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America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction

4.7 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

America and Americans is a representative, noteworthy collection of John Steinbeck's journalism, including the title piece, actually his last book. Editors Susan Shillinglaw and Jackson J. Benson, who provide an able, informative introduction as well as succinct sectional prefaces, have wisely organized the book thematically rather than chronologically. There are travel pieces (including the hilariously bittersweet "The Making of a New Yorker"); political reflections (including three articles on California migrant workers, written before the last draft of The Grapes of Wrath, and a short screed on the spiritual oppression of communism, in which he writes, "Communists of our day are about as revolutionary as the Daughters of the American Revolution"); correspondence from both World War II and Vietnam; and snapshots of Ernie Pyle, Henry Fonda, and other friends. Not all the pieces are timeless, but most are sprinkled with bright gems--"Writers are taken seriously in Italy and are accorded the same respect that Lana Turner's legs get in our country"--and everywhere girded by deep concern and anger about social injustices. --H. O'Billovich

From Publishers Weekly

Few may remember that the Nobel Prize-winning novelist pursued a parallel 30-year career in journalism, but this collection (timed to mark the centennial of Steinbeck's birth) demonstrates that the author was a major journalistic voice in the mid-20th century. Of course, the pieces vary in quality: Steinbeck's travel writing, personal recollections and political journalism are more entertaining than his essays on craft or dated dispatches from war zones, and one questions why the editors, both Steinbeck scholars, chose certain brief reports. Still, Steinbeck's humor shines through in a number of fine essays, especially in one about a visit to his Sag Harbor cottage with two teenage sons, and another on his battles (in print) with a Communist newspaper in Italy. Three reports on the plight of California's migrant workers written in the mid-1930s before Steinbeck had finished The Grapes of Wrath shed light on the novel's roots. A particularly moving essay details the author's long friendship with Ed Ricketts, the man who found his way into Steinbeck's Cannery Row and The Sea of Cortez. The last 100 pages of the collection reprints his final book, America and Americans, in which the author offers a wide-reaching commentary on the American 20th century. "Journalism not only is a respected profession, but is considered the training ground of any good American author," wrote Steinbeck in 1966. Though this statement is no longer true, the collection shows that it certainly once was. (On sale Feb. 4) Forecast: No doubt publicity around Steinbeck's centennial will help sales to new readers as well as devotees.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (February 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670030627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670030620
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Scot Guenter on February 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As an educator interested not only in John Steinbeck's literature but also in his function as a cultural critic, I find this wonderful new edition, put together to coincide with a series of Steinbeck Centennial events going on all around America in 2002, to be a marvelous source of information. This will bring one of Steinbeck's lesser known and later works, "America and Americans," to the attention of many more people, and that text, which is both a celebration of the American experience and a cautionary warning about where we were headed, as Steinbeck saw it in the 1960s, would be a great selection for book club groups to read and discuss in this centennial year.
This 400+ page collection also has seven thematic chapters that explore Steinbeck's nonfiction and journalistic writing in these topic areas: places he loved, socio-political struggles, the craft of writing, friends and friendship, travel abroad, being a war correspondent, and miscellanea. This is great bedside reading: something delicious to dip into, eloquent and thoughtful, and one can jump around.
The editors are both noted Steinbeck scholars who are making this man accessible to the common people (we, the salt of the earth, whom he champions and celebrates in so many of his writings). Perhaps I am partial to John Steinbeck because I live in "Steinbeck Country," but I still think his works deserve our attention and study in the 21st century. He had a lot of significant insights--this book is a wonderful follow-up for those who have only yet experienced his fiction.
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Format: Hardcover
John Steinbeck (1902-68) wrote newspaper columns for two years during the 1950s in addition to reporting on the 1956 presidential nominating conventions and stints as a war correspondent during World War II and the Vietnam War. He also wrote some articles for magazines and the ruminations on America for a book of photographs that was his last book (and which fills about a quarter of this collection).
Always he wrote about his impressions, primarily of people. The best pieces in this collection are not accounts of foreign wars but of people in distinct places. Like Steinbeck's life, the book begins with Salinas, California, continues through San Francisco and New York City to Sag Harbor on Long Island, where Steinbeck lived in the 1950s and 60s. In the "Journalist Abroad" section there are strong pieces on people in Positano and Ireland. And there is a section on friends (all male, of course) including a long memoir of his idol and naturalist mentor, Ed Ricketts, and short but very illuminating memoirs of the popular WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle and the photographer Robert Capa (who accompanied Steinbeck on his Russian visit), plus concise tributes to Adlai Stevenson as an orator and to Henry Fonda as an actor.
The section "On writing" is regrettably short, and the selections of WWII colums from _Once There Was a War_ (a book which is in print) are mystifyingly missing the best ones, which Steinbeck wrote during the invasion of Italy. The Vietnam reports are unconvincing propaganda from what he presented as a war against Mao. (Brezhnev, perhaps, but not Mao!)
Many of the pieces are entertaining in the mock heroic Steinbeck manner of _Tortilla Flat_ and _Travels with Charley_ and some are moving. The text "America and Americans" had little impact.
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Format: Hardcover
This is only essential for hardcore Steinbeck fans, but his insight and singular turns of phrase pervade this prolific collection. Of particular note is his homage to his three best teachers, less than two pages long, called "...like captured fireflies." America and Americans is dated in parts, but his takes on corporations and America's obsession with children are prescient, and his indefatigable optimism essential. A different resonance than the novels, but of the same calibur.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After reading just one novel by Steinbeck, I decided to see what he was like as a journalist. For me, this wide-ranging collection of observations, opinions, and witticisms reached its zenith with two back-to-back essays: "The Trial of Arthur Miller", in which Steinbeck parses the repugnant moral choices that his fellow writer faced when commanded to testify before Congress during the Communist witch hunt; and "Atque Vale", in which he very cleverly skewers the buffoons and bigots of the early civil rights era by examining the walk-on-water standards they set for "Negroes" in order to trip them up. Steinbeck is never better than when he is quietly seething; his fusillade of sarcasm proves highly effective.

In "America and Americans", which comprises the last quarter of this collection, there are some very interesting musings on the qualities, characteristics, and contributions of various immigrant groups; the contradictions of the American mindset (the hunger for home roots vs. our nomadic existence, for example); and a variety of spot-on sociological observations about our relationship to the land, with our leaders, foreigners, and one another. A&A ends with a positive note about the future, keyed to Americans' innate drive and optimism - a morale booster for some of us during our current trying times.

There's enough red meat in this book so you can pick and choose titles and close the cover with a feeling of fulfillment. Steinbeck was one gifted writer and an extremely opinionated man. And that's a satisfying one-two punch.
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