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In Dubious Battle (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

John Steinbeck , Warren French
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 Jan 2001 Penguin Modern Classics

A novel that fearlessly explores the line between principled defiance and blind fanaticism, John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle contains an introduction and notes by Warren French in Penguin Modern Classics.

'This book is brutal. I wanted to be merely a recording consciousness,' Steinbeck said of In Dubious Battle, which aroused immense controversy when first published in 1936. It follows the fortunes of Jim Nolan, disenfranchised and alone, his family destroyed by the system. Desperate to find his place in the world, Jim joins the Communist Party and becomes entangled in a strike of migrant workers which spirals out of control, unflinchingly detailing the apocalyptic violence that breaks out when the masses become the mob. This fast-paced, compelling novel is at once a brilliant observation of social and political turmoil and a moving story of a young man's struggle for identity. In Dubious Battle explores and dramatises many of the ideas and themes key to Steinbeck's writing.

John Steinbeck (1902-68), winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature, is remembered as one of the greatest and best-loved American writers of the twentieth century. During the Second World War Steinbeck served as a war correspondent, his journalism later collected in Once There Was a War (1958), and he was awarded the Norwegian Cross of Freedom for his portrayal in The Moon is Down (1942) of Resistance efforts in northern Europe. His best-known works include the epics The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and East of Eden (1952), and his tragic novella Of Mice and Men (1937). John Steinbeck's complete works are published in Penguin Modern Classics.

If you enjoyed In Dubious Battle, you might also like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, also available in Penguin Classics.

'Sweeps along with the torrential impetus of a great natural fire, impelled by a poetic energy'


'Dramatically intense, beautifully written. It is the real thing; it has a vigour of sheer storytelling that may sweep away many prejudices'

New Republic

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (18 Jan 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014118602X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141186023
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 118,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Steinbeck is perhaps best known for Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, which led to his Nobel Prize for Literature award in 1962. Born in Salinas, California in 1902, Steinbeck grew up in a fertile agricultural valley about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast: both valley and 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 labourer 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 labouring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Being partly based on his own experiences as a travelling worker, Steinbeck originally wanted Of Mice and Men to be titled 'Something That Happened'. The book explores themes of powerlessness, loneliness and empathy and received the greatest positive critical response of any of his works up to that point. It has achieved success as a novel, a Broadway play and three acclaimed films.

Steinbeck's compassionate depiction of the poor in The Grapes of Wrath helped the book become an immediate publishing phenomenon, discussed on a national scale and becoming an instant bestseller. The book was described by the Nobel Prize committee as a "great work" and stated that it was one of the main reasons for granting Steinbeck the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

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)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).

He died in 1968, having won a Nobel Prize in 1962.

Product Description

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 available in Penguin Modern Classics

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of bitterness and class hatred 26 July 2002
Steinbeck's American novels are marked out in their passion for man's struggle against injustice. Written just before "The Grapes of Wrath", but still during the Great Depression, this is the tale of the violent revolt of Californian fruit-pickers.
Jim Nolan's journey into the world of organised labour finds him in the company of Mac, an experienced hand. A fascinating book, that pulls no punches re the exploitation of men and women with little voice in their own lives.
Make no mistake -- Steinbeck displays deep sympathy for the hopes and dreams of those itinerant workers who find themselves working harder for less. A tremendous story, full of hope and fear, menace and optimism, despair and determination.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Dubious Battle 29 Nov 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
`In Dubious Battle' is the first of Steinbeck's depression era books (which also comprises `Of Mice and Men' and `Grapes of Wrath) and whilst often overlooked in favour of the later two books, it is very much in the same vein. It has tight, richly evocative language and a story line that highlights the struggles of the time whilst offering up an engrossing plot. Following Jim Nolan, who helps in an apple pickers strike, this book makes you feel the anguish and frustrations of the workers being bullied and exploited by their employers and by the end you are feeling wrung out and exhausted as only a great book can make you feel. There was some controversy when this book was published and it was deemed to be sympathetic to communists and communism, but more than anything else it is a book about the down trodden and overlooked in society. I admit I am a fan of Steinbeck and his work, but even taking that into account this is exceptional even by his high standards. The language captures you immediately and you feel yourself admiring certain turns of phrase on a regular basis and your emotions being stimulated throughout, whether they be anger, sadness, loneliness, happiness or a whole gamut of other feelings. The story keeps you engaged until it's shattering conclusion and like `Of Mice and Men' and `Grapes of Wrath' it hits you with full impact and imprints itself on your memory to play over again and again over the coming days after you finish the book. This really is an exceptional novel and shows a master writer at his peak. This comes highly recommended indeed.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A simple but deeply intelligent novel 10 Aug 2008
In Dubious Battle is the story of Jim Nolan, a young man brought low by poverty and oppression during the 1930s. He joins the communist party and is quickly involved in an explosive fruit pickers' strike. We follow Jim's personal growth against the background of the escalating violence between the workers and orchard owners.

