This has given me everything I could have wanted from a biography of Steinbeck. In clear and accessible prose, Parini sets out Steinbeck's family and personal history and an analysis of the writer's various works in context. In some senses, the book is also a social history of the US in the first 2/3 of the 20th century, as it traces Steinbeck's relationship with his favourite subject, the American people. The Steinbeck of Parini’s biography is the Steinbeck I imagine from the relatively few of his novels I’ve read: compassionate, humane, a caring friend and generally observant and insightful. Parini also reveals Steinbeck’s darker side: insecure about his ability as a writer, emotionally volatile and prone to episodes of severe depression.
This is a not a short book. However, I found it utterly engaging. It has inspired me to read some of Steinbeck’s lesser-known works, as well as his letters. It has also made me wonder why I don’t read more literary biographies. When they’re as good as this effort, they make rewarding reading.