Synopses & Reviews
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, Californiathe Joads newfound homethe 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 Americaa time when, as Steinbeck put it, there seemed to be a revolution . . . going on.”
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Scott Martelle, Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2008
“In these current times of bubbles and bursts, foreclosed-upon homes and entire industries confronting their own mortality, it’s good to have a fresh history such as this to remind us of what has gone on before, and to assure that the times will indeed change—eventually…. The Central Valleys of the 1930s … for many people have been reduced to emblematic photos… Wartzman puts some life on those images… A skillfully drawn reminder of the human toll of deep poverty, intolerance and the unfettered whims of those who control the purse strings.”
Metro Newspaper, September 24, 2008
“An important and illuminating new book.”
Salinas Californian, October 4, 2008
“A fast-paced narrative…. Enlightening and well worth reading.”
Columbia Journalism Review, November/December 2008 issue
“Obscene in the Extreme is much more than a conventional book-banning saga. It richly chronicles one of the epic tales of the 1930s, the struggle between left and right, hired hands and big farmers, migrant Okies and natives, in the towns and fields of California…. Unfailingly fair to all, Wartzman brings to life a rich cast, ranging from the radical journalist Carey McWilliams to the farm works chosen by his employers to burn a copy of The Grapes of Wrath on the streets.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 30, 2008
“With a novelist’s skill and journalist’s acumen, Wartzman uses the incident [of the book ban] as a springboard to explore the context of those turbulent times, the personalities and motivations of those involved and the notion of censorship as a political weapon.”
Boston Globe, December 2, 2008
“Well-researched, readable…. It's a cautionary tale, particularly relevant in light of the vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who once allegedly asked the librarian in her own small town of Wasilla, Alaska, whether censorship was all right.”
A bestselling author unearths the fascinating story of the banning of The Grapes of Wrath in the 1930sand captures the essence of a tumultuous era.
About the Author
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.