Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway Lead John Steinbeck in Search for Single-Author Websites

Screen shot of the official Mark Twain website

If author websites are any indicator of continued popularity in American literature, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway are the current winners. According to my count of websites devoted to 82 American authors represented in panel titles at this week’s meeting of the American Literature Association, just a handful of writers come close to Hemingway or Twain in the number of author websites with their name in the URL. Happily, John Steinbeck is among them. Like Mark Twain (at six sites), Ernest Hemingway (nine), and John Steinbeck (four), William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jack Kerouac are the subject of at least four sites each, including one or more blog sites connecting their life and work to contemporary issues.

Just a handful of writers come close to Hemingway or Twain in the number of author websites with their name in the URL. Happily, John Steinbeck is among them.

By my count, 65 writers in this year’s American Literature Association lineup are the subject of single-author websites of one kind or another. Most are societies, study centers, or collections devoted to the author’s writing. Some are houses or museums associated with the author’s life, and 28 are blog sites that foster popularity by recording reader passion and encouraging public conversation about the author’s ideas. Steinbeck, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Kerouac have sites representing each category, but with four separate blog sites devoted to his life and writing, Ernest Hemingway holds the record for blog volume about an American author. Uniquely (but unsurprisingly) among the American authors I checked, Mark Twain is also the subject of a website representing the interests of an author’s estate.

With four separate blog sites devoted to his life and writing, Ernest Hemingway holds the record for blog volume about an American author.

But if blogging also equals attention span in American literature, at least a quarter of the writers on the American Literature Association marquee continue to have meaning in the lives of readers. Besides Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Kerouac, the list of American authors with an active blog site in their name includes Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Bishop, E.E. Cummings, Emily Dickinson, Theodore Dreiser, Margaret Fuller, Cormac McCarthy, Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Charles Olson, Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and August Wilson. Another, Thornton Wilder, is the subject of a blog site started by family members—an idea for John Steinbeck that is, due to circumstances, unlikely to see the light of day.

John Steinbeck’s Gathering Places and This Year’s Presidential Campaign

Image of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in Iowa

If you follow presidential campaigns, as John Steinbeck did after writing Cannery Row, you’ve probably noticed that candidates like being photographed with regular folks in places where locals gather to meet, talk, and exchange ideas. Coffee shops are a prime example of the phenomenon. In my work with communities facing disruptive change, I seek out these “gathering places,” which exist everywhere—a habit resulting from my long reading of John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s life and writing are full of local gathering places, beginning with his Cannery Row fiction, set in California. They include the coffee shop on Long Island where he met with old timers when he lived in Sag Harbor, the setting for The Winter of Our Discontent, his last novel. As the recent photo of Hillary Clinton in Iowa shows, this year’s presidential campaign is being played out in informal gathering places where “winter” and “discontent” often seem synonymous.

Cover image of Ed Larsh's book about Doc's lab

My personal gathering-place journey began 25 years ago with the writing of Doc’s Lab: Myths and Legends of Cannery Row by the late Monterey resident and Cannery Row expert Ed Larsh, a member of the second-owner group that bought Doc’s lab after Steinbeck died. During the phase of research in which I was involved, I discovered a vibrant gathering place in Carmel, California, the town south of Monterey where John Steinbeck spent time at various stages in his California career. What I learned there helped me understand the social ecology of Steinbeck’s gathering places, knowledge that I have applied in my continuing work as a consultant to government and business clients seeking public support (like political candidates) for their plans and aspirations.

Image of Gus Arriola and Eldon Dedini

Gus Arriola and Eldon Dedini

The Pine: Gathering Place for Carmel, California’s Artists

Carmel, California has always had its share of artists, writers, and characters. Two of the most colorful—the syndicated cartoonist Gus Arriola (“Gordo”) and the New Yorker-Playboy cartoonist Eldon Dedini—were part of the Cannery Row circle that Ed Larsh and I needed to interview for Ed’s book about Cannery Row. In those days, if you wanted to meet Gus or Eldon you didn’t make arrangements by phone. Instead, you ventured to the Carmel post office, a gathering place with a storied past, and to The Pine, a coffee shop located a short walk away.

If you wanted to meet Gus or Eldon, you didn’t make arrangements by phone. Instead, you ventured to the Carmel post office, a gathering place with a storied past, and to The Pine, a coffee shop located a short walk away.

Early in the history of Carmel—a bohemian community almost from the beginning—residents decided that houses wouldn’t have street numbers and that mail would be picked up rather than delivered. The Carmel post office became the village center, and a famous gathering place was born. Eldon and Gus would walk to the post office to get their mail at noon, then head for the coffee shop attached to Il Fornaio Restaurant, not far from the nearby Pine Inn. I would show up at the post office at noon, catch Eldon and Gus, and go have coffee where they and their friends gathered—an efficient system that saved the time and trouble of trying to make an appointment, with the added benefit of introducing me to other locals who became part of my network in Carmel.

Early in the history of Carmel, residents decided that houses wouldn’t have street numbers and that mail would be picked up rather than delivered.

Except for a smattering of Carmelites who weren’t artists and tourists staying at the Pine Inn, the coffee shop was sparsely occupied before noon. Starting at 12:00 the pace accelerated, as artists and writers arrived and the tables filled.  An outsider, I wondered why people gathered for morning coffee so late in the day; like candidates in presidential campaigns, I usually I go for coffee early in the morning to catch locals I need to meet in new places during the course of my work. Eldon’s answer to my question about Carmel, California’s unusual noontime coffee habit made sense. “It’s foggy and cool here in the mornings,” he explained, “so we artists work in our studios first thing. Once the sun burns off the fog, it’s time to go and get the mail and catch up on the news.”  If I wanted to see writers and artists, the best time to go for coffee was 1:00 p.m.

Except for a smattering of Carmelites who weren’t artists and tourists from the Pine Inn, the coffee shop was sparsely occupied before noon. Starting at 12:00 the pace accelerated, as artists and writers arrived and the tables filled.

There is a family-like routine in such places, and Carmel was no exception. Special people had special seats at The Pine, which can be entered from the bar area of Il Fornaio or through a side door from one of Carmel’s charming hidden walkways. R. Wright Campbell, author of the book Where Pigeons Go to Die (made into a movie by Michael Landon), occupied a position along the wall right next to the main entrance. It was his seat at The Pines until he passed away in 2000. Today, an autographed photo of Campbell hangs on the wall above his table, with a plaque bearing his name. Like families, gathering places often honor members with such signs of affection after they’re gone.

There is a family-like routine in such places, and Carmel was no exception. Special people had special seats at The Pine, which can be entered from the bar or through a side door from one of Carmel’s charming hidden walkways.

