike. Steinbeck uses his two main characters, Mac and Jim - two 'communist agitators' who are instrumental in whipping up sentiments of resistance among the workers - to offer a 'big picture' perspective of the organizational aspects of the confrontation. The bulk of the novel explores tactics, with many of the typical property owner ploys and worker counterploys represented, and it attempts to dissect and explain the vicissitudes of worker morale (and, to a lesser extent, to explore the psychology of those acting on the side of the forces of repression). The specifics may be dated, but anyone involved in social struggles today will immediately recognize most of the tactics and the psychology. I am thinking less of contemporary strikes in North America, which have generally evolved into less violent confrontations, and more of struggles where people are still fighting to gain the power of solidarity. Worker struggles in the third world come to mind, but also the larger struggle to establish unity against the neoliberal agenda.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David Flood on February 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
Having just come out of a 49-day strike myself, I can say Steinbeck captures the logistics of a strike: the manipulation by the media against the strikers, the changes moods of the strikers, the importance of gathering public support. Steinbeck gives a balanced view of manipulators on both sides:the leaders of the strike and the employers. Jim Nolan, the protagonist,is lead by an over-zealous racical, Mac, into riling up disenfranchized apple pickers in a fictious town in California. Steinbeck's talent is in making you experience the strike in real-time, ugly warts and all. Although I felt the ending was harsh, Steinbeck gives the reader a lasting and haunting image of the kinds of sacrafices that were made to fight for the rights of working stiffs. I was most impressed by the vivid characters, an economy and dimension of a Doesteovski novel, as well as an ability to capture scene. I wanted to see more of the aftermath of the strike, but Steinbeck ends the novel like a kick in the gut. Almost too abrupt for my taste, but, alas, this is a classic and well worth the time of anyone wanting to better understand the dubious nature of a strike--its work never finished in a single lifetime.
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