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In Dubious Battle

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  7,038 Ratings  ·  445 Reviews
This 1936 novel—set in the California apple country—portrays a strike by migrant workers that metamorphoses from principled defiance into blind fanaticism.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throu
Paperback, Penguin Classic, 304 pages
Published May 30th 2006 by Penguin Classics (first published 1936)
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East of Eden by John SteinbeckOf Mice and Men by John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckCannery Row by John SteinbeckThe Pearl by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck
13th out of 43 books — 171 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
100 Best American Authors
154th out of 551 books — 492 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Aug 16, 2013 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle

Writing novels about the poor and dispossessed in 1930s California and in the process attracting the wrath of farmers’ organisations and the attention of the FBI gave John Steinbeck a reputation which has persisted to this day. Many people assume that he was a communist, or at the very least a socialist. This novel, along with The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men is a work which cemented Steinbeck’s reputation in that regard.

However, the characterization of Steinbeck’s politics as socialist
[Editor: For unexpressed reasons, the author of this review has requested with utmost fervency that the reader watch this YouTube video before continuing to read and then imagine its main subject, Dr. Steve Brule, reading the body of the review aloud as a monologue.]

This was a very good book. It displays all the hallmarks of Steinbeck's greatest writing: wonderful dialogue and characterization, heartbreaking turns of plot, and the permeating sense of optimistic pessimism*.

The problem that this
Jun 19, 2014 Allan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having set myself a challenge of reading at least one Steinbeck book per month, I decided to tackle 'In Dubious Battle' this month due to interest within the Goodreads Ireland group to enjoy it as a Buddy Read.

Published in 1936. 'In Dubious Battle' was Steinbeck's first novel after his breakthrough 'Tortilla Flat'. However, while this breakthrough was a relatively easy going book, very much in keeping with the future classic 'Cannery Row', 'In Dubious Battle' tackles more serious subject matter,
Oct 06, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it
This hasn't been my favorite Steinbeck book.

I read it for one of my English classes this semester, and I think the subject matter of the class ("Race, Ethnicity, Gender in American Lit. and Film") definitely influenced my perspective when reading this novel. I grew annoyed with the lifelessness of the female characters in the story--when they ARE presented, they're dull, one-dimensional mothers or daughters or caretakers, and it's just so unoriginal. Because the story takes place during the Ind
Jun 15, 2011 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my first review on Goodreads. Back in PBT days (circa 2004), I used to write little snippet reviews for every book I read but since I started using GR last summer, I've been so impressed by the high caliber of Quinten's reviews that I've been too intimidated to write my own. And lazy. But I'm going to start anyway.

In Dubious Battle completes my run of all of the Steinbeck books at the Central Library, and certainly ends it on a high note. When I first added this book as "to-read," I was
Zeynep Nur
May 08, 2016 Zeynep Nur rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: klasikler, roman
Bitmeyin Kavga'yı daha iyi anlayabilmek için ilk iş John Steinbeck'in hayatını bilmek bana kalırsa. Çünkü bir işçi ailesinin çocuğu olarak dünyaya gelen ve okuyabilmek için birçok farklı işte çalışan Steinbeck işçilerin düşünce yapısını, onları örgütleyen 'kızılları', sosyalist olmayanların bakış açısını çok güzel yansıtıyor. Tek taraflı yazılmış bir kitap değil anlayacağınız. Sırf bu yönüyle bu zamana kadar yazılmış birçok kitabın önüne geçiyor Bitmeyen Kavga.

Kitabı okurken beni en çok etkileye
Susan Johnson
Jun 23, 2014 Susan Johnson rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Steinbeck writes another memorable novel that I had neither read or heard of before which says a lot for my ignorance of an author who writes about places in my back yard. I had read "Grapes of Wrath" and "Mice and Men" in school and then never thought of him until Oprah made "East of Eden" a book club selection and I fell in love with Steinbeck.

This novel takes place in the 1930's in the Central Valley of Calif. and concerns a strike among fruit pickers for more money. Although the s
Don Stanton
Mar 15, 2011 Don Stanton rated it it was ok
Timing is everything, or so it seems. I read this book long ago and I feel about it the same now as I did then, except then I didn't know how how express it. So Looking back I See JS as

Iconic American author Check
Nobel Prize winner Check
Failed as a labor Check
Quasi Recluse Check
Depression era writer Check
Proletariat Check
Socialist Check
Communist Possibly
outlook: Big Guy Wins
Little guys looses Check
Like USSR policies Check
Depressing as Hell Double Check
Alcoholic Check
Defeatist Check