Most days, Wright would hold court for a couple of hours starting at 1:00. Other writers would join in, too, talking about their projects, offering words of encouragement, and reflecting sympathetically on the problems of publication in a way familiar to John Steinbeck. The advice given and received in this informal gathering of writers would have cost money if provided in a more formal setting, and it came with a valuable support system. Like similar places in Steinbeck’s fiction—notably Doc’s lab in Cannery Row—there was no agenda, no schedule, and no pecking order beyond the respect shown to longevity on the scene. People dropped in, hung out, and interacted, plotting and strategizing together. It was democratic, organic, and free.

Like similar places in Steinbeck’s fiction—notably Doc’s lab in Cannery Row—there was no agenda, no schedule, and no pecking order beyond the respect shown to longevity on the scene.

But there’s a process for accepting new arrivals into the informal networks of most gathering places, and one was observed at The Pine, where newcomers sat at a large round table in the middle of the room—a neutral area—rather than running the risk of taking a regular’s seat at one of the booths. From the chair I occupied at the middle table I could watch and hear the group gathered around Wright Campbell. From time to time I would offer a respectful comment from the edge of the action; after several visits, they made room for me at one of the tables assigned by custom to regulars. Eldon and Gus had vouched for me, and I was in. As Eldon put it, I had become “part of the myth.”

Image of Judith Deim's portrait of John Steinbeck

Presidential Campaigns Miss the Point of Gathering Places

The gathering places described in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row fiction—like the coffee shop he frequented in Sag Harbor, New York, and the one I discovered in Carmel, California— represent epicenters of an informal culture around which people learn from, care for, and communicate with one another spontaneously. They do so without rehearsal, regimentation, or self-consciousness, developing mutual trust over time. Candidates dropping in along the presidential campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire may be tolerated at coffee shops, but they never really belong because their presence violates this principle. John Steinbeck understood the inviolable nature of gathering places from experience. I learned much from reading his Cannery Row fiction, and from my own experience in Carmel, California. Today, I have Steinbeck to thank for the core concept that continues to inform my work in communities throughout America: the enduring social ecology of gathering places like Doc’s lab on Cannery Row, the Carmel, California post office, and the coffee shop known as The Pine.

(To learn more about how gathering places can be used to solve major community issues, read about an example in Colorado.)

New Light on East of Eden From an Unlikely Source

john-steinbeck-review

Who said literary criticism is just for critics? Not the editors of Steinbeck Review. The winter 2015 issue proves that San Jose State University, the journal’s publisher, embraces diversity in many forms, and that its editors are willing to let non-critics play the specialist’s game. Among the current contributors are (1) a graduate student in history from Canada, (2) a former college film teacher, (3) a retired biology professor and dean living in Oregon, (4) a Steinbeck fan from California’s Central Valley, and (5) the W.W. Kellogg Professor of Agriculture, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University. But the unlikeliest candidate in the intriguing mix may be Daniel Levin, a pharmaceutical research executive with a Ph.D. in chemistry from Cambridge University who now lives in California. Prompted by a visit to the National Steinbeck Center and curious about apparent discrepancies between an exhibit there and Steinbeck’s Hebrew in East of Eden, Levin took a scientific approach, consulting Talmudic sources, Steinbeck curators, and a Hebrew language adviser to investigate Steinbeck’s adaptation of the term timshol from the Genesis story about Cain’s banishment, east of Eden, after he kills his brother Abel. “John Steinbeck and the Missing Kamatz in East of Eden: How Steinbeck Found a Hebrew Word but Muddled Some Vowels,” the result of Levin’s exemplary study, demonstrates why, for lovers of John Steinbeck, literary criticism is too important to be left to professional literary critics. See for yourself. Subscribe to Steinbeck Review.

The 1960 Election and Steinbeck’s Pacific Grove Stay in Travels with Charley

Image of Bill Steigerwald's timeline of Steinbeck's Travels with Charley

Fifty-five Novembers ago this week, as the historic 1960 election between Nixon and JFK was coming to a photo finish, the Steinbecks–John, Elaine, and their dog Charley–were laying over at the Steinbeck family cottage in Pacific Grove on California’s Monterey Peninsula.

In time and distance, Steinbeck was a little more than halfway through his 11-week Travels with Charley road trip. He and Charley had left Sag Harbor, New York in his pickup/camper combo, Rocinante, on September 23, 1960, and would return to New York City around December 5-6. Their 75-day journey covered about 10,000 miles of mostly two-lane highway.

Based on clues found in letters and the Monterey Peninsula Herald, the Steinbeck family relaxed at the Pacific Grove cottage with Steinbeck’s sister Beth for about two weeks. They were quickly discovered by the local press.

Cover image of Dogging Steinbeck, by Bill Steigerwald

As I write in my ebook Dogging Steinbeck:

In 1960 the Traveling Steinbecks were at the cottage for only a day or two when the Monterey Peninsula Herald dispatched a writer and photographer to do a story. The resulting feature, which ran in the Nov. 4 paper, was very well written by Mike Thomas and included a photo of Steinbeck standing in the garden with a cigarette in his mouth.
 
Thomas found Steinbeck fixing a wooden front gate, which the author said he had probably built himself 30 years earlier. Describing Steinbeck as a big man with broad features, piercing blue eyes, graying hair and small goatee, Thomas said he was wearing corduroy pants and a shapeless green sweater.
 
His fingers were nicotine stained and he had a Zippo cigarette lighter on a string around his neck. Wife Elaine was there. So was “an aging poodle sitting in a car at the curbside.” When Thomas asked if he would ever move back to the Monterey area, Steinbeck said he felt like a stranger on the peninsula and repeated his Thomas Wolfe mantra – “You can’t go home again.”

1960 Monterey Peninsula Herald story about Steinbeck's Pacific Grove stay

While relaxing at his old “P.G.” home, Steinbeck saw the remnants of the once-thriving sardine fishing industry he described in Cannery Row, and he apparently revisited some of his old haunts on Alvarado Street, including the Keg, which was owned by his friend Johnny Garcia.

He also cast an absentee ballot for Kennedy, who lost California to Nixon by 35,000 votes in the 1960 election, a race that was too close to call until results from Illinois gave Kennedy the edge. (JFK was actually ahead in California for about a week until the absentee ballots were counted.) JFK lost to Nixon in then-heavily Republican Monterey County by a whopping 56-43 percent majority.

Image of the 1960 election debate between Kennedy and Nixon

Steinbeck’s ambitious search for America, which he acknowledged in Travels with Charley and in private letters was largely a failure, resumed around November 15. He drove on to Amarillo, Texas, where Elaine caught up with him for a Thanksgiving feast at a massive cattle ranch owed by the family of her ex-husband, the movie star Zachary Scott. From Texas, Steinbeck and Charley drove home alone to New York by way of New Orleans, where Steinbeck witnessed the ugly protests against the integration of the city’s public schools described so powerfully in Travels with Charley.

