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Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

by Rick Wartzman

Few books have caused as big a stir as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, when it was published in April 1939. By May, it was the nation's 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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