Happy Birthday John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck would have been 113-years-old today. As it is his birthday, I am devoting this week’s blog post to him.


(February 27th 1902 – December 20th 1968)

Born in Salinas, California, John Steinbeck went on to become a prolific novelist and short-story writer, and one of the most acclaimed literary figures America has ever produced.  Steinbeck’s accolades include The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1940) and the Nobel Prize in Literature (1962).

Steinbeck’s most famous book and my favourite novel is The Grapes of Wrath.  As most of you probably already know it is about a poor family of Oklahoma sharecroppers, the Joads, driven from their land during the 1930s’ Dust Bowl and The Great Depression.  The book was viewed as so controversial at the time of its publication due to its criticism of the nation’s economic plight that it was burned on 2 separate occasions in the author’s home town of Salinas.

Steinbeck was very critical of capitalism and a supporter of unionisation. These are recurring themes in many of his books, most notably in In Dubious Battle (Click on the link to read my review). In Dubious Battle is set to be adapted for the silver screen. It will be directed by James Franco.

birthday cake

Steinbeck is the master of character development.  This is on full display in his short novel The Wayward Bus, one of my favourite Steinbeck novels.

My Review – An unlikely group of characters are travelling through rural South California by bus.  In his unique style Steinbeck proceeds to explore each personality in intricate detail; their inhibitions, motivations, intimate thoughts and hopes for the future … (More)

Another Steinbeck that I would recommend if you haven’t read it already is The Pearl.  Unlike the majority of his books which are set, at least in part in the Salinas Valley, it is set in Mexico.  The Pearl is a parable about the darker side of human nature – greed, jealousy, social divisions, the unjust nature of the world and how we are all prisoners of circumstance.  Click here to read my review.

One of Steinbeck’s lighter and more optimistic novels is Sweet Thursday. Whilst readers would undoubtedly enjoy this book more having read the prequel Cannery Row first, it is not essential to do so.  Click here to read my review.

I stopped reading Steinbeck’s books a couple of years ago as I wanted to save some for my later years, although I am planning to read the episodic novella The Red Pony soon.  I hope to visit the Salinas Valley next time I am in the U.S.

I look forward to hearing about your Steinbeck reading experiences.


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  • Loved Steinbeck’s writing but had some problems with his politics. The movie Grapes of Wrath with Henry Fonda and a slew of good actors was terrific. BTW up near Salinas is where Janis Joplin let Bobby Mcgee slip away.Have a great weekend

  • Great blog post, Guy. I really liked your celebration of Steinbeck ‘s never-to-be birthday. The Pearl is my favourite Steinbeck, and bears re-reading every few years. I’m compiling my own list of my 200 favourite books and I’m sure in time as I start numbering them this one will be in the top ten, and probably Grapes of Wrath will be in my top twenty. How did Steinbeck die? He wasn’t that old at 66ish. Interestingly, while Steinbeck won the Nobel prize for literature, this was a controversial decision. I expect his politics, towards which I lean, has something to do with the way he is often portrayed as an over-estimated writer.

    • It was you who recommended The Pearl to me Sue, for which I am very grateful. I had never even heard of it prior to your recommendation, even though I’d already read 5 or so Steinbeck’s by then. Steinbeck’s cause of death was heart related. His political views can’t be as controversial today as they once were. I’d be interested to see which books make your list of 200. Perhaps I’ll do the same one of these day.

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