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Once There Was a War
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Once There Was a War

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  900 ratings  ·  69 reviews
War according to Steinbeck

John Steinbeck's dispatches from World War II, filed for the New York Herald Tribune in 1943, vividly capture the human side of war. Writing from England in the midst of the London blitz, North Africa, and Italy, Steinbeck focuses on the people as opposed to the battles, portraying everyone from the guys in a bomber crew to Bob Hope on his USO tou...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published August 28th 2007 by Penguin Classics (first published 1943)
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When the US entered World War II, Steinbeck had been involved in writing anti-fascist propaganda for some time. He was keen to secure a commission as an intelligence officer in the armed forces, but this didn't eventuate. Steinbeck then spent time trying to get himself appointed as a war correspondent. In April 1943, the New York Herald Tribune offered to hire him if he could obtain the necessary security clearances. Doing so was not as easy as it should have been, as some people interviewed by...more
A vivid and insightful look into the realities of wartime. While Steinbeck's particular genius was perhaps better suited to novels like Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat, he makes a fine job of war journalism.

Favourite quote:

There is a quality in the people of Dover that may well be the key to the coming German disaster. They are incorrigibly, incorruptibly unimpressed. The German, with his uniform and his pageantry and his threats and plans, does not impress these people at all. The Dover man has
This is the second or third time I've read this. The quality of the articles is a bit mixed, but overall it's an interesting, sometimes poignant, occasionally suspenseful glimpse at a short part of WWII. I would love it if more of the book were like the last ten pages, but it is an enjoyable read about an interesting time, with angles you don't often read about.
John Steinbeck sends dispatches from World War II back to the denizens of the States.
As he writes in his introduction, he was not competing with the other war correspondents. He was not reporting on the news. He was sending his own brand of musings, of stories from the war, feature stories and news-features in his own style.
Thoroughly entertaining, with something to say about every way, "Once There Was a War" is great read.
My personal favorite dispatch is about Big Train Mulligan, a private who...more
This collection of Steinbeck columns from his time as a war correspondent reveals contemporary views of the soldier's life at war. The book was published many years after the war, but the columns were all written during the war, and because they were written as it happened, there's a certain authenticity that can't be captured in historical writings. Although I'm sure Steinbeck took literary license with a few of the columns--particularly those dealing with an enlisted soldier who somehow tricks...more
Claudia  Ciardi
Once there was…Es war einmal…C’era una volta una guerra, che suona più o meno come “c’era una volta un califfo per un un’ora”. Il titolo è volutamente provocatorio. John Steinbeck, scrittore americano versatile e fecondo, si è cimentato con un evento drammatico, la guerra, vissuta in prima persona, in quanto inviato al fronte. Da questa esperienza sono scaturiti una serie di “pezzi”, spesso scritti nei tempi impossibili richiesti dai giornali e in situazioni affatto comode, il cui contenuto non...more
Artur Coelho
O que nos agarra neste livro que colige crónicas escritas por Steinbeck enquanto correspondente de guerra na Europa devastada pela II Guerra Mundial é o seu carácter profundamente humano. As palavras não olham para os grandiosos movimentos geopolíticos, para as tácticas militares, para as glórias do material bélico, para o heroísmo do soldado. A sensibilidade humanista e social deste escritor leva-o a olhar para os pequenos pormenores, os momentos simples, registando curtos minutos na vida dos c...more
Phillip Edwards
Once There Was A War is a collection of Steinbeck's daily reports for the New York Herald Tribune from June 20th, to December 13th, 1943. He travels with American troops to England, to Africa, and then witnesses the capture of the Italian island of Ventotene (a German radar station) by "five men in a whaleboat."

Steinbeck's writing has a mesmerising quality that makes you feel you really are there, seeing through his eyes. In his first few reports he describes life onboard a troopship heading fo...more
War. "Murderous nonsense", as described by John Steinbeck in his novel "Once There Was A War", War is a screw up of humanity. Steinbeck conveys his distaste for war, stating in the introduction his views on war and his experience through it. He was an American war correspondent during WWII, and his book is a collection of his articles. Each article has its own plot, its own story, its own point to it. Although one thing stands out among his work, and that is the idea that war isn't so great, it...more
I found Steinbeck's introduction to this book to be very moving, filled with melancholy, nostalgia, and some regret for those who were lost in the war. However, the book itself is a little disappointing. I'm left with the sense that he was holding back. Each piece seems to be quickly written, maybe 'jotted down' would be a better description. This is most likely the result of having to write under newspaper deadline but it could also be the point of view he used, he never refers to himself in an...more
Кремена Михайлова
В началото ми се стори наистина кореспондентски стилът – сух, телеграфен, но бързо започнах да усещам чувствителното писателско око/ухо на Стайнбек.