Image of the New Orleans desegregation protest described in Travels with Charley

He kept no expense records and took virtually no notes. His book Travels With Charley in Search of America, the fictionalized account of his trip and the people he met on it, came out in the summer of 1962. Published by Viking Press, it was a huge commercial and critical success. In late October it touched the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for a week and stayed on the Top 10 nonfiction list for more than a year.

For Dogging Steinbeck and my website Truth About Charley. I tried to create a definitive timeline of where Steinbeck was on each day of his trip. It wasn’t easy and it has some holes that probably never will be filled. It’s based on the unedited first draft of Travels with Charley; letters Steinbeck wrote from the road to his wife Elaine and others; biographies, newspaper articles, and interviews; and best-guesses. It’s as accurate as I could make it.

Image of Adlai Stevenson

The results of the 1960 election pleased Steinbeck. A lifelong partisan Democrat, he despised Richard Nixon, a fact he repeatedly made that clear in letters to his hero Adlai Stevenson in the summer of 1960 and in the first draft of Travels with Charley, before most of his political slights were deleted by Viking’s editors. In 1968, as Steinbeck’s health was getting worse, he had to endure Nixon’s political resurrection and watch him defeat Hubert Humphrey. But, as I say in Dogging Steinbeck, “Luckily, he died that year on Dec. 20, so he never had to witness his hated Tricky Dick being sworn in as president.”

Illustration showing where John Steinbeck was at various times during Travels with Charley by Stacey Innerst, courtesy Bill Steigerwald.
 

When Word Meanings Mattered: A Lesson in English in John Steinbeck’s Monterey, California

Image of word meanings on a napkin

I got the call at an ungodly hour of the morning. I don’t remember the exact time, but it was after 2:00. I know that for sure because 2:00 a.m. is when the bars in Monterey closed, and Sergio worked at a bar. He’d been in the country about a year, having arrived from a small town in the heel of Italy. He did other odd-man jobs: repairing things here and there, dishwashing, gardening, plumbing when called upon, but because of his size he was considered handy as a bouncer.

When Sergio was behind the bar, a person with fighting on his mind was certain to think twice before rolling up his sleeves. Seeing Sergio standing there with his enormous forearms and bulging biceps was usually enough. I’m sure that’s why Lester’s Bar rarely experienced trouble. No slugfests, everything peaceful; in my book it had to be because of Sergio.

When he wasn’t at the door looking threatening, he was cleaning tables and picking up empties. He did this six nights a week, with Sundays off; during the day he often took gardening jobs, working with Willy Hinze installing sprinkler systems in lawns around town. Willy was a dropout from the University of California at Santa Cruz, an ex-double major in psychology and philosophy. One day I saw Willy and Sergio hard at it after the municipal golf course changed hands and the new owner had them tearing out the iron pipes to put in new plastic tubing. The ground was soft from rain and Sergio was wallowing around in the mud while Willy sat in the bow of a cypress tree near the ninth green reading a book of philosophy: Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea.

“I didn’t have time to read this when I was at school,” Willy explained when I stopped my car to say hello. “Listen to this: ‘Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.’ Wow, pretty powerful stuff!”

“Does Schopenhauer say anything about getting muddy? Like Sergio over there, for instance?”

“Oh yeah, as a matter of fact he does,” Willy replied, turning the pages to find the quotation. “Here ’tis: ‘A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.'”

Maybe Arthur Schopenhauer was right, but I don’t think Willy ever asked Sergio about it. Yet in the end Sergio probably couldn’t have cared less one way or another. He loved work, and that was enough for him. Hard work explained his physical strength and powerful build.

“How’s Sergio doing with his English?” I asked.

“Don’t worry, I’m on it. Every day’s a new lesson. He’s getting there in leaps and bounds.”

Willy returned to his book and I to my car. I waved to Sergio as I drove away.

Ciao, Sergio, come va?

Bene, sto bene, John. I see you a presto, Lester’s Bar?”

“Not tonight,” I answered. “I need to sleep tonight.”

That was the plan, anyway—until my telephone rang sometime after 2:00 a.m. It was Sergio.

“I am with the policia, John. In carcere. You come to get me, per favore?”

The drive to the Monterey police station from my house in Pacific Grove usually took 25 minutes, but that morning I made it in 15. I was in a hurry, dressed quickly in a track suit and flip-flops, and didn’t bother brushing my hair.

“He’s ready to go if you’ll sign for his bail,” the desk sergeant said when I arrived. “It’s not serious, so the bail’s $200 dollars.”

“What did he do?” I asked. “Why is he here?”

“He finished work at Lester’s, went over to the Coffee Cup Café for breakfast, sat down at the counter, and proceeded to use foul language with the waitress. Somebody heard it and called the police. We got him for causing a disturbance, using vulgarity, and insulting a woman in public.”

The sergeant added, “I imagine he’ll tell you the rest.”

After I’d signed the bail papers, they walked Sergio to the front of the station. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man so defeated. Naturally tall and strapping. he came out looking bent and beaten.

Scusami, John. Mi scusi,” he pleaded as we walked to my car. “We talk tomorrow? I cannot talk tonight.”

“It’s already tomorrow, Sergio. I’m going to drive you home, then I’m going back to bed. When we talk, it’ll be in the afternoon, and you’d better have a good explanation. Capische?”

Capisco.”

Sergio met me at the Coffee Cup, the scene of his unexplained crime the night before. I drank in silence and listened as Sergio poured out his grieving heart.

“Okay,” I finally said, catching the waitress’s eye and ordering refills. “Here’s the thing, Sergio. It’s obvious that Willy isn’t helping you.”

I picked up a napkin from the counter and drew a picture.

“You see this?”

I spelled it out in large print, slowly pronouncing each letter: F – O – R – K.

“This is what you wanted,” I explained. “This is what you should have said.”

Slowly, Sergio nodded.

“Now let’s hear you say it.”

He leaned forward. Looking at the letters, he pronounced the word carefully.

Fork.”

“And what will you say to a waitress next time?”

“Waitress, I want a fork. Please give me a fork.”

“That’s right,” I answered as I pondered the world of will and idea that causes people, if not philosophers, undeserved pain.

“If you ever say that other word to a waitress, the police will put you back in jail.”

How to Write a Blog Post John Steinbeck Would Read

Image of Strunk and White's how-to-write classic, The Elements of Style

Remember, you’re encouraged to submit your writing to SteinbeckNow.com. We’ve published 200 blog posts since launching last year, and we’d like to share what we’ve learned from the experience. The following tips on how to write a blog post John Steinbeck might enjoy show why elements of style still matter, why revising is essential, and why learning to be your own editor makes it likelier your blog post will be published.