As often with Steinbeck, a simple, very plainly told story is used to explore a myriad of political and philosophical themes. To say the book is not quite the equal of Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath is hardly to criticise it at all. While it doesn't have the emotional involvement of the former or the poetical polemic of the latter, it is still a deeply satisfying and intelligent work.

In common with those other two novels of the depression, the author's sympathies are strongly with the downtrodden, but beyond that he explores rather than taking any particular position. As with the Grapes of Wrath, this is a political but not an an ideological novel. While the novel is seen from the perspective of the strikers and the radicals, their actions are presented factually with little or no comment. The agitators speak very little of any political theory; they are driven by a desire for change, but in particular Marxism seems to have very little place in their world. Equally aside from one incident, we hardly see the other side of the strike, and their actions are neither praised or criticised. The divide between capital and workers is seen as the cause of a problem, but without ideological solution.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Steinbeck 13 Sep 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is vintage Steinbeck in the mould of the Grapes of Wrath. Set in the same era of the Depression, it tells the tale of a bitter strike by fruit pickers protesting against an imposed wage cut.

The movers and shakers are the ruthless land-owners, who control everything in the Valley, ranged against party activists, led by Mac. Then there are the pawns, the ordinary working men who are trying to scratch a living. On the one side are the strikers and, on the other, the hired strike-breakers.

Violence escalates as the dispute wears on. Ideology takes second place to naked pragmatism. While the strikers are fighting for the here and now, Mac sees it as just one more battle in a bigger war. Meanwhile, his sidekick Jim comes out of the shadows to blossom into an influential role.

It's bleak rather than uplifting, but potent and well-crafted. I would not rate it quite as highly as Steinbeck's very best works (which, for me, are "Grapes" and East of Eden). However, anyone who enjoyed those two should get plenty out of this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Very slightly disapointing
Steinbeck is a writer and he has a first rate knowledge and understanding of the American working class but this book is not one of the best from this author that I have read
Published 7 months ago by C. J. Passingham
3.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable but not among Steinbeck's best
Like 'Of Mice and Men' and 'The Grapes of Wrath', the two better-known novels that followed it, 'In Dubious Battle' is concerned with the rural labourers of California. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Dr Do Little
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fantastic book by Steinbeck
This book is as good as Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat, raw, hard hitting story told perfectly. Great preparation for anyone who wants to read The Grapes Of Wrath.
Published 14 months ago by Justina
4.0 out of 5 stars The working man's struggle
Depending on your point of view, a common theme among Steinbeck's novels could either be togetherness, or Communism. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Carol A.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
This book is a fantastic read and a aurprise as even though it continues upon many of Steinbeck's themes in 1930s America, it introduces radical trade unionism and politics. Read more
Published 21 months ago by atticusfinch1048
5.0 out of 5 stars In Dubious Battle
A great book and a must read story. As true today as it was then when the average man has no voice against the all pervading might of the capitalist system. Read more
Published on 14 May 2011 by Mr. A. J. Thomas
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