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In Dubious Battle (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) Paperback – January 1, 1995

4.4 out of 5 stars 105 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Dramatically intense, beautifully written. It is the real thing; it has a vigor of sheer storytelling that may sweep away many prejudices."
-The New Republic  --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).
After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.
Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942).Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright(1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.
The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961),Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata!(1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures. 

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (October 10, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140186417
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140186413
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,541,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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