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Once There Was a War (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

John Steinbeck
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 May 2001 Penguin Modern Classics

A collection of some of the finest correspondence from the Second World War, courtesy of one of America's most distinguished authors, the Penguin Modern Classics edition of John Steinbeck's Once There Was a War includes the author's original introduction.

'Do you know it, do you remember it, the drives, the attitudes, the terrors and, yes, the joys?' Thus Steinbeck introduces his collection of poignant and hard-hitting dispatches for the New York Herald Tribune when the Second World War was at its height. He begins in England, recounting the courage of the bomber crews, the tragic air-raids and the strangeness of the British, before being sent to Africa and joining a special operations unit off the coast of Italy. Eating, drinking talking and fighting alongside the soldiers, Steinbeck's empathy for the common man is always in evidence in these pieces, and he never fails to evoke the human side of an inhuman war.

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, with his collected dispatches published as Once There Was a War (1958); in 1945 he was awarded the Norwegian Cross of Freedom for his novel The Moon is Down (1942), a portrayal 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 Once There Was a War, you might like Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'If you have forgotten what the war was like, Steinbeck will refresh your memory. Age can never dull this kind of writing.'

Chicago Tribune

Frequently Bought Together

Once There Was a War (Penguin Modern Classics) + A Russian Journal (Penguin Modern Classics) + Travels with Charley: In Search of America (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (3 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141186321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141186320
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 250,268 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 published in Penguin Modern Classics.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
So Steinbeck notes in his introduction to this collection of "period pieces", dating from 1943, when many Americans were still young to the war.
Steinbeck's works of fiction mark him out as one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, and yet it is his objectivity and simple honesty in reporting on even the plainest of wartime situations that shines through here.
From the tension surrounding a bombing mission, to the endemic "goldbricking" and theft, through the preparation for and invasion of Italy, Steinbeck's matter-of-fact style marks this out as the work of more than just an ordinary war correspondent.
For anyone who enjoys reading Steinbeck, even if not too interested in wartime memories, this is a gem of a book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WWII war correspondent's dispatches 8 Aug 2010
The book: under three main headings - England; Africa; Italy - Steinbeck wrote brief dispatches on the war, preparations or waiting or action; each some two-and-a-half pages. Within these he wrote, under pressure and in tension, as he says, about the men of the infantry, of the Navy, of the bombers; of feelings under strain, of people taking advantage, of poker games. Of troop ships and landing craft (Infantry), of PT boats and British commandos, of raids and dreams and talismans. These are dispatches written in 1943, with the occasional (Three lines deleted by censor).

The author: Steinbeck (1902-1968) was an American writer, famous for the Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. In 1943 Steinbeck was a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, and went along on some of the commando raids of the USN Beach Jumpers - which included Douglas Fairbanks.

My opinion: very well written, despite the tight format; convincing, interesting, fascinating and humbling. Very much of its time, realistic and pretty hard-boiled; impressive, too.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating account of the war 25 Jan 2010
By Miquel
Despite having read extensively about WWII Italian campaign I came across this book quite randomly and I was not disappointed.
This is a first hand account of the war that is well written and contains some very interesting episodes, for example the landing of a small force in the island of Ventotene, that managed to trick into surrender a much larger German force that was garrisoning the island. These are the small actions that do not appear in general history, but fortunately a great narrator was there, so we can feel today the tension of the moment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real find 26 May 2012
By Chris Pearson VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I discovered this book by accident, but what a find.

Unlike so many retrospectives on WW2 Steinbeck talks from the front line.

There's nothing about strategy or the big picture in the European theatre here.

It's about what it was like to be on the ground. The fears, hopes and reality of war for so many.

Steinbeck once again demonstrates he has a gift for capturing the everyday and mundane, and communicating it simply and eloquently to the reader.

This book was a real find- can't recommend highly enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and interesting book 17 Sep 2010
Reading this in the 21st Century I am transported to all the locations that are written about in this book and therefore imagined that he totally achieved his aim in describing to the people back in the US what life during the war was like in Europe. The pieces are rather timeless and lovely. This was my introduction to Steinbeck and I wondered why it had taken me long to read anything by him, his style and content is a pleasure to read and incredibly tight.
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