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In Dubious Battle

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  11,975 ratings  ·  787 reviews
At once a relentlessly fast-paced, admirably observed novel of social unrest and the story of a young man’s struggle for identity, In Dubious Battle is set in the California apple country, where a strike by migrant workers against rapacious landowners spirals out of control. Caught in the upheaval is Jim Nolan, a once aimless man who finds himself in the course of the stri ...more
Paperback, Penguin Classic, 304 pages
Published May 30th 2006 by Penguin Classics (first published 1936)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck

In Dubious Battle is a novel by John Steinbeck, written in 1936.

In Dubious battle, is the story of those who stand up and fight with the upper echelons of society, Jim is tired of his life, and joins the association, and in one corner of the country, the salary of apple pickers has been reduced.

Jim and Mac go there to lead the workers to quit. This novel is not only the story of a part of American history, but also a guide for all social actors. Jim Nolan meets
Jul 02, 2016 rated it liked it
John Steinbeck’s 1936 novel In Dubious Battle (with a title and opening quote from Milton) tells the tragic story of a labor strike amongst apple growers and pickers in a fictionalized California.

Considered by some to be his first major novel, Steinbeck readers will notice many themes that would later become central focuses of his writing like labor injustices, group dynamics, and man’s ability for and propensity for cruelty and inhumanity. These same themes would later be explored in Steinbeck’
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, overdrive
Mac is a communist labor organizer in the 1930s. He is willing to use anyone and do anything necessary to further his cause. He and Jim, his recently recruited young colleague, set out to start a strike of apple pickers, who are burdened by low wages and poor working conditions. The only person towards whom the manipulative Mac is sincerely solicitous is Jim. The strikers face opposition from well organized farmers and law enforcement.

I wasn’t aware of this book before this year, but it is now
Jason Koivu
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, fiction
At a time when the divide in this country between rich and poor is as great as it's ever been, a book like In Dubious Battle becomes quite pertinent once more.

It's the Great Depression and the Red Scare has the nation suspicious of anyone who might organize a strike for better wages, for something higher than the starvation-level pay the bosses are handing out to hard-up fieldworkers.

Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle follows Jim, a newcomer to the Communist Party. Mac, a strike agitator takes him u
Jun 17, 2013 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
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Maybe I am being too stingy with my stars here, maybe the book deserves five! This is one of Steinbeck’s best.

The ending is perfect. There is not a misstep taken. The distrust that has been mounting adds a pinch of ambiguity, not concerning (view spoiler). The pinch of ambiguity adds a superb touch to an e
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perfectly titled. All American workers, the common men, are caught between Communists & Capitalists. Only one sentence in the book speaks for the Capitalists, the market price of apples has gone down, thus the migrant pickers wages are lower when they arrive than they expected. Already on the bitter edge, the migrant workers are at the mercy of the growers, the Capitalists, unless they can band together to be a force to be reckoned with which makes them ripe picking for the Communists.

Jim, a new
Jeff Dickison
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is the immediate precursor to "The Grapes of Wrath", one of the greatest books ever written, and for that reason alone deserves 3 stars. Many of the themes and issues in "Grapes" were first introduced here. However, the communists or reds, were not very sympathetic or even interesting. I really didn't care what happened to them. But the Jobes in "Grapes" could have fallen right out of my family tree (my mother's family went to Arizona in '39 to pick cotton) and were much more believabl ...more
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
In Dubious Battle is the first of Steinbeck’s three Dust Bowl novels, with Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath being the other two. While all three books amply display Steinbeck’s profound empathy for those who are marginalized and disenfranchised, In Dubious Battle is arguably the more overtly political of the three books. As the book opens, one of the main characters, Jim Nolan, joins the Communist Party. For his first assignment, Nolan is sent with Mac, one of the Party’s veteran labor or ...more
May 03, 2009 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
Jon Nakapalau
Do mobs find people or do people find mobs? Once the mob becomes the collective will of the people how far will it take the ends to justify the means? And when that 'means' is accomplished how will it 'end' for all who have participated? This book examines these questions - read at the same time as Eric Hoffer's The True Believer for an excellent "book pairing." ...more
[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
John Steinbecks' novel deals with two Communist Party activists who learn of a strike going down in California amongst migrant workers who are employed to pick the annual Apple harvest during the mid-1930s (the novel was published in 1936, just as Roosevelt's New Deal was taking effect, post Depression era, which is what Steinbeck's main works deal with, such as Grapes of Wrath). Mac and Jim, the activists, go along to the dispute, which was caused by a cut in wages and they try to organise the ...more
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is a precursor you might say to Steinbeck's classic "The Grapes of Wrath." It's about the farmworkers and their struggle against injustice in California in the Thirties. It is filled with Steinbeck's sympathy for the common man. The story focuses on two "reds" or communists who manipulate the workers and bring about a strike for their own ends, i.e. that of the Party. I had some sympathy for the agitators--how do you end a system of oppression?-- but felt things would go badly for the ...more
Sep 16, 2013 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 13, 2014 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,
Nov 06, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
No more lone cries came from lone men. They moved together, looked alike. The roar was one voice, coming from many throats.

This book had some of the most quotable moments I've read. I liked it, although I didn't really love it. I felt the book was very obviously trying to make a point and so it felt heavy handed at times. It was, however, a very educational look at the lives of migratory workers during the depression. He covers the topic in The Grapes of Wrath but this one was from the perspecti
May 22, 2014 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
Brent Ecenbarger
Jan 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
"In Dubious Battle" is a great book, one that is sure to make you angry and sad while reading it. Steinbeck does a great job of showing both sides of the labor battle, while making one side as good and the other as bad, but still showing both sides to be manipulative. The book follows the character of Jim along, as he joins the "party" and eventually accompanies Mac into apple picking country to organize a strike. The bulk of the book's philosophy is expunged in conversations between Jim, Mac, a ...more
Nov 20, 2020 rated it liked it
There's a lot of intrigue in the country of Apples. There's the people who pick em' and the people who pay em' to pick em.' Sometimes the people doin the payin' ain't payin' enough. So, the people who pick em' have to band together and agitate those who pay em.' This book has all of the labor organizing a boy could want. It even has a woman who goes into labor but out of her labor comes a baby not an apple, or maybe the apple is a metaphor for babies. Maybe the baby is a metaphor for apples. Eve ...more
Jan 15, 2014 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
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
Sep 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
I realized a little way in that I had read this before. It is an early Steinbeck novel and it is very good. It follows Communist Party agitators in the early 30s who deeply believe in what they are doing, as flawed as it may be. It reminded me of the show "The Americans" in the ability of people on all sides to convince themselves of their righteousness. The old 1946 copy I have was my parents and it virtually fell to pieces as I read it. ...more
Jenny Bunting
Jul 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Read this one during bouts of sleep deprivation and red wine drowsiness so I'll have to cross-reference some online summaries.

I got the gist and it was beautiful and had so many Steinbeck tropes I love. Not ideal for a readathon though.
Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
I have run out of things to say about John Steinbeck... and I am unable to review his books without talking about him. I do so often in other books by other authors but have been unable to separate the man from the book. I love him. I love his books. I find his stories to be smart, intricate, deep, warm, loving, and truly empathetic. He doesn't write with sympathy for the plight of the poor. He is truly an empath and I can feel it in each story I read.

This one is not among my favorite Steinbeck
Don Stanton
Mar 15, 2011 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
Nov 16, 2015 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
Sep 07, 2012 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
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Comrades! Five million stars.
Reading this while reading Capital and during the BLM/ Covid uprisings is wildddddddddd. Baby we gotta organize
Ian Anderson
In Dubious Battle is a solid book. It's Steinbeck's first full-length novel considering the others up to this point are more like novellas. What I enjoyed about this one is that Steinbeck's straightforward storytelling ability shines through. He doesn't do anything fancy but his writing is effective. The novel is easy to get into and each scene is crystal clear. It's one of those that I imagined could be made into a film, which I found out it was in 2016 directed by James Franco. It's fast-paced ...more
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Literary Devices in the novel In Dubious Battle 2 27 Sep 09, 2013 08:15PM  

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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

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