  1. Read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, a classic guide on how to write well about anything. It’s short, sweet, and crystal clear.
  2. Remember that a blog post isn’t an academic article. Be concise, concrete, and compelling. Blog post readers are turned off by long sentences, unnecessary words, and other bad habits that can be overcome by following The Elements of Style.
  3. Choose four or five keywords relevant to your blog post subject and use them frequently in your text. If you’re writing about John Steinbeck’s connection to something in the past, for example, find keywords that people search for about the era or event. Make sure every paragraph you write contains all of your keywords.
  4. Read your first draft aloud to a friend for feedback. (John Steinbeck did, though he didn’t always take advice.) Reading aloud will prevent grammatical mistakes, incomprehensibility, and inconsistency, the most common reasons a blog post is rejected.
  5. Revise before you submit. Make sure words are spelled right, sentences are complete and punctuated, and paragraphs flow logically from your lead. Make sure you have a lead—an opening sentence that identifies your subject, states your thesis, and communicates your purpose. (It’s spelled lede in journalism school, but that’s just confusing.)

So what were the keywords used in this blog post? You guessed it: john steinbeck, elements of style, how to write, and blog post. Remember, John Steinbeck hated revising his work, but not as much as reading mistakes in print. If you’re asking yourself what he’d think of blogging you’re on to something. Write a blog post that answers the question. We’d like to publish it.

Hookers With Hearts of Gold: John Steinbeck’s Prostitutes

Paperback cover image from John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

John Steinbeck’s split-screen picture of women—Mother Virgin vs. Vestibule Whore—continues to trouble contemporary readers of East of Eden and his Cannery Row fiction. Male characters like Doc, Lee, and Sam Hamilton are complex . . . intelligent men, like Steinbeck, with mixed moral motives. Dora, Suzy, and Cathy, all prostitutes of one type or another, also show a range of feeling and behavior, but far narrower. Steinbeck’s depiction of whores almost seems bipoloar, flat and forced and, the case of Cathy, not completely convincing. Was Steinbeck, with the shining exception of Ma Joad, a male chauvinist whose writing failed to understand or value women equally with men? Reading East of Eden and Steinbeck’s Cannery Row novels in the context of Steinbeck’s contempt for conventional morality suggests that he was far from it.

Was Steinbeck, with the shining exception of Ma Joad, a male chauvinist whose writing failed to understand or value women equally with men?

John Steinbeck was, in fact, atypical of his gender and time in reversing the status of “churchy” mother-wives and the “ladies of the night” with hearts of gold who were their moral superior from Steinbeck’s point of view. In Steinbeck’s Cannery Row books, “nice women” are gossipy, negative Nancies living lives of hypocrisy, while the “working girls” offering sexual services to husbands and single men are positive, contributing members of society who display compassion and honesty without shame. Cathy, the sociopathic madam in East of Eden, is the exception who proves the rule.

In Steinbeck’s Cannery Row books, ‘nice women’ are gossipy, negative Nancies living lives of hypocrisy, while the ‘working girls’ offering sexual services to husbands and single men are positive.

But this begs a nagging question: Is it sexist to sort women into dramatically opposed categories of character, behavior, and moral worth, however heavily weighed in favor of whores? From a feminist point of view, probably so. In the context of Steinbeck’s age, however, the writer’s inversion of current values was both radical and, by today’s standards, agreeably accepting. Depicting prostitutes as positive role models was intended to shock Steinbeck’s readers, and did. But even from the perspective of modern feminism, his portrayal of their status was ahead of its time. Steinbeck’s Cannery Row whores and East of Eden prostitutes were, exceptions noted, more financially secure and less dependent on men than the wives and mothers whose husbands and son used their services.

In the context of Steinbeck’s age, his inversion of current values was both radical and, by today’s standards, agreeably accepting. Even from the perspective of modern feminism, his portrayal of women’s status was ahead of its time.

Steinbeck’s upside-down vision was no doubt rooted in his upbringing by a repressed, retiring father and a strong-minded mother with social ambitions in a small frontier town. To his way of thinking, the moral framework and sentiments about sex he learned at home and in Sunday School lacked logic and, worse, justification in the natural scheme of things. To Steinbeck, the worst aspect of Salinas culture was its hypocrisy, especially with regard to sex, but also money. Salinas hypocrites of both kinds (often the same people) populate his fiction, particularly East of Eden, one reason the novel still feels so fresh to contemporary readers.

To his way of thinking, the moral framework and sentiments about sex he learned at home and in Sunday School lacked logic and, worse, justification in the natural scheme of things.

The inspiration for Steinbeck’s characters wasn’t limited to Salinas. His Cannery Row prostitutes—notably Dora, the madam with a heart of gold—were based on real-life figures from nearby Monterey, a place he much preferred to the town where he grew up. In Sweet Thursday, a Christian Science official arrives on Cannery Row to check on a group of female Christian Science followers who, to his dismay, he learns are working for Dora, the heart-of-gold madam of a popular brothel. The idea for this over-the-top incident originated in Steinbeck’s experience, decades earlier, as a struggling writer in New York City. During his time there he dated a chorus girl and met her chorine friends, many of whom belonged to a large Christian Science church, probably the one led in the 1920s by a charismatic female Christian Science practitioner with a prosperous following.

A Christian Science official arrives on Cannery Row to check on a group of female Christian Science followers who, to his dismay, he learns are working for Dora, the heart-of-gold madam of a popular brothel.

But what of Cathy, the murderous madam in East of Eden? Christian Science was farthest thing from her deeply disturbed mind. Steinbeck biographers have suggested that Cathy’s inspiration was Steinbeck’s second wife, though that’s less important to this discussion than the profile Steinbeck creates of a heartless character—irrespective of gender—born bad. Cathy isn’t condemned because she’s a whore who refuses to remain with her husband and babies. Clearly, she was never the parenting type (nor, for that matter, was John Steinbeck). Her sin isn’t whoring; it’s monstrous, premeditated murder. Exploiting the affections of the kindhearted madam who takes her in after she abandons her home, Cathy poisons her heart-of-gold host and takes over her business, running a notorious house where anything sexual goes . . . for a price. Blackmail is on her mind, too, and her desire to expose the town’s hypocritical citizens seems somehow justified and strangely satisfying, despite her dark motives.

But what of Cathy, the murderous madam in East of Eden? Christian Science was farthest thing from her deeply disturbed mind.

And yet . . . Despite Steinbeck’s ironic moral inversion of virgin and whore, can the prostitutes who populate his fiction still be seen as stereotypes? The answer has to be a qualified yes, and it tends to blunt the impact of Steinbeck’s blow against hypocrisy for readers today. Yet he took his small town “working girls” seriously, and they got him into trouble, even among certain sophisticates in his high-flying circle of New York colleagues and collaborators. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, the musical team that based the Broadway musical Pipe Dream on the Cannery Row characters from Sweet Thursday, turned Steinbeck’s heart-of-gold heroine Suzy, who worked at Dora’s and fell in love with Doc, into what Steinbeck bitterly described as a less-than-believable “visiting nurse.”

