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Steinbeck in Vietnam: Dispatches from the War

4.7 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0813932576
ISBN-10: 0813932572
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Editorial Reviews

Review

These dispatches are really the last work that Steinbeck published, and they are intensely interesting pieces of writing. Their vividness alone makes them worth reading. The letters are impressionistic, and they often contain excellent reportage, showing readers what the war looked like from the ground. They remind us once again that Steinbeck’s gift was essentially journalistic.

(Jay Parini, Middlebury College, author of John Steinbeck: A Biography)

[O]pinions that viscerally reflect the deep political chasm that the war created in America. Steinbeck’s writing is vividly descriptive, evoking place and circumstance.... [His] ability to capture the day-to-day conduct of the war and its destructive force is sometimes shockingly immediate.

(Publishers Weekly)

[Steinbeck's] dispatches reflect his initial excitement over the weaponry (e.g., the AC-47 gunship, known as Puff the Magic Dragon) and the heroic American soldiers standing against communism, but he gradually came to see the mismatch between the American narrative and the reality that most Vietnamese just wanted the war to end. By the time he left Asia, readers can sense disillusion and a feeling that the soldiers were in an unwinnable situation.... This personal look at a contentious moment in American history will supplement Vietnam War collections and reward any student who wishes to better understand the times.

(Library Journal)

Between December 1966 and May 1967, Steinbeck filed pieces that sought to support the U.S. effort in Vietnam, to lionize the soldiers whom he met (and with whom he occasionally ducked incoming rounds), to expose the dimensions of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese violence against civilians, to chide the liberal media for ingesting without question the enemy’s propaganda and to urge other writers (he names Updike, Williams, Bellow, Albee and Miller) to travel to Vietnam to see the war firsthand.... Steinbeck’s positions later softened, but not in the pages of Newsday.

(Kirkus)

Though John Steinbeck is best known for chronicling the woes of the Great Depression, his raw, journalistic accounts of later human tragedies are written with the same poignancy as The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. In Steinbeck in Vietnam, we are offered glimpses of the author's last works.

(Huffington Post)

Reading Steinbeck in Vietnam is a fascinating, occasionally uncomfortable experience.... Written with the force that characterizes all of Steinbeck's work, his Vietnam dispatches are a mixture of vitriolic attacks on war protestors, lyrical descriptions of the countryside, paeans to the American soldier and moments of stunning insight. What makes the columns more than a historical curiosity is Steinbeck's effort to understand the war on its own terms. That internal struggle, publicly shared in the pages of Newsday, is as powerful an evocation of the Vietnam experience as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.

Literary scholar Thomas E. Barden's editorial touch is light and clearly defined. His introduction and afterword place the letters in the context of Steinbeck's career, including his later doubts about the war.

(Shelf Awareness)

Steinbeck in Vietnam contains some vivid descriptions of the fierceness of American firepower, the hazards of night combat and the beauty of the Vietnamese countryside. It also reflects the scorn that many 'hawks' and 'doves' had for one another, with Steinbeck critical of the anti-war protesters as stupid and cowardly.... Steinbeck spent a good deal of time in the field, and wrote about the bravery of helicopter pilots in the air and of the multiple dangers -- not just hostile gunfire, but also snakes, malaria and tripwire explosives -- faced by infantry on the ground. Barden notes, however, that Steinbeck was escorted by high-ranking officers everywhere he went and mainly saw what they wanted him to see.... Steinbeck came home to Sag Harbor and died of heart failure a year later, but not before reversing himself almost completely. While he did no more public writing about Vietnam (or anything else), he is known to have spent his last months privately questioning both the execution and legitimacy of the war."

(Newsday)

From December 1966 to May 1967, the Nobel Prize-winning author, with weapon in hand and pens and notepads stuffed in fatigue pockets, had slogged through the combat zones of South Vietnam. His closing words, filed from Tokyo on May 20, 1967, constitute one of the finest tributes ever made to the Americans who fought in the controversial conflict.... Steinbeck's extraordinary gifts as a writer and genius for observation give readers a profoundly accurate picture of the war during his time in country.

(Daily Progress)

Unless some undiscovered manuscript is uncovered, this will probably be the final book of Salinas native son John Steinbeck's work to be published.... If you collect John Steinbeck's writing or pride yourself on having read all of the author's work, you'll have to get this book.

(The Salinas Californian)

Decades after he penned the enduring literary classics Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, 64-year-old John Steinbeck traveled to Vietnam in December 1966 to write about the war raging there. Steinbeck spent five months among the troops and sent back dozens of dispatches, which were published as a series of letters in Newsday and haven’t been fully reprinted until now. In the new book Steinbeck in Vietnam: Dispatches From the War, scholar Thomas Barden collects all of the author’s accounts, which constitute hislast published writings before his death in 1968. While Steinbeck publicly expressed his support for the war and was criticized for it, his private feelings were more conflicted, says Barden, a dean and professor of English at the University of Toledo in Ohio.

(U.S. News Weekly)

Barden (English, Univ. of Toledo) makes available in one book the last writings of the novelist John Steinbeck, who traveled to Vietnam and wrote columns about the war for Newsday, the Long Island newspaper. The editor provides a smart introduction and a well-argued afterword. He credibly maintains that Steinbeck evolved from hawk to dove during the time he spent in-country starting in December 1966.... Highly recommended.

