Cover image for America and Americans, and selected nonfiction
Title:
America and Americans, and selected nonfiction
Author:
Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2002.
Physical Description:
xviii, 429 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780670030620
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library E169.1 .S8 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

There is no writer more quintessentially American than John Steinbeck. More than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures. Yet his nonfiction-the writings in which he spoke directly about his world-has often been overlooked. Now, Steinbeck's last published book is available again, along with a collection of his finest reportage, including the newspaper articles that inspired his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath. For thirty years, Steinbeck pursued a parallel career as a journalist, even as he won fame as a novelist. In America and Americans, Susan Shillinglaw and Jackson J. Benson offer a brilliant selection of his finest nonfiction. Here are Steinbeck's writings about Salinas, San Francisco, Monterey, and Sag Harbor; his moral and political commentary; his coverage from the battlefronts of World War II and Vietnam; his literary criticism; and his reflections on friends, Henry Ford, Robert Capa and Ed Ricketts. And most important of all is the primary text, America and Americans-an extended look at the nation he loved and criticized all his life. This remarkable volume offers a portrait of the artist as citizen deeply engaged in the world around him.


Author Notes

In recent years Steinbeck has been elevated to a more prominent status among American writers of his generation. If not quite at the world-class artistic level of a Hemingway or a Faulkner, he is nonetheless read very widely throughout the world by readers of all ages who consider him one of the most "American" of writers.

Born in Salinas County, California on February 27, 1902, Steinbeck was of German-Irish parentage. After four years as a special student at Stanford University, he went to New York, where he worked as a reporter and as a hod carrier. Returning to California, he devoted himself to writing, with little success; his first three books sold fewer than 3,000 copies. Tortilla Flat (1935), dealing with the paisanos, California Mexicans whose ancestors settled in the country 200 years ago, established his reputation. In Dubious Battle (1936), a labor novel of a strike and strike-breaking, won the gold medal of the Commonwealth Club of California. Of Mice and Men (1937), a long short story that turns upon a melodramatic incident in the tragic friendship of two farm hands, written almost entirely in dialogue, was an experiment and was dramatized in the year of its publication, winning the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. It brought him fame.

Out of a series of articles that he wrote about the transient labor camps in California came the inspiration for his greatest book, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), the odyssey of the Joad family, dispossessed of their farm in the Dust Bowl and seeking a new home, only to be driven on from camp to camp. The fiction is punctuated at intervals by the author's voice explaining this new sociological problem of homelessness, unemployment, and displacement. As the American novel "of the season, probably the year, possibly the decade," it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. It roused America and won a broad readership by the unusual simplicity and tenderness with which Steinbeck treated social questions. Even today, The Grapes of Wrath remains alive as a vivid account of believable human characters seen in symbolic and universal terms as well as in geographically and historically specific ones. Ma Joad is one of the most memorable characters in twentieth-century American fiction. It is her courage that sustains the family. Steinbeck's best and most ambitious novel after The Grapes of Wrath is East of Eden (1952), a saga of two American families in California from before the Civil War through World War I. Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1947), and Sweet Thursday (1955) are lighter works that find Steinbeck returning to the lighthearted tone of Tortilla Flat as he recounts picaresque adventures of modern-day picaros. The Winter of Our Discontent (1961) struck some reviewers as being appropriately titled because of its despairing treatment of humanity's fall from grace in a wasteland world where money is king.

Steinbeck also wrote important nonfiction, including Russian Journal (1948) in collaboration with the photographer Robert Capa; Once There Was a War (1958) and America and Americans (1966), which features pictures by 55 leading photographers and a 70-page essay by Steinbeck. His interest in marine biology led to two books primarily about sea life, Sea of Cortez (1941) (with Edward F. Ricketts) and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951). Travels with Charley (1952) is an engaging account of his journey of rediscovery of America, which took him through approximately 40 states.

Steinbeck was married three times and died in New York City on December 20, 1968 of heart disease and congestive heart failure. He was 66, and had been a life-long smoker. (Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Few may remember that the Nobel Prize-winning novelist pursued a parallel 30-year career in journalism, but this collection (timed to mark the centennial of Steinbeck's birth) demonstrates that the author was a major journalistic voice in the mid-20th century. Of course, the pieces vary in quality: Steinbeck's travel writing, personal recollections and political journalism are more entertaining than his essays on craft or dated dispatches from war zones, and one questions why the editors, both Steinbeck scholars, chose certain brief reports. Still, Steinbeck's humor shines through in a number of fine essays, especially in one about a visit to his Sag Harbor cottage with two teenage sons, and another on his battles (in print) with a Communist newspaper in Italy. Three reports on the plight of California's migrant workers written in the mid-1930s before Steinbeck had finished The Grapes of Wrath shed light on the novel's roots. A particularly moving essay details the author's long friendship with Ed Ricketts, the man who found his way into Steinbeck's Cannery Row and The Sea of Cortez. The last 100 pages of the collection reprints his final book, America and Americans, in which the author offers a wide-reaching commentary on the American 20th century. "Journalism not only is a respected profession, but is considered the training ground of any good American author," wrote Steinbeck in 1966. Though this statement is no longer true, the collection shows that it certainly once was. (On sale Feb. 4) Forecast: No doubt publicity around Steinbeck's centennial will help sales to new readers as well as devotees. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Just in time for the centenary of Steinbeck's birth: a reissue of his last published book and a collection of his journalism. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


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