Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

Rick Wartzman, Author . Public Affairs $26.95 (308p) ISBN 978-1-58648-331-9

During May of 1939, as the Nazis were burning books throughout Germany, the people of Bakersfield Calif., did exactly the same thing with John Steinbeck’s new bestseller, The Grapes of Wrath . As Wartzman (The King of California ) shows in this intriguing account, the banning of Steinbeck’s masterpiece throughout California’s Kern County was orchestrated by rich local growers: men who were busy exploiting scores of Joad families, the very men Steinbeck exposed in his novel. As a pretext, the growers cited, among other things, Steinbeck’s use of “foul” language (“bastard,” “bitch”) and vivid scenes such as Rose of Sharon, having lost her baby, offering her milk-filled breast to a starving man. One lone librarian, Gretchen Knief, led the charge against the censors, but the book—by then a Pulitzer Prize winner—remained banned a year later. While all this was happening, Steinbeck was suffering the strains of his collapsing first marriage. In telling this unique tale, Wartzman artfully weaves the personal and the political in a book that readers will find engaging on more than one level. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 06/23/2008
Release date: 09/01/2008
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Paperback - 308 pages - 978-1-58648-767-6
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