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In Dubious Battle

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3.90  ·  Rating details ·  11,254 ratings  ·  728 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, as a principled defiance metamorphoses into blind fanaticism. Caught in the upheaval is Jim Nolan, ...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.

The central figure of the story is an activist attempting to organize abused laborers in order to gain fair wages and working conditions.

In Dubious Battle deals with a fruit-workers' strike in a California valley and the attempts of labor unions to organize, lead, and provide for the striking pickers.

Jim Nolan meets Harry Nilson who initiates Jim's application process to become the newest member o
...more
Lyn
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’
...more
Faith
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: overdrive, audio
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
...more
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
...more
Kim
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
...more
Chrissie
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
...more
Jim
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
...more
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
Jon
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
Marvin
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."
Christopher
[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
...more
Kevin
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
Sarah
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
...more
Allan
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,
...more
Sarah
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
...more
Susan Johnson
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
...more
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
Buddy
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.
Judy
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
...more
Barbara
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
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.
Jack
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I've decided to up my rating for this book, from four stars to five. Great story, and I'm still thinking about it more than a year after I first read it.
Katie
May 20, 2009 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
...more
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
...more
Paul
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
...more
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
Andrew
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
First off, I love the voice of the characters, it transports a reader to an era that no longer exists. Told from the perspective of capitalist-hating men sympathetic to "red Russia", trying to fight a battle they might not be able to win. I imagine this book was very unpopular at the time, maybe seen as anti-American, but I don't think that's the point of the story, I think the point is that people are desperate, are apt to follow pack mentality and quick to justify violence and murder in the na ...more
Saige
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love the way Steinbeck turns simple stories into wider reaching explorations of humanity. This book was technically about men on strike, but there was so much more under the surface. Steinbeck used his characters Mac and Jim to personify the horrific cruelty that can emerge in men when they are angry. He describes the actions and thoughts of mobs as more beast than man, and focuses on how blood can whip scared men into a thing so angry it can stand unarmed against a powerful enemy. The charact ...more
Maud
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
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17,060 followers
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

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