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In Dubious Battle [Paperback]

John Steinbeck , Warren French
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 25 1992 0140186417 978-0140186413 Revised
The story of a strike among the migratory workers in the apple orchards of California rising up "in dubious battle" against injustice.

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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A history of the working men's struggle Oct. 24 2002
Efforts of workers in this country to organize and to fight for fair wages and decent working conditions have been long and extremely arduous. The history of the labor movement has been fraught with violence and bloodshed. It was not until Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal that Congress passed laws allowing workers to organize and to strike for the conditions which should have been rightfully theirs all along.
Set in California in the 1930s, _In Dubious Battle_ accurately depicts individuals who strike when the owners of the orchard in which they pick apples decide to reduce their pay. The book documents these workers' extreme poverty and hunger, as well as their fears of bodily harm or even death at the hands vigilantes and police with whom they must contend during the strike. Their leaders, some of whom are on the extreme left political fringes, are men of fervor and dedication who are willing to sacrifice their own lives in the struggle. Steinbeck who often wrote of the sufferings of the common people, to his credit, presents a balanced portrait of these men. Bullying unarmed strikers into a fighting frenzy against men who possess deadly weapons, exploiting the martyrs in their ranks, and stealthily committing arson as methods of gaining them sympathy, were considered ethical acts that justified their worthy ends. One of the book's great strengths was its non-fictional, documentary feel. Admittedly, Steinbeck's matter of fact approach and dialogue sometimes dulled the book's dramatic impact. On the whole, though, I felt as if I were living amongst very realistic people, experiencing their disappointments fighting a dubious battle in an ultimately successful war for economic freedom of all working people.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warren French misses the point July 25 2002
Like the preceding reviewer, I felt that Warren French's essay offered a very poor introduction to this novel. It isn't simply that French gives too much of the story away; that could be solved simply be reading the 'introduction' later. More bothersome is how his analysis is based mainly on elements that are exterior to the novel (a few comments in Steinbeck's personal letters, historical anecdotes...) but remains largely at odds with the novel itself.
Contrary to French's convoluted claims, the novel is first and foremost a careful study of various aspects of worker/capital confrontation, played out in the form a depression era fruit pickers' strike. Steinbeck uses his two main characters, Mac and Jim - two 'communist agitators' who are instrumental in whipping up sentiments of resistance among the workers - to offer a 'big picture' perspective of the organizational aspects of the confrontation. The bulk of the novel explores tactics, with many of the typical property owner ploys and worker counterploys represented, and it attempts to dissect and explain the vicissitudes of worker morale (and, to a lesser extent, to explore the psychology of those acting on the side of the forces of repression). The specifics may be dated, but anyone involved in social struggles today will immediately recognize most of the tactics and the psychology. I am thinking less of contemporary strikes in North America, which have generally evolved into less violent confrontations, and more of struggles where people are still fighting to gain the power of solidarity. Worker struggles in the third world come to mind, but also the larger struggle to establish unity against the neoliberal agenda.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stiff and awkward, yet inspiring Feb. 21 2001
"In Dubious Battle" is not Steinbeck's best novel. It's heavy on the preaching of workingman values, uses characters to convey belief in that awkward way you see in blatantly political novels, and it ends abruptly and unsatisfactorily, as if Steinbeck were racing against a deadline.
But it's refreshing to read the novel in light of today's capital-dominated society. While the poor get steadily poorer, and the rich richer, Steinbeck's message still resonates today. Steinbeck's characters fight barehanded against orchard monopolies and their collected police and vigilante forces armed with guns, tear gas, and money. The Red agitators at the center of the story spark the day laborers' fear and anger and incite a strike, which brings the men together brandishing hope instead of guns. We could take a lesson from the Depression-era strikers and demand a fairer, more just society, one they so obviously failed to win for us.
Though stiff and ragged as it is, the novel also haunted me as I read it. While the conditions of oppressive capital exists now more strongly than ever, the workingman's struggle is long dead. In fact, today's average working stiff is the guy in the novel who loves his truck so much that he won't risk it in the battle for his own humanity. It's not until the truck is destroyed that he becomes truly vengeful.
So when you're blue about suburban sprawl, when you spend day after day in a cubicle working on meaningless projects, or when you watch our nation's highest offices sell to the highest bidders, pick up this book and howl.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Steinbeck's best May 26 2000
By A Customer
"In Dubious Battle" reads like the last few chapters of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle": polemical, propagandist, and two-dimensional. Of course, Steinbeck is always a fabulous writer, but this work simpply can't compare to "Grapes of Wrath" or "East of Eden". The characters are types (the cold-blooded radical, the hot-blooded radical, the straight and simple working-class leader) without the perfect nuances of individual character that one usually finds in Steinbeck's creations. The prose is less poetic than in his earlier novels; if you're the sort that hates Dickens and Hardy and you skipped the rambling descriptive chapters if "Grapes of Wrath" I guess that wouldn't be a minus though. But unless you're a die-hard Steinbeck fan, you might as well skip this one in my opinion.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I highly recomend this book!!!
I am an avid Steinbeck fan and picked this book up after reeding The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. In Dubious Battle was written before these two and you can really tell. Read more
Published on June 10 2007 by Nicole
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Steinbeck - Don't Pass This One Up
I'm disappointed to read that some folks regard the characters in this great book as caricatures - rather, they reflect the hard-working, strong-willed people that struggled so... Read more
Published on April 23 2004 by Danielle Bennignus
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best I ever Read
This is a story of the attempt of the Communist Party to infiltrate the labor movement. Using the rage of migrant farm workers against the unfair labor practices of the California... Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Dubious
In Dubious Battle seems to be a continuation of Grapes of Wrath, though I considered it far superior to Grapes when I was young. Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2003 by Jack Purcell
2.0 out of 5 stars Stale
I hadn't read John Steinbeck since high school thirty years ago, so I decided to give him a try, wanted to see him through adult eyes. Read more
Published on April 10 2003 by bobo
5.0 out of 5 stars Steinbeck's finest work
I love this book! I don't know how many times I've reread it, but it is my favorite of all of Steinbeck's works.
Published on Nov. 4 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Strike?
Steinbeck has an amazing way of just grabbing you by the neck and thrusting you into the full swing of a strike. Read more
Published on March 28 2002
1.0 out of 5 stars In dubiously boring...
A labor strike is a slow, monotonous undertaking. An organized labor strike, antagonized by an organized group of agitators is a repetitive and slow, monotonous undertaking. Read more
Published on March 7 2002 by Keith Hunt
1.0 out of 5 stars In dubious preaching
I know it's considered sacrilige to be critical of the great John Steinbeck, but this book is an insufferable soap box bore. Read more
Published on Oct. 16 2001 by Karina Gronnvoll
5.0 out of 5 stars what a sad ending!
I Finished In Dubious Battle a while ago and, it was a great novel about how much power people have. But The one sad thing about this book was the depressing ending! Read more
Published on July 14 2001 by Silence Dogood
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