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A Life in Letters (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

John Steinbeck
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 July 2001 Penguin Modern Classics
Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck was a prolific correspondent. Opening with letters written during Steinbeck's early years in California, and closing with an unfinished, 1968 note written in Sag Harbor, New York, this collection of around 850 letters to friends, family, his editor and a diverse circle of well-known and influential public figures gives an insight into the raw creative processes of one of the most naturally-gifted and hard-working writing minds of this century.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (5 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141186291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141186290
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 415,036 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 are available in Penguin Modern Classics.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
When John Steinbeck was twenty-four and broke, he found a way to support himself while working at what mattered most to him-becoming a writer. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dear John...... 25 Nov 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This 'Life in Letters', edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten is an incredibly fascinating read, a personal insight into one of America's greatest writers who was instinctively a private man who never in his life played the 'public personality card'. For this reason all the scraps of notes, private letters and official correspondences that have been gathered here, along with some poignant notes from the editors, make this book a storehouse of information and insight, a patchwork of American history from 1923 to the late sixties through the eyes of a private man.
There are notes to friends charting the early years of obscurity and poverty, his self belief the only fuel behind him. Then troubled letters complaing of the diffulculties of the popularity that swept over him with the success of 'Of Mice and Men' and 'The Grapes of Wrath'.
It is ironic that the thing that most disturbed him about his popularity was the amount of letters he received, tragic letters pleading for money. As Steinbeck professed himself in one of his early letters he was a man who could only communicate in print hence his disturbance at receiving these pleas in his beloved form.
For a man who found telephones 'terrifying' and 'horrific', his whole life he leant on the 'letter' as a way of combatting the isolation that he felt must be the way of life for a novelist. Sometimes they are weapons to cut through crap to friends who are more familiar with his face in life magazine than his real identity, soemtimes they are encoded messages arranging liasons with lovers. There are evn several letters to The President offering his help in concern with the coming Second World War.
They reveal a man who lived to write, and these documents remain evidence of the man outside the novel's that he kept for himself and his close friends.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Brilliant Steinbeck 14 Feb 2003
By Amy
Format:Paperback
I bought this book after reading "Travels With Charly" and I was not disappointed. Through these letters you get an amazingly complete picture of Steinbeck's life, this book follows him through his first publication, his many others that were to follow, right up to his death. If you like Steinbeck then you MUST read this book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent 23 Dec 2013
By biscuit
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Arrived totally protected in excellent condition. It was a present for a friend and she was absolutely thrilled with it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars --- if you are a Steinbeck fan 30 April 2004
By SPM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Steinbeck left an autobiography of sorts when he died, a collection of personal letters to his friends. His widow and his friend worked together to gather the letters from everyone they could. They edited them for clarity and published them in chronological order.
The result is the personal story of a very creative, complex writer who worked every day with his hands. When he wasn't writing novels using pencils and a legal pad, he was mending the fence or fixing the roof. He loved people as much as he loved solitude, so he began each day by reaching out with these letters to his friends around the world. He talked about his surroundings and his thoughts and his ongoing projects.
All of this would be enough to make a wonderful book, but there's the added benefit of Steinbeck's writing style. Steinbeck used as few words as possible, always trying for a poetic effect without pretension. He wanted to be honest and accurate, but he knew the value of capturing an image or feeling with a colorful use of words. As a result, this massive book is a pleasure to read, from start to finish. Steinbeck's writing style keeps you interested but never overwhelmed.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed a few Steinbeck novels. Aspiring writers should read it, as well. When you're done, read the Steinbeck chapter in 'Alcohol and the Writer' and Jackson Benson's books on Steinbeck. You'll be glad you did.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Steinbeck fans don't miss this one... 30 Nov 1999
By DP - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An unbelievable recount of a man's life through his own eyes. I didn't think that a collection of letters would amount into a good read, but I was blown away by Steinbecks determinedly honest prose. The candor and focus that Steinbeck displays in his interaction with friends, family, and associates is outstanding. Steinbeck once again wields his magical touch and inspires thought and introspection without preaching. A truly great writer, and a truly great book. This collection takes you through Steinbecks journey from college dropout, to published author, to two time divorcee, to Pulitzer Prize winner. My only criticism is that there were too few moments of rage, anger and outburst, which is difficult to capture in letter form. However, it is a raw, honest, and unforgiving account of a man's walk through life, as it serves as inspiration for any aspiring writer out there. The ending letters are excellent, and it is definitely worth your time.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest Eloquence 20 Dec 2001
By Kenneth Blum - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you appreciate the art of letter writing, you'll be delighted with this collection of letters from John Steinbeck.
Wow! can this man, write. But perhaps "write" is the wrong term - "think" is better. Wow! can this man think. And then he is able to express those thoughts in a clear, eloquent and, most of all, honest way that is a treat to read.
The book begins with a letter from the young, penniless author to a friend. At the time, Steinbeck was in isolation when he took a job as the winter caretaker of a lodge in Lake Tahoe. From there, he takes us along on a life journey through three marriages, financial success that always made him uncomfortable, fame that he often detested, Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, adventure in settings from the Sea of Cortez to Saigon.
The insights are astounding. His lack of pretension in the midst of his success amazes.
Here was a sensitive, often gruff but completely honest man who was not afraid to reveal himself in total to the friends he cherished.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Autobiography! 15 Jun 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
John Steinbeck wrote his own autobiography without intending to. He left us richer with his novels .... but getting to know him through his letters should be required reading. What an insight into someone who was following his passion. I could not put the book down. It's one of my most treasured and recommended.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Want to become a writer? Read this! 28 Jan 1999
By Bruce A. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
How can a book of letters be as fascinating as a John McPhee book, as well-written as a Steinbeck novel, as educational as the Iowa Workshop, as well as being fun, witty, and never pretentious? This book of letters will kick-start your brain and make you say "Man, could this fellow write!"
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