Хем ми беше непоносимо да чета за войната, хем ми бяха интересни детайлите, на които е обърнал внимание – по-скоро не самите бойни действия, а подготовката за тях – примерно нощта преди бомбардировка в спалното помещение на войниците (направо като в роман е описано). Като разказва за името на самолета, видях образно екипажа. Сякаш за първи път си пре...more
Kit Forrest
When he wasn't writing classic American literature, John Steinbeck spent some time as a war correspondent in England, North Africa and Italy. This is a collection of the essays he sent back. Pretty light on heroics and combat, much more focused on the lives of soldiers and their interactions with the citizens of nations at war. In his foreword he discloses that there was a great deal of self-censorship among the correspondents, and knowing what got left out makes the essays all the more effectiv...more
I love John Steinbeck and think I have read a lot of his stuff, but luckily I found this little tome at the Brandon Library Book Sale. It is a collection of essays that were written by Steinbeck from June through December 1943 as a correspondent in Europe. As typical for his literary endavors it focuses on the "human side," and in this book, the human side of war. They are short, easy to read quick dispatches from various locations: England, Africa and Italy. And very moving in there story-telli...more
Dec 30, 2012 Cas rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone, young adult and older
I strongly recommmend this book, a collection of dispatches written by Steinbeck in 1943 when he was working as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Although he begins with an apology for deficiencies in the writing - he was producing articles to the newspaper's deadlines - the prose is flawless and his descriptions of people, their actions and the situations they are in are so well observed, I'm not sure he could be bettered in this regard.
The attraction and power of these stor...more
John Defrog
A collection of dispatches Steinbeck filed from England, North Africa and Italy during his six months as a war correspondent during WW2. It’s a remarkable collection, not least because Steinbeck didn’t cover battles so much as he covered what happened between them. He perfectly catches the human side of the war, writing about the drudgery that soldiers endure, as well as the stress, lack of sleep, rumors and so on. He also writes up humorous anecdotes, superstitions, a few ghost stories, and it’...more
Wow! Steinbeck is amazing. This is a compilation of his work as a war correspondent during WWII. But, in contrast to what most correspondents were reporting, Steinbeck conveyed the emotions and life-changing experiences of the people who lived the war, soldiers and civilians alike. His words draw you in and take you to the front lines as seen through those he met while in London, Africa and Italy. It is Steinbeck's ability to capture the essence of war through his brilliant style of writing that...more
Steinbeck, John. ONCE THERE WAS A WAR. (1958). *****.
Steinbeck tried to enlist in the army early on but was turned down because of his age. When he related this experience to friends of his from the New York Herald Tribune, he was promptly hired as a reporter and shipped to England. He was first met with hostility by other war correspondents until they realized that he was not in competition with them. Steinbeck’s dispatches dealt with people and people-related events of the war, not with batt...more
I found this book in our bookcase, looked it over and decided to read a little, but not all of it. Couldn't stop! The book consists of Steinbeck's posts as a WWII correspondent. He writes both about day to day activities of the soldiers at war, but also prefaces the books with his perspective on war a number of years later. It's a short book and well worth the read.
A good read.

But really, the introduction is the best thing about it. An older, more accomplished writer looking back and commenting about the process of covering a war as a journalist during "war time." Much different than looking at the war in retrospect.