(CHOICE)

Barden provides an illuminating introduction and afterward to a gut-wrenching chronicle by Steinbeck about America's experience there.... Steinbeck in Vietnam captures the confusion and pain of that time in deeply emotional and personal prose. It also shows Steinbeck at his most conflicted. His Nobel-worthy work often questioned how the American knight errant had lost track of the enemy and the cause. In these pages he tells a large part of that story.

(Rain Taxi)

Steinbeck was a vocal supporter of the Vietnam War despite serious misgivings that he kept quiet, as is made clear in a comprehensive new collection of his reporting on the conflict, 'Steinbeck in Vietnam: Dispatches From the War' edited by Thomas E. Barden.

(New York Times)

If you collect John Steinbeck's writing or pride yourself on having read all of the author's work, you'll have to get this book. Not only are these dispatches quite readable, they also give an interesting insignt into the war as Steinbeck saw and experienced it.

(theCalifornian.com)

About the Author

Thomas E. Barden is Professor of English and Dean of the Honors College at the University of Toledo.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press (March 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813932572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813932576
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Victor A. Bary on March 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Steinbeck's letters to Alicia (the recently deceased editor of Long Island's "News Day") are compelling and insightful. Steinbeck insists on getting the news firsthand rather than relying on the opinions of others. The amount of travel and information he engaged in during a short 6-week period are impressive. Also impressive is the personal courage he showed going out repeatedly to front line units. Tom Barden's forward and afterword give a great context for understanding America of the time and Steinbeck's personal history around war and war reporting, and aspect of his career of which I was unaware.
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I graduated from high school in 1964. I served as an Army infantry lieutenant in Vietnam in 1967/1968. Of the thirty-one published works by John Steinbeck, I have read twelve, mostly while I was working in the merchant marine before Vietnam. Most of his works were published before I was born, during the thirties and the forties; only six were published after I graduated from high school. Steinbeck grew up around Salinas and Monterey, whereas I grew up about a hundred miles further north, up in San Francisco. Steinbeck was a California literary hero. It seems that many people considered John Steinbeck one of LBJ's boys when he reported from Vietnam during 1966 and 1967, though he was about six years older than LBJ. I was fighting out of a foxhole in the Central Highlands of Vietnam during some of that time; I suppose, in those days, most of us there were LBJ's boys as well. So what? In those days morale was pretty high and those of us out in our jungle foxholes believed we were fighting the good fight, beating back the communist onslaught, and that our sacrifices were meaningful. Steinbeck went out there, at close to sixty-five, because he wanted to see. Steinbeck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize without obtaining a college degree. Here's your opportunity to read something of unique interest from an American literary icon.
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A grippingly personal compilation of Steinbeck's Vietnam war correspondence, "Steinbeck in Vietnam" is just as personably bookended by Thomas Barden's veteran prose. I hope these dispatches help those of my Iraq/Afghan generation of veterans, as much as Steinbeck's missals to Alicia connect with Barden's Vietnam era. This book is a good read across generations. My thanks to Thomas Barden for bringing these to light in a caring way.
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The last book written by Steinbeck, it demonstrates he still had a grip on the use of language. We can all be politically correct in hindsight, and much of his aside rants about the people who were demonstrating for peace were common in his generation at that time.
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Steinbeck was sitting pretty comfortably in his home in the states, yet, he had an insatiable curiosity. As he flew into war-torn Vietnam, he questioned his own sanity. His thoughts in print of this experience are finally published.
I obtained this book because I am a fan of the writer. Ironically, I was traveling across the seas to Asia and Australia for my first time with the same feelings of trepidation he so eloquently expressed.
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A must read for anyone that is a Steinbeck admirer. This book is filled with deep insight about a time when America was so divided by the Vietnam war. This wonderful author chose to be where the troops were stationed throughout Vietnam and see for himself what was going on. This experience changed him and the fact that his son was serving a tour of duty as a soldier, while he was there, adds to this remarkable book.
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Thoroughly enjoyed this compilation of Steinbeck's writings on Vietnam. As a two time visitor to the Pearl of the Orient in 65-66 and 70-71, I feel qualified to state that his descriptions and recollections of his travels to observe and report on the war were right on. I recognized many accurate, vivid descriptions of both good and bad which were prevalent in Vietnam during the war.

I highly recommend this book. It is not Steinbeck's writings of the type seen in "The Grapes of Wrath", but his dispatches and commentary's of his visits are easy to read and extremely accurate in my opinion.
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IF YOU ARE OF THE GENERATION WHO SERVED IN VIET NAM, THIS IS A MUST READ. IF YOU ARE CURIOUS ABOUT THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN VIET NAM, IT'S A MUST READ. BUT TO EVEN ATTEMPT A CRITIQUE OF ANY OF STEINBECK'S NON-FICTION IS UNWORTHY OF ANYONE. IT'S SIMPLE, HIS NON-FICTION IS SOME OF THE BEST WRITING ANY AMERICAN AUTHOR HAS EVER PRODUCED..
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