My conclusi
May 03, 2009 Marvin rated it it was amazing
There is not a Steinbeck novel I don't like, but In Dubious Battle has stayed with me the longest. This novel is also the one that Steinbeck fans often "forget" about. Its tale of the struggles between a party organizer and the agricultural "system" doesn't fit well with reader's depiction of good and bad sides. While Steinbeck identifies with the worker and the union organizers, he also recognizes the fact that each side manipulates and sacrifices often in a cynical way. Much of the novel relat ...more
Sep 07, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 imag
This is the first Steinbeck I've read. I managed to avoid reading most American and British classic lit during high school and college. While this isn't Steinbeck's best known work, it should rank among his best. He tells the story of a labor dispute in an agricultural community in California. This novel was written in the 1930's and the Great Depression had it's hold over the US until the late 1930's and in some places into the 1940's. Agricultural workers at the time were white men who lived o ...more
Feb 07, 2014 Judy rated it really liked it
I did not read Steinbeck's novel about an attempt to organize migrant workers as part of My Big Fat Reading Project because it was published before 1940, the year I chose for the beginning of my project. I read it now for a reading group and must say, it is a much better book than The Grapes of Wrath.

All of the qualities I love best about Steinbeck are here. Great complex characters, description that brings the locations and the weather and the events to life, and a thoughtful look at a big hum
May 25, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it
Shelves: american, fiction
Steinbeck is in good form with this novel, covering the struggle of orchard workers against a rich farmer, giving his usual eloquent description and engrossing characters. I don't hear this one being mentioned too often of Steinbeck's works, which is a shame.
Apr 13, 2013 Neil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been a lifelong fan of author John Steinbeck, but it wasn’t until I went back to the university as a mature adult that I first read IN DUBIOUS BATTLE. Published in 1936, before THE GRAPES OF WRATH, it is not one of Steinbeck’s better known novels, but I believe it is definitely one of his strongest. As a piece of literature, IN DUBIOUS BATTLE is a multi-layered story of Jim Nolan, who joins “the party” in farm country, California. The party is not identified but assumed to be the American ...more
Guy Portman
Aug 04, 2013 Guy Portman rated it really liked it
In Dubious Battle is a politically engaged novel that was, at the time of its publication at the height of the 1930’s Depression, highly controversial. The book follows Jim Nolan, a young man from poverty stricken circumstances, who is disillusioned with a system that he perceives as unjust, in which his father fought a losing battle for justice all his life, while his mother futilely sought salvation in a God that does not exist. Joining a group of communists determined to bring about a new wor ...more
I thought this book would be too propagandistic at first, but once Steinbeck moved away from the city into the orchards and the midst of the strike, I, like the migrant workers, was swept up in the action. A few scenes do scream of talking heads, mouthpieces, and forced symbolism - no one's wrong when they call this the forerunner to Grapes of Wrath, rather than its equal- but it's still incredibly exciting and compelling journalism. And what it lacks in GoW's scope and artistry, it makes up for ...more
Jan 22, 2016 Barb rated it it was amazing
Published in 1936, this early novel by John Steinbeck is a showcase for the plight of the downtrodden, specifically California apple pickers during the great depression. The protagonists are party members (the reds) who for good or bad, put the interests of the poor workers as a group, over the the interests of individuals as they organize a strike. The writing is superb, evoking time and place with dialog, character development and atmosphere. The sentiments of the novel still hold up today and ...more
Emma Flanagan
Aug 28, 2014 Emma Flanagan rated it it was ok
Shelves: buddy-reads
I debated long and hard what rating to give this book. On the one hand it is well written. Steinbeck is a master at encapsulating a time and place. On the other hand it never really captivated me.

I had never read any Steinbeck before. In Dubious Battle may not have been the best to start with. If you enjoy Steinbeck you'll probably this book. If you've never read any Steinbeck maybe start somewhere else.
Faye Powell
Oct 31, 2015 Faye Powell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
There isn't a Steinbeck novel yet that I am not overwhelmed by. In Dubious Battle, Steinbeck shows there are no easy choices and no pure heroes in the struggle for social justice. As the philosopher doctor tells the leaders of the strikers, "Men hate something in themselves." He stands apart from Mac and Jim, challenging them to see the flaw in their uncritical acceptance of their belief that revolution will solve rverything and create an equal and just society. He continues, "There've been comm ...more
Punk Johnny Cash
Apr 28, 2014 Punk Johnny Cash rated it really liked it
In Dubious Battle drew me in. I was lost in this book. I consider myself a 'red' and that is exactly what this book is about. It is a good look at radical labor organizing in the early 20th century. Some of it is idealized but it is fun to read. It was a sort of leftist fantasy in that respect.

In light of the current left the book is lacking in certain areas of social consciousness with issues of gender or race. Where it stands strong is in it's criticism of capitalism and it's pro-union ideolo
Tyson Call
Jun 08, 2015 Tyson Call rated it really liked it
When reviewing a John Steinbeck book, one can go either of two ways: review the man's work against all other literature, or compare it to the quality of his other books.