Steinbeck took his small town ‘working girls’ seriously, and they got him into trouble, even among sophisticates in his high-flying circle of New York colleagues and collaborators.

Because he was serious, I prefer to give John Steinbeck the benefit of the doubt on the subject of prostitutes. It’s important to remember that his “whore with a heart of gold” characters like Dora and Suzy are a literary trope with a moral purpose, social stereotypes notwithstanding. In Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, and (Cathy excepted) East of Eden, they represent a courageous reversal of conventional values that no doubt would have offended Steinbeck’s mother, had she lived, while probably pleasing his father, who died shortly before Steinbeck’s first book success. That was in the 1930s, back in small town Salinas. But did sophisticated New York in the 1950s react that differently? Even Rodgers and Hammerstein, the kings of Broadway musical theater, choked on Steinbeck’s whores when they staged Cannery Row and failed, or so Steinbeck felt, as a result.

Carl Jung’s Psychology and John Steinbeck’s Horoscope

Image of John Steinbeck and the constellation Pisces

If you keep an open mind about astrology, as I’ve done in my investigation and application of its principles, you can learn quite a bit about John Steinbeck from his horoscope wheel. I know: reading astrology charts seems unusual for an electronic technician like me. Frankly, I was skeptical about the subject when I started—until I read the works Carl Jung and followers of the pioneering Swiss psychologist who fell out with his former mentor, Sigmund Freud. Steinbeck, who distinctly disliked Freud’s ideas about human sexuality and neurosis, was deeply attracted to Jung’s insights into human consciousness and imagination. Jung’s influence on Steinbeck is particularly compelling in Sea of Cortez, the record of Steinbeck’s expedition to Baja, California with Ed Ricketts 75 years ago.

John Steinbeck, who distinctly disliked Sigmund Freud’s ideas about human sexuality and neurosis, was deeply attracted to Carl Jung’s insights into human consciousness and imagination.

Steinbeck may have encountered Jung’s writing as early as 1922 while a student at Stanford, where he read philosophy and psychology along with other subjects that appealed to his needs as a writer. By the time he met Ed Ricketts and Joseph Campbell 10 years later, Jung had attracted the attention of these important figures in Steinbeck’s life as well. Sea of Cortez, written with Ricketts in 1941, bursts with Jungian ideas—such as the closely related concepts of synchronicity, acausality, and non-teleology—that get almost as much space as the ecology of the marine invertebrates and the culture of the people that Ricketts and Steinbeck observed along the way.

Image of Carl Jung on the cover of Time magazine

Carl Jung, Synchronicity, and Astrology Charts

I began my study of Carl Jung in 1965 and, three years later, astrology as part of a college assignment in which I intended to disprove astrology’s scientific validity. In my profession as an electronic technician at RCA’s Astro Electronic Division, I investigated further, mostly out of curiosity, but also out of respect for Jung’s rigorous empiricism. As a physician trained in the German tradition, he insisted on assembling evidence before expounding theory when he wrote about the personality, the unconscious, and the possibility that astrology had scientific value after all.

Jung insisted on assembling evidence before expounding theory when he wrote about the personality, the unconscious, and the possibility that astrology had scientific value after all.

I was three years into my study of Jung when I read “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle,” where he endorses astrology as a tool in treating psychiatric patients. To be honest, the notion angered me so much I stopped reading his work until I renewed my research on astrology in an attempt to demonstrate, scientifically, why it really wasn’t worth the time. My method was simple: do as many horoscope readings as possible, then compare astrology chart results with what I learned from interviewing the individuals I had charted. I did dozens of charts and interviews and found much to discount and dismiss. But I also turned up evidence that, to my surprise, supported Jung’s claims about astrology.

I did dozens of charts and interviews and found much to discount and dismiss. But I also turned up evidence that, to my surprise, supported Jung’s claims about astrology.

Image of the composer and astrologer Dane RudhyarDuring the same period I encountered the works of Dane Rudhyar, a long-lived and multi-talented follower of Carl Jung, born in Paris, who composed modernist music, practiced a form of humanistic astrology, and died in San Francisco in 1985. Discovering Rudhyar was a watershed moment in my study of Jung and astrology, and Rudhyar’s writing still influences me in my thinking and practice today. By reading Rudhyar, Marc Edmund Jones, and other writers on the subject, I learned about the influence of the astrological signs, the planets and houses, and what astrologists call angular relationships in our lives.

John Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, and Sea of Cortez

I’m a practical, intuitive type, and I found interpreting chart patterns and relationships, in both their static and dynamic senses, fascinating. Probably for the same reason, I also enjoyed the fiction of John Steinbeck. What I learned from Carl Jung’s “Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” “Psychological Types,” and “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle” clarified my understanding of Steinbeck and Ricketts’s holistic, non-teleological thinking in Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck’s most thoughtful work of non-fiction.

What I learned from Carl Jung’s ‘Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,’ ‘Psychological Types,’ and ‘Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle’ clarified my understanding of Steinbeck and Ricketts’s holistic, non-teleological thinking in ‘Sea of Cortez.’

As I read astrology charts and applied what I was learning, Ricketts and Steinbeck’s perceptions helped hone my technique and increase my skill. In my business, I was discovering the truth of Carl Jung’s belief that “Astrology is assured of recognition from psychology without further restrictions,” that it “represents the summation of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity.” Jung explained why he believed this was so: “The fact that it is possible to construct a person’s characters from the data of his nativity shows the validity of astrology. I have often found that in cases of difficult psychological diagnosis, astrological data elucidated points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand.” Astrology, said Jung, could be shown empirically to be scientific, “a large-scale example of synchronicity if it had at its disposal thoroughly tested findings.”

What John Steinbeck’s Astrological Chart Reveals

What can we learn from interpreting John Steinbeck’s astrological wheel chart, shown here?

Image of John Steinbeck's astrology chart

To start with, the most influential part of anyone’s horoscope chart is the Sun, the key element in life. For example, when we say we’re a Virgo, Leo, or Aquarius, we mean that the Sun was in that particular astrological sign or constellation at the moment of our birth. Based on the location of the Sun sign when John Steinbeck—a Pisces—was born, it’s clear that Steinbeck was an Introverted Sensation Type with a Thinking auxiliary in his psychological make-up. Sensation as the primary function naturally made him more perceptive than judgmental—a helpful profile for the non-teleological exploration of human behavior demonstrated in Sea of Cortez and in his fiction.

Sensation as the primary function naturally made Steinbeck more perceptive than judgmental—a helpful profile for the non-teleological exploration of human behavior demonstrated in ‘Sea of Cortez’ and in his fiction.

Practically speaking, this means that when Steinbeck considered a situation, all the information he gathered through observation and experience went from the source—what he actually sensed—into his imaginative unconscious. There it was shaped and modified by his fears, hopes, desires, and prejudices before becoming conscious in his mind or relating to his emerging Ego.