There are a few standout chapters, but I don't think Steinbeck was well suited to this type of writing. He struggles to add some levity at times (and he is a great comic writer) and in general seems to have a hard time finding his voice. Ironi...more
Tony Smith
Great unbiased insight into the individual's experience during war from a very great writer. Unlike an individual Soldier's potentially skewed account of their unit's or their own contribution to the effort, Steinbeck comments on the effort (both at home and abroad) and perceived emotions as an observer. As a great writer he tells the story well without noticeable embellishment. A great read with numerous small stories easily read in short sittings enjoyable by all even if 'war stories' are not...more
T P Kennedy
Super book. It's a collection of his journalistic pieces about World War II. What comes across is his humanity and his humanising of the fighting experience. He's a master of the small anecdote that conjures up a person. Some of these are linked pieces and one are two stand comparison with the best of his writing.
Margaret Elder
I thoroughly enjoyed this volume of newspaper columns that Steinbeck penned as a war correspondent during World War II. It's a great book for short reads of just a few moments duration. I liked that its vignettes focused on experiences of the individual enlisted men. There are very solemn columns as well as philosophical ones and even a whimsical or humorous one or two. A reader should not read these selections without first reading Steinbeck's introduction to them that he composed years after t...more
Mark Findlater
"The men sitting on the deck disappear into the blackness and the silence, and one man begins to whistle softly just to be sure he is there."

John Steinbeck says each of these vignettes was censored either by Navy or by himself out of duty to the home effort; it doesn't come through. Each three page correspondence is powerful and evocative, resplendent with humour and tension, each rendering a different aspect of the war and all those it affected.
Buck Ward
John Steinbeck was a war correspondent for the New York Herald-Tribune in 1943. Once There Was a War is a collection of the stories he sent back, published 15 years later. I've never read newspaper stories like these. If only our local newspaper would hire Pulitzer prize winning novelists as reporters. Steinbeck sent stories back from England, Africa, and Italy. The stories he filed were actual stories, not just news reports. All of them are good; some of them are very good. Twice after reading...more
William Mooney
The best part of Steinbeck's reporting on World War Two was the variety of stories he covered. He did not simply report on whether a battle was won or lost. Instead, he focused on individual experiences, ranging from the rituals and superstitions of bomber squads, women in the British service, English civilians response after a German raid, Italian civilians during their surrender and more. Through Steinbeck's writing you get an excellent feeling of what it was like to be around Europe during th...more
Very interesting to follow Mr. Steinbeck's work as a correspondent during World War II. The strict censorship of media is evident and the author discusses it at length in his writings.

p.34 "He lifts the scantling from the trunk and looks at it to see whether it may not send out new shooots, and then, standing up, he turns and looks at the French coast, where five hundred men and a great tube of steel and high explosive and charts and plans, mathematical formulae, uniforms, telephones, shouted o...more
Somehow I expected more of a Catch-22 atmosphere. But Steinbeck's war isn't that much about fighting. It's even at times quite romantic. We read a lot about the background events and about the soldiers' activities when they're not in action. Most of the time they spend waiting for anything to happen. There's no blood, very little shooting and almost no killed people. It's more about the sweat, dirt, discomfort and dullness of war.

This book will not change my life in any way, I will probably forg...more
This book is a collection of 800-1,000 word essays Steinbeck wrote for the New York Tribune while on assignment as a war correspondent. These essays provide a unique insight of WW2 through the eyes of ordinary soldiers and civilians. From London to Algiers, Steinbeck give us a glimpse into the mundane details of war from how embarkment on large military vessels is accomplished to the disinfected water that the soldiers were forced to drink in Africa. I appreciated the details and perspective he...more
This is Steinbeck at his best, which is saying a lot. I consider John Steinbeck one of the indispensable writers of the 20th century.

Once There Was A War is focused chiefly on the invasion of Italy by American forces in 1943, during World War II, as the Americans drove the Nazis up the boot and back to their homeland of Germany.

Perhaps what stands out most in these dispatches from the front, these eyewitness reports, is the author's humor and humanity, abiding during the lethalest conflagration...more
Interesting to read his non-fiction. These are war time newspaper articles, and have a distinctive style. Most are concerned with the 'human aspect' of the soldiers' lives, and these show Steinbeck's abilities off best, while the few that are more to do with military operations have been subjected to cuts by the censor and have been written with this in mind, so are a bit limited on detail. Each article is about 4 pages long, so the book does gather some pace. Setr in England, Africa and Italy.
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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
More about John Steinbeck...
Of Mice and Men The Grapes of Wrath East of Eden The Pearl Cannery Row

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