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on 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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`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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VINE VOICEon 10 August 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.

Where the real quality of this book lies is in its exploration of ideas: the greatest good for the greatest number, as personified by Jim and his mentor Mac, vs individual humanity in the character of Doc, the morality of evil deeds done in the name of good, revolution and rebellion as a purely emotional, rather than thinking act, the enduring power of human sexualitythe nature of leadership, the list goes on.

In summary, a very highly recommended, deeply intelligent novel.
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on 13 September 2009
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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on 14 May 2011
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. Book in great condition and delivered incredibly quickly. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2015
This is a tense story of depression era USA, focusing on a strike among fruit pickers to explore a range of broader themes. The two central characters,Mac and Joe, are members of The Party, never defined but assumed to be Communist. Knowing of the dispute between pickers and owners, they persuade the former to strike and work to organise them. As always with Steinbeck's protagonists, they are complex characters and have a fascinating relationship. Initially Mac is the experienced one, with Joe the new recruit, but towards the end of the novel, Joe becomes increasingly radicalised, and Mac recognises that he has the potentially greater value to The Party at large. The main action takes place in a camp established for the striking workers. It's a brilliant study of a community that is forced to live in poor conditions. As Mac, Joe and the other leaders seek to galvanise the strikers, we see the competing instincts of justice, solidarity, and personal needs and desires. Relationships between the camp and the owners and authorities also get examined carefully, again exploring human instincts with great penetration. Steinbeck succeeds in maintaining a brooding tension throughout, right up to the novel's dramatic and abrupt ending.
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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. All centred around California and apple picking and how the workers were low paid and downtrodden, while the owners rich and set apart from the workers. Where a strike spirals out of control and how a principaled strike can rapidly spiral out of control.

The book is like all Steinbeck's work - well written with beautiful imagery and use of language, a wonderful story written by the best (to me anyway) American storyteller of all time.
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on 11 March 2014
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
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on 14 May 2015
I wanted to read the last in the trilogy by John stein beck but this was the hardest by far. I finished it but found it heavy going.
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on 2 June 2013
Depending on your point of view, a common theme among Steinbeck's novels could either be togetherness, or Communism. The Grapes of Wrath and In Dubious Battle both touch on this theme, exploring the working man's struggle to form a community and a connection when the system is designed to serve the individual. Though not as expansive as The Grapes of Wrath, In Dubious Battle certainly draws a lot of parallels, and is somewhat easier to digest.
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