Few books have caused as big a stir as John Steinbecks The Grapes of Wrath, when it was published in April 1939. By May, it was the nations number one bestseller, but in Kern County, California-the Joads newfound home-the book was burned publicly and banned from library shelves. Obscene in the Extreme tells the remarkable story behind this fit of censorship. When W. B. Bill Camp, a giant cotton and potato grower, presided over its burning in downtown Bakersfield, he declared: We are angry, not because we were attacked but because we were attacked by a book obscene in the extreme sense of the word. But Gretchen Knief, the Kern County librarian, bravely fought back. If that book is banned today, what book will be banned tomorrow?Obscene in the Extreme serves as a window into an extraordinary time of upheaval in America-a time when, as Steinbeck put it, there seemed to be a revolution ...going on.
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(236mm x 156mm x 36mm)
Publisher: The Perseus Books Group
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US Kirkus Review »
Steinbeck's now-classic populist epic did not please everyone in 1939.In the San Joaquin Valley, blisteringly depicted in The Grapes of Wrath as callously hostile to the Joad family and other Dust Bowl refugees, public officials voted on Aug. 21 to remove the bestselling book from the county library system; three days later, three incensed farmers publicly burned a copy. Wartzman (co-author: The King of California: J. G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret Empire, 2003) examines many facets of the difficulties the novel encountered and occasioned. He introduces us to a doughty librarian, some angry Kern County supervisors (plus one more liberal and one waffler), growers, farm workers, lawyers, civil libertarians, journalists, filmmakers, musicians, prudes and assorted wackos. Popping up continually is Steinbeck himself, who said little in public about the contretemps; the writer was suffering creative exhaustion in the aftermath of completing his massive book. Wartzman places the controversy in broad context. We see the effects of the Great Depression, the looming threat of World War II and the fear that communism pervaded labor unions and was corrupting the working class. The narrative follows the broad chronology of the events, but within each chapter the author casts a wide cultural and historical net. We get a bit of the history of California, of the San Joaquin Valley and of the efforts to organize farm workers. We learn about Steinbeck's previous work, his preparations to write the novel, the making of John Ford's 1940 film and the rescinding of the Kern County library ban in 1941. Wartzman sprinkles relevant quotations from Grapes throughout.Generously illustrated and briskly written - a valuable guide to an explosive aspect of the free-speech issue. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Rick Wartzman
Rick Wartzman is director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University and an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He spent two decades as a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He is co-author, with Mark Arax, of the award-winning bestseller The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire.