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The first item on the Better World Books 2016 Reading Challenge is […]
Thomas E. Barden
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Although his career continued for almost three decades after the1939 publication of The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck is still most closelyassociated with his Depression-era works of social struggle. But from Pearl Harboron, he often wrote passionate accounts of America's wars based on his own firsthandexperience. Vietnam was no exception.
Thomas E. Barden's"Steinbeck in Vietnam" offers for the first time acomplete collection of the dispatches Steinbeck wrote as a war correspondent for"Newsday." Rejected by the military because of hisreputation as a subversive, and reticent to document the war officially for theJohnson administration, Steinbeck saw in "Newsday"a unique opportunity to put his skills to use. Between December 1966 and May 1967, the sixty-four-year-old Steinbeck toured the major combat areas of South Vietnam andtraveled to the north of Thailand and into Laos, documenting his experiences in aseries of columns titled "Letters to Alicia," in reference to"Newsday" publisher Harry F. Guggenheim's deceasedwife. His columns were controversial, coming at a time when opposition to theconflict was growing and even ardent supporters were beginning to question itscourse. As he dared to go into the field, rode in helicopter gunships, and evenfired artillery pieces, many detractors called him a warmonger and worse. Readerstoday might be surprised that the celebrated author would risk his literaryreputation to document such a divisive war, particularly at the end of hiscareer.
Drawing on four primary-source archives -- the Steinbeckcollection at Princeton, the Papers of Harry F. Guggenheim at the Library ofCongress, the Pierpont Morgan Library's Steinbeck holdings, and the archives of"Newsday" -- Barden's collection brings togetherthe last published writings of this American author of enduring national andinternational stature. In addition to offering a definitive edition of these essays, Barden includes extensive notes as well as an introduction that provides backgroundon the essays themselves, the military situation, the social context of the 1960s, and Steinbeck's personal and political attitudes at thetime.
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