When Steinbeck considered a situation, all the information he gathered through observation and experience went from the source—what he actually sensed—into his imaginative unconscious.

Cover image of the first edition of Sea of CortezAs Steinbeck and Ricketts suggest in the long philosophical passages that make Sea of Cortez fascinating to readers like me (and perplexing to others), one goal of what they call non-teleological thinking is to reduce the unconscious influence and stick as closely as possible to the reality of the object being perceived. In this connection, introverts rely on internal, subjective, and experienced evidence, seeing the world in themselves. Extraverts, by contrast, judge their perceptions based upon external evidence, seeing themselves in the world. Though it’s a bit of an over-simplification, it seems fair to say that John Steinbeck was an introvert with extraordinarily acute perception about human character and behavior.

Though it’s a bit of an over-simplification, it seems fair to say that John Steinbeck was an introvert with extraordinarily acute perception about human character and behavior.

Image of the Johari WindowIn the humanistic astrology of Dane Rudhyar and others, the Sun’s location in an individual’s astrology chart reveals the Self, the Soul, at the center of the psyche. This Self can be described as having three major components in the terminology developed by Carl Jung: the personality or persona, the Ego, and the Unconscious. Using the Johari Window, we can visualize these three components. The persona is represented by the “Open” and “Blind” panes. The “Blind” pane signifies the parts of our Ego that others see in us but about which we are unaware. The “Hidden” window includes those parts of our Ego that we recognize but do not wish them to see. In a horoscope wheel chart, the Sign and Degree of the cusp of the First House (the line between the 12th House and the 1st House, usually at nine o’clock) represents the way an individual projects to or is perceived by others: his or her “persona.”

In a horoscope wheel chart, the Sign and Degree of the cusp of the First House represents the way an individual projects to or is perceived by others: his or her ‘persona.’

All this suggests that how a person projects himself or herself may mask the real individual, often quite dramatically. So it’s important to remember that we are partially—sometimes significantly—responsible for the opinions others have about us: we unconsciously project our own qualities into the perceptual image those around us, coloring and frequently complicating our relationships. The influence of the Sun may be masked within the persona, and often we are responsible for the mask. Consider Carl Jung’s archetypal concept of Shadow, for instance. In Jungian terms, our life experiences provide growth lessons along a path between the image we project, our Ego, and who we actually are as defined by the sign degree of our Sun.

In Jungian terms, our life experiences provide growth lessons along a path between the image we project, our Ego, and who we actually are as defined by the sign degree of our Sun.

Humanistic astrologers recognize this truth: our journey through life includes challenges that cause the persona as defined by the qualities represented in our Ascendant to join the Ego and more closely align with the Sun or Self. As Jung suggests when discussing the Shadow, this makes the journey especially difficult when it challenges the perceptions of those closest to us and can create interpersonal problems with perfect strangers. These were issues for John Steinbeck throughout his life.

As Jung suggests when discussing the Shadow, this can create interpersonal problems with perfect strangers. These were issues for John Steinbeck throughout his life.

Steinbeck’s Ascendant is at 1 degree 4 minutes Taurus, significant because it increased the likelihood of his compatibility with Ed Ricketts, who had a Taurus Sun. Given what I’ve learned about Taurus Ascendants, I suspect that Steinbeck, with a Pisces Sun, was sometimes judged by others to be more predictable than he really was. On first meeting, his personality would have attracted someone like his wife Carol, who also had a Pisces Sun. A woman of her perceptiveness would have tacitly understood her need for a partner with stability, and when they met Steinbeck’s persona could have been mistaken for that of a Taurus. Steinbeck, with a Taurus Ascendant, would offer such an illusion.

Steinbeck’s Taurus Ascendant is significant because it increased the likelihood of his compatibility with Ed Ricketts, who had a Taurus Sun.

Most importantly, John Steinbeck’s horoscope wheel reveals a significant pattern formed by the location of planets in Sign and Houses. The majority of planets in his astrology chart are in the upper left quarter, an area that is associated with objective social types. Steinbeck’s avowed goal as a writer was social: to observe others, increase understanding, and influence change—a purpose that history has proven he met beyond anyone’s expectations, including his own. For readers today, this may be the most important lesson to be learned from John Steinbeck’s astrology chart, his understanding of Carl Jung, and his collaboration with Ed Ricketts in writing Sea of Cortez, a gift from the tide pool and the stars.

The author welcomes inquiries at wstillwagon1@earthlink.net.—Ed.

Did John Steinbeck Foresee Reality TV When Writing The Winter of Our Discontent?

Composite image of The Winter of Our Discontent and reality TV

What does today’s reality TV have to do with John Steinbeck? More than you may think—unless you’ve read The Winter of Our Discontent, set in a remote Long Island village 65 years ago. Now even more than then, it’s fair to say that America has an obsession with celebrity culture and the concept of “instant celebrity.” In its current form this obsession is, perhaps, the ultimate expression of the get-rich-quick impulse dramatized by Steinbeck in the novel: do almost nothing and reap instant rewards.

Now even more than then, it’s fair to say that America has an obsession with celebrity culture and the concept of ‘instant celebrity.’

Nothing better expresses this drive than the popularity of reality television shows like Big Brother and Survivor. Shows such as these feature contestants who do little more than lie, scheme, and debase themselves for a chance at instant riches and fame.

Defenders of reality television often point to series like American Idol and America’s Next Top Model as shows that do reward genuine talent. However, even these programs seem obliged to showcase the worst side of human behavior. Just think of the tone deaf-contestants from American Idol for an unpleasant reminder of people desperately flailing towards immediate fame and fortune while the world laughs at their failures.

John Steinbeck predicted this trend in The Winter of Our Discontent, his last novel. Let’s take a brief look at the plot, which concerns Ethan Hawley, a struggling grocer whose family was once one of the most prominent in town.

John Steinbeck predicted this trend in ‘The Winter of Our Discontent,’ his last novel.

Ethan’s people earned their prominence the old-fashioned way: working hard for generations and honestly investing the money they made from fishing, trade, and land. However, Ethan’s father squandered the family fortune with well-meaning but ill-considered plans, and despite his Harvard degree, Ethan has come down in the world.

Although Ethan is honest at heart, he feels the sting of the town’s judgment towards his fallen state. He suffers acutely from the disappointment of his family, especially his children, who view him as little more than an antiquated joke. He is a modern man in pain because of the conflict between a noble past and a bleak future.

One of the last bastions of decency in the community, Ethan is surrounded by people who have adapted to the times: they have built their success on scheming, lies, and betrayal. In the course of the novel he betrays his morals and his honesty to gain the power and financial success craved by his status-conscious wife and their teenage children, a boy and a girl. John Steinbeck’s analogy is quite clear: the Hawley family situation represents the post-World War II transformation of America from a thrifty, hardworking society into a dishonest consumer-culture.

