The dustcover of John Steinbeck: The Voice of the Land describes Keith Ferrell as "the author of three other books for young readers," literary biographies of H. G. Wells, Ernest Hemingway, and George Orwell. This well-hidden clue proves the only discernable raison d' etre for his book, because it presents no new information in terms of Steinbeck scholarship, biography, or criticism. Although it is difficult to ascertain because the author provides no citation, the book seems based on a limited number of secondary sources. One of them, Jackson Benson's definitive biography, harvested the land in 1984 that Mr. Ferrell gleans again in 1986. The serious reader of Steinbeck, or of modern American literature, need not bother to read this volume.
On the other hand, the biography proves a perfectly competent introduction to Steinbeck for a beginning reader, even at the college level. The book is accurate, sensible, and readable. Like most biographers, Ferrell strains to justify his subject, replicating Benson's tendency toward hagiography. Steinbeck's inability [End Page 683] to produce consistently successful fiction after World War Two is glossed over, and even his worst excesses are excused as experiments. Perhaps even this overly positive emphasis can be pardoned by the critical neglect of one of modern America's most important writers, the author of the definitive Depression novel, The Grapes of Wrath, in 1939.