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Once There Was a War (Penguin Classics) Paperback – August 28, 2007

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (August 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143104799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143104797
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"If you have forgotten what the war was like, Steinbeck will refresh your memory. Age can never dull this kind of writing."
-Chicago Tribune

About the Author

Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck is remembered as one of the greatest and best-loved American writers of the twentieth century. His complete works will be published in Penguin Modern Classics. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 30 customer reviews
I found it an absorbing read and highly recommend it.
Jonathan A. Hayes
Steinbeck was a man of economy, these are very short stories, and in only a few pages he describes the situation so well that you can easily visualize it.
Charles Ashbacher
Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be one of the best books I've read all year.
Margaret A. Mcglinch

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Chris MB on December 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I've never been a huge Steinbeck follower - I've read a few of his works but I'm probably not as well-versed as I should be. That, however, will change after having recently read Once There Was A War.
This compilation of reports from England, North Africa and Italy in 1943 provides excellent descriptions of what life was really like during the war. There are very few recounts of battles and strategy. But there are stories of the people that were involved in the war - the souls behind the uniforms. Steinbeck does an excellent job showing that the war wasn't just made up of nameless soldiers - it was made up of people, each with personalities, each scared, each struggling to deal with life in such hostile conditions.
Aside from the historical value, these posts are amazingly well written. I have to admit I was reasonably surprised by the quality of writing. Steinbeck is an accomplished author, and on that I think everyone can agree, but to be able to put pieces like this together in London during the Blitz, in the deserts of North Africa or on a troop ship heading into the European theater is amazing to me.
Bottom line: I've got a new respect for John Steinbeck and an added appreciation and understanding of WWII. For both of those, I am grateful for having read this book.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Blum on July 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
No author has a better eye and ear for details than John Steinbeck, and no author can record those details with more simple flowing eloquence.
Such is the case with the columns that were composed while Mr. Steinbeck was a war correspondent in the European Theatre of operations during World War Two.
The columns are not blow-by-blow accounts of great battles. They aren't closely focused on the physical and emotional plight of the soldier, as were the columns of Ernie Pyle.
Instead, they capture the auras and subtleties of both big and little events. "What it's like" is the best description of these slices of war life, nobody puts you there better, nobody captures the mood of a place more vividly.
What it's like to be one of thousands of soldiers stretch across the deck or house in the bowels of a troop carrier, destination unknown? What's it like to sit through an air raid during the blitz?
Or, a few columns take a lighter approach. In one, he salutes the incredible durability and dedication of Bob Hope and his USO shows. Another details the American soldier's skill in growing vegetable gardens. Another muses about the popularity of the German song "Lillie Marlene" among both Nazi and Allied troops.
And some columns delve into deeper territory, such as his theory as to why so few men who have been in battle talk about it.
Steinbeck did not spend a great deal of time as a war correspondent. The columns were cabled back to the states between June and December, 1943.
But each one is a little jewel of journalism. What else would you expect from America's finest writer?
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By C. S. Schofield on November 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
Many books that claim to tell of the human side of WWII rapidly descend into farce...and make you wonder if the author knew there was a war on. Others give the impression that they were written by some allied Propaganda Office (as they sometimes were). A handfull manage to deal with the day to day trials and absurdity without losing sight of the conflict that was raging over the globe. Ernie Pyle was justly celebrated for this, Bill Mauldin's "Willie and Joe" cartoons captured it well (as did his prose in UP FRONT), Thomas R. St. George handled the Pacific War in C/O POSTMASTER and PROCEED WITHOUT DELAY, and Roger Hall did a bang-up job of de-mystifying the OSS in YOU"RE STEPPING ON MY CLOAK AND DAGGER. Steinbeck has nothing to be ashamed of in this company. ONCE THERE WAS A WAR is an account, not of WWII but of what it was like to be IN WWII. His essays are well written (as one might expect) and penetrating. Anyone interested in the history of the second World War would do well to read this book, if only as a footnote to works of grander scope.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "mskathleen" on January 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is a collection of dispatches that John Stienbeck wrote as a war correspondent in England, Africa and Italy. Concise, tightly written and clear, the author, in as few words possible is able to place the reader at the scene. The reader can taste it, smell it, touch it, hear it, and more importantly, know what it is to be there. Feel the fear and the awful reality of war through John Stienbeck's powerful prose.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Stephen O. Murray VINE VOICE on February 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
I prefer short bursts of Steinbeck to his self-conscious "major: novels. I also think that his nonfiction is better than much of his fiction. His dispatches from England, Algiera, Italy, and PT-boats in the Mediterranean are often insightful, and frequently funny, especially the essay on souvenirs and the in the finale, a multi-part account of tricking a garrison into surrendering.
Steinbeck was very clear that he did not capture the essence of battle. Indeed, he wrote very clearly about the self-protective amnesia that descends after traumatic experiences (198-200).
What should have been the most important part of the book collecting his 1942-43 reporting, the introduction, seems to have been skipped by some readers. "We were all a part of the War Effort," Steinbeck recalled in 1958. "We went along with it, and not only that, we abetted it. Gradually it became a part of all of us that the truth about anything was automatically secret and that to trifle with it was to interfere with the War Effort. By this I don't mean that the correspondents were liars. They were not. In the pieces in this book everything set down happened. It is in the things not mentioned that the truth lies" Whether he was fully aware that he was producing propaganda when he filed the dispatches (which were censored as well as self-censored), Steinbeck was candid: "We edited ourselves much more than we were edited. We felt responsible to what was called the home front. There was a general feeling that unless the home front was carefully protected from the whole account of what war was like, it might panic. Also we felt we had to protect the armed services from criticism, or they might retire to their tents to sulk like Achilles. . . .
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