Steinbeck’s analogy is quite clear: the Hawley family situation represents the post-World War II transformation of America from a thrifty, hardworking society into a dishonest consumer-culture.

As a result, The Winter of Our Discontent was admired in Europe and attacked by critics in the USA. Peter Lisca, a leading scholar friendly to Steinbeck, went so far as to describe the book as “undeniable evidence of the aesthetic and philosophical failure of [Steinbeck’s] later fiction” when it was published in 1961.

However, Lisca changed his tune in the 1970s, explaining that Steinbeck had skillfully grasped the essence of the emerging American condition, something readers seemed unaware of at the time, despite the radio-payola and TV game-show scandals permeating the news when Steinbeck wrote The Winter of Our Discontent.

Though Ethan Hawley refects a communal heritage under attack from within, his son Allen—a cheater who believes in looking out for Number One—represents the end result of the moral degradation underway in the popular culture of the late 1950s and 1960s. Allen’s behavior and beliefs continue to astonish readers of The Winter of Our Discontent, for they accurately and eerily predict our contemporary cult of instant celebrity and the unethical and unscrupulous means by which media fame is often achieved.

Though Ethan Hawley reflects a communal heritage under attack from within, his son Allen—a cheater who believes in looking out for Number One—represents the end result of the moral degradation underway in the popular culture of the late 1950s and 1960s.

When we meet him, Allen is something of a lazy lay-about who constantly talks about finding a way to earn a spot on a national quiz show. By the end of the novel, he actually achieves this goal by doing something neither the reader or his father would ever have imagined within his capacity: writing an award-winning essay on the theme of patriotism.

Surprised but gratified, Ethan is proud of his son until a contest runner-up reveals that Allen’s essay is a complete sham. Every single word was stolen from other writers.

When Ethan confronts him, Allen admits that he feels no guilt in his actions because he believes the ends justify the means: committing an immoral or unethical act is worth the reward of success and celebrity. In fact, he believes that he’s just doing what everybody else in Eisenhower-era America does to get ahead—lie, steal, and cheat their way to the top.

Allen admits that he feels no guilt in his actions because he believes the ends justify the means: committing an immoral or unethical act is worth the reward of success and celebrity. In fact, he believes that he’s just doing what everybody else in Eisenhower-era America does to get ahead—lie, steal, and cheat their way to the top.

Despite or because of immoral plans of his own, hatched in secret to satisfy his family’s demands for money and status, Ethan is especially upset that Allen’s actions are rewarded when Allen’s dishonesty is revealed. The essay contest runner-up admits that Allen’s deception will be kept under wraps to avoid embarrassment to the sponsors—a reminder of how the TV game show and pay-to-play radio scandals of the time were handled, to John Steinbeck’s dismay.

Today his point is even more obvious. Written in sadness and anger, The Winter of Our Discontent predicts what John Steinbeck viewed as a moral dead-end for America, one that he saw as unavoidable if left untreated. Allen’s success-at-any cost drive to win is perfectly mirrored by the vapid preening and desperate pleading for 15 minutes of ill-gotten fame by reality-show celebrities. And Americans are still watching.

Catching Up with Steinbeck In My Time Machine: Franklin Roosevelt, John Steinbeck, And Germany’s Third Reich

Page 1 image of the telegram sent by writers Including John Steinbeck to Franklin RooseveltPage 1Page 2 image of the telegram sent by writers Including John Steinbeck to Franklin RooseveltPage 3 image of the telegram sent by writers Including John Steinbeck to Franklin Roosevelt

On November 16, 1938—three years before America formally entered the war against Germany—John Steinbeck joined 35 writers in urging Franklin Roosevelt to confront the Third Reich. Responding to the outrage known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, their telegram (shown here) recommended severing economic ties with Hitler’s regime, the equivalent of today’s sanctions against Iran. Signed by Steinbeck, George S. Kaufman, Pare Lorentz, Robinson Jeffers, and other writers known by Steinbeck, the message was one of many received by Franklin Roosevelt urging action against the Nazi regime. But this one meant more than most. The signers were all working artists at the whim of a domestic audience that, as today, was deeply divided, and powerful voices—including Charles Lindbergh, Joseph Kennedy, and the right-wing radio priest Charles Coughlin—opposed U.S. intervention on behalf of European Jews for economic, political, and racist reasons. As John Bell Smithback notes in his time-machine fantasy about the rise of the Third Reich and the telegram sent to Franklin Roosevelt, John Steinbeck and other progressives were correct in their assessment: Kristallnach was a dress rehearsal for the Holocaust. When he signed his name, Steinbeck had yet to meet Franklin Roosevelt, but his work was already controversial, so his action took courage. John Bell Smithback’s imaginative account of the Kristallnach atrocity and Steinbeck’s public response is a timely reminder that Steinbeck’s instinctive sympathy for victims was profound and prophetic—and that 1938 was like 2015 in deeply disturbing ways. The Third Reich was new, The Grapes of Wrath was in manuscript, and John Steinbeck was in his thirties when the terrifying events of 1933 and 1938 transpired.—Ed.

Catching Up with Steinbeck in My Time Machine

The UPS deliver man has just dropped off one of those spiffy new portable time machines that everyone is talking about. I’ve nearly finished setting it up, but I’m not going to use it to take a trip into the future. Everyone seems to be doing that, but observing what a stinking mess the world’s in I’m going to have a look into the past to see if there are any comparisons to be made. Accordingly, I’ve set the dial for the year 1933, and lo . . . here I am in Berlin! The Reichstag building has gone up in flames and the Nazis are claiming it’s the work of foreign terrorists. Consequently, they’ve issued a Decree for the Protection of People and State that gives them sweeping new powers to deal with a so-called emergency. Déjà vu: didn’t we go through this kind of thing when a few men burned down our Twin Towers?

Déjà vu: didn’t we go through this kind of thing when a few men burned down our Twin Towers?

Fine-tuning my time machine, I see thousands of people being arrested and sent to a camp where guards are being taught terror tactics to dehumanize prisoners. I thought it might be Abu Ghraib or maybe Guantanamo, but no, this place is called Dachau. Back in Berlin, though the democratically elected president of the country is a man named Paul von Hindenburg, the Nazis have gone around him to pass the Enabling Act allowing Hitler to issue laws without the Reichstag’s approval. Déjà vu again as I’m reminded of the House and Senate going around our president to manipulate U.S. foreign policy by inviting foreign politicians to speak in Washington and by addressing threatening, perhaps treasonous letters to foreign governments warning them not to declare peace.

Déjà vu again as I’m reminded of the House and Senate going around our president to manipulate U.S. foreign policy by inviting foreign politicians to speak in Washington and by addressing threatening, perhaps treasonous letters to foreign governments warning them not to declare peace.