In Dubious Battle is one of Steinbeck's lesser known works, pre Tortilla Flat and the world famous, high school required reading Of Mice and Men. Whether it failed to garner as much attention as the latter because of its quality or some other factor could be debated, but there is no question that it has lived in the shadow of hi
Jun 07, 2015 Patrick rated it really liked it
p.8 I want to work toward something. I feel dead. I thought I might get alive again.
p.32 His sleep was a shouting, echoing black cave, and it extended into eternity.
p.40 Mostly I'm too damn busy to know how I feel.
p.112 You people have an idea that if you can establish (italics) the thing, the job'll be done. Nothing stops, Mac. If you were able to put an idea into effect tomorrow, it would start changing right away.

This work is an excellent inspection in the concept of mob mentality. The topic
May 16, 2014 Zach rated it it was amazing
In Dubious Battle is a thrilling procedural about a labor strike in a California valley dominated by a handful of landowners. It is also a penetrating examination of group psychology, the motives and methods of political activists, and the struggle between labor and capitol. I suppose many might dismiss the book as a socialist tract and that may account for why it is not widely mentioned alongside Steinbeck's other great works. But I found it quite nuanced: his sympathies are clearly with the wo ...more
Apr 27, 2014 Erin rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
I haven't taken on Steinbeck since high school, so it was interesting to see him through adult eyes. I like his journalistic style, his ability to capture an authentic voice and strong sense of place, and how pretty much all of the story was narrated through dialogue.

I like the ethical nuances of the party members. The farmers they fought were clearly greedy, corrupt, and cruel, but it is also quite clear that while Mac and Jim care about issues facing the working class, and make deep personal s
Aaron Arnold
Nov 08, 2012 Aaron Arnold rated it really liked it
As a straightforward novel about striking apple pickers, this is a good look at the mechanics of strikes and yet another good look from Steinbeck at the psychology of people placed in nearly impossible situations. The book follows Jim, the son of a famous Communist Party fighter, and his own journey from just another unemployed worker to Party organizer himself. He joins fellow Party men Mac and London in the fictional Torgas Valley and its fight against exploitative farm owners. Steinbeck uses ...more
Jun 01, 2013 Sasha rated it really liked it
Similar in subject and style to The Grapes of Wrath, characterized by a conversation-driven sequence of short scenes over a short span of time. Muscular, brief plot, unfolding the story of a handful of men and the gritty mess of virulent idealism mixed with hand-to-mouth needfulness. Leaders and the men who follow in a time of gut-wrenching crisis. Curiously, Steinbeck again portrays human sexuality as a kind of flitting natural urge that comes and goes in a man, and seems best satisfied in occa ...more
Barry Taft
Aug 07, 2012 Barry Taft rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Steinbeck's novel illustrates the struggles of apple pickers in central California in the 1930's to organize a strike after a devastating pay cut threatens their livelihoods. The events are seen through the eyes of an impressionable newcomer who has fallen under the tutelage of a savvy, older organizer who deftly manipulates the situation to suit his "Red" ideology. The crisp, almost Hemingway-esque dialogue of gritty characters evokes an early film noir style, but much of the events depicted co ...more
Jerome Peterson
Jul 13, 2013 Jerome Peterson rated it really liked it
“In Dubious Battle” by John Steinbeck

‘“In Dubious Battle” is John Steinbeck’s impassioned novel of man’s struggle against injustice during the years of the great Depression. Written just before “The Grapes of Wrath”, it tells the story of the violent revolt of the fruit pickers in California. A tale of bitterness and class hatred, it is filled with Steinbeck’s deep sympathy for the hopes and dreams of the oppressed and exploited.’

The dialog and narrative are written with concise sharpness; almos
In Dubious Battle is the Anti-Ayn story--the opposite of Atlas Shrugged. This is a story of an apple picker's strike taking place in a California Valley, told from the perspective of two outside communist agitators who come along to facilitate the action.

*spoiler alert* The parallels between war and strike actions are evident from the start. Even the strategies employed are military--siege, barricade, propaganda and spying are all a part of the strikes. Mac, one of the main characters, makes it
Maybe I give too much weight to the ending of a book in the rating, but I thought this story ended too jarringly and too soon. The range of characters in the strike was good and I liked how they acted according to their explained interests and histories. The main character was pretty passive after the beginning while the action happened all around him. I would've liked to see Mac as the main character instead.
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John Steinbeck III was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939 and the novella Of Mice and Men, published in 1937. In all, he wrote twenty-five books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and several collections of short stories.

In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley
More about John Steinbeck...

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“Out of all this struggle a good thing is going to grow. That makes it worthwhile.” 12 likes
“Mostly I’m too damn busy to know how I feel.” 4 likes
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