I take a moment to catch my breath, and as I inhale I detect the scent of burning books and see 40,000 people in the square at the State Opera to hear Joseph Goebbels deliver a fiery address: “No to decadence and moral corruption! Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of . . . .” Hitler’s Karl Rove stands on a platform gripping a microphone, his voice rising ever higher as he screams the names of writers banned by the Third Reich: “Heinrich Mann, Walter Benjamin, Bertholt Brecht, Max Brod, Heinrich Heine, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque . . . .”

Hitler’s Karl Rove stands on a platform gripping a microphone, his voice rising ever higher as he screams the names of writers banned by the Third Reich.

Sigmund Freud is on the list; so are Gorki, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Andre Gidé, Karl Marx, Emile Zola, and Marcel Proust—”Und auch die amerikanische Schriftstellern, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck . . . .” A pillar of smoke rises over the square and sparks from books by hundreds of internationally acclaimed authors and poets, philosophers and rationalists, drift skyward. Ashes falling on my shoulders to remind me of Senator Joseph McCarthy, of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and of the American Library Association asserting that each year it receives hundreds of challenges to remove dangerous works from the shelves of American libraries. At the top of the current list are books about the imaginary childhood of a British boy named Harry Potter.

Sigmund Freud is on the list; so are Gorki, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Andre Gidé, Karl Marx, Emile Zola, Marcel Proust, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, John Dos Passos, and John Steinbeck.

It is late, but the crowd seems reluctant to disperse. PR people put away their motion picture cameras and groups of tough-looking men and boys in brown-shirted uniforms slink off to beer cellars. Newsmen rush to their offices, and then there is a hush. I press a button and inch my time machine forward, eager to see how the events of the evening are received overseas. Thinking that a pyre this big would sound warning bells around the world, I anticipate outrage. But what is this? Except for the living writers who learned that their books had just gone up in smoke, there are few outside Germany expressing concern about what’s happened. Within Germany, it seems to be a case of “Who needs books when we have Joseph Goebbels?” I pause to ponder this failure of reason. Is it really so different today? “Who needs factual information when we have Roger Ailes?”

Except for the living writers who learned that their books had just gone up in smoke, there are few outside Germany expressing concern about what’s happened.

At this point everything becomes a blur of red, white and black, of symbols and banners and uniforms and parades. Martial music blasts from lampposts, and at dawn I stop at a boulevard café to have a look at the newspapers. The only one at hand is Völkischer Beobachter, Hitler’s paper. He owns the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel, much, I suppose, as Rupert Murdoch owns and controls media throughout the English-speaking world today. There are fear stories on every page, and if it’s not one crazy group accused of threatening the nation it’s another; raving anarchists, murderous communists, and stealthy homosexuals are around every corner. Judging from what I read, there are unseen forces everywhere conspiring to rip out the German soul. That’s the reason given for the new Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich. In an instant, German Jews are stripped of their civil rights, and I note that the man behind the decree, the one who will provide the balm, is none other than the Leader himself.

In an instant, German Jews are stripped of their civil rights, and I note that the man behind the decree, the one who will provide the balm, is none other than the Leader himself.

A group of youths march by the café in wrinkled uniforms. I turn to the editorial page and am astonished. Beneath the screaming headline—“We Need A Fascist Government In This Country”—I read this: “We need a fascist government in this country to save the nation from the communists who want to tear it down and wreck all that we have built. The only men who have the patriotism to do it are the soldiers, and Smedley Butler is the ideal leader. He could organize a million men overnight.”

Smedley Butler? What in the hell is this? He’s not even German: he’s an American general in command of an army of 500,000 war veterans back in the United States.

The Nazi editorial explains the American connection: “We have got the newspapers. We will start a campaign that President Franklin Roosevelt’s health is failing. Everyone can tell that by looking at him, and the dumb American people will fall for it in a second . . . .” So says Gerald MacGuire, a Wall Street bond salesman and one of the financiers of a group known as the American Liberty League, a corporate cabal that includes the heads of General Electric, Goodyear Tire, Bethlehem Steel, DuPont, J.P. Morgan, and Ford. Praising the prescience of these America First! patriots, the Völkischer Beobachter refers with approval to the racist ravings of Father Coughlin, the popular radio commentator from Henry Ford’s hometown. It seems Germany had highly placed friends in the United States. Why am I so shocked, I ask, as I think of today’s EIB Network and Fox News, of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Lars Larson, Bill O’Reilly, and the America First! Tea Party?

It seems Germany had highly placed friends in the United States. Why am I so shocked, I ask, as I think of today’s EIB Network and Fox News, of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Lars Larson, Bill O’Reilly, and the America First! Tea Party?

On the streets of Berlin people have lifted their arms in the Sieg heil salute, and I hear voices, thousands upon thousands, singing: “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles!“ I watch transfixed as German troops march into Vienna, and I hear the world’s silence. Three months later I see Nazi soldiers marching into Prague . . . and hear the world’s silence. Then, on the night of November 10, this message is posted from SS-Grupenführer Reihnard Heydrich to all German State Police Main Offices and Field Offices:

DATE: 10 November 1938

RE: Measures Against Jews Tonight

(a) Only such measures may be taken which do not jeopardize German life or property (for instance, burning of synagogues only if there is no danger of fires for the neighborhoods).

(b) Business establishments and homes of Jews may be destroyed but not looted. The police have been instructed to supervise the execution of these directives and to arrest looters.

(c) In business streets special care is to be taken that non-Jewish establishments will be safeguarded at all cost against damage.

As soon as the events of this night permit the use of the designated officers, as many Jews (particularly wealthy ones) as the local jails will hold are to be arrested in all districts—initially only healthy male Jews, not too old. After the arrests have been carried out the appropriate concentration camp is to be contacted immediately with a view to a quick transfer of the Jews to the camps.

What follows is a night of absolute destruction, later labeled Kristallnacht, the Night of Smashed Glass. Hitler Youth and the brown-shirted S.A. have destroyed 167 synagogues and shattered the windows of an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned shops and businesses. Throughout all of Germany, Austria, and Nazi-occupied Sudetenland, mobs are roaming the streets attacking Jewish residents in their homes. Although murder did not figure in the official directive, Kristallnacht will claim the lives of at least 91 Jews. Police records of the period document a high number of rapes and of suicides in the aftermath of the violence: a fine of one billion marks is to be levied, not upon the criminals, but upon the victims.

Although murder did not figure in the official directive, Kristallnacht will claim the lives of at least 91 Jews. Police records of the period document a high number of rapes and of suicides in the aftermath of the violence: a fine of one billion marks is to be levied, not upon the criminals, but upon the victims.

Outraged, a group of writers in the United States, John Steinbeck among them, sends a telegram to President Franklin Roosevelt asking him to sever economic ties with Nazi Germany. Unfortunately for history, no action will be taken by the administration in time to help the Jews. But I don’t need a time machine to tell me that.