The first full-length biography of the Nobel laureate to appear in a quarter century, Mad at the World investigates the life of the author of The Grapes of Wrath and other classics and explores what influenced the creation of these enduring canonical works.
Souder documents Steinbeck’s complicated personal life, including his struggles with depression, his three marriages, his friendship with philosopher/biologist Ed Ricketts and his troubled relationship with his children. He smoothly incorporates literary criticism of Steinbeck’s work, though he falters when he insists on defending Steinbeck against critic Edmund Wilson’s astute analysis of the writer’s flaws ... it misses the point that in analyzing Steinbeck’s weaknesses, Wilson was just doing his job. Still, Souder, a gifted writer with a sure grasp of Steinbeck’s time and place, has created a memorable book. The best biographers balance empathy for their subjects with an unblinking accounting of their shortcomings, and Souder succeeds at this tricky business. Mad at the World is a vivid portrait of a complicated man, and John Steinbeck, who prized realism above all things, might have approved.
... painstakingly researched, psychologically nuanced, unshowy, lucid ... Souder, in his own humble style, has brought a deeply human Steinbeck forth in all his flawed, melancholy, brilliant complication.
... [an] admiring new biography ... To Souder...anger was the novelist’s full-throated response to injustice, and it 'had driven him to greatness.' Yet to the reader Steinbeck seems less angry than shy, driven and occasionally cruel—an insecure, talented and largely uninteresting man who blunted those insecurities by writing. Souder’s sympathy for Steinbeck (and Ricketts) is most effective and eloquent in his depiction of the California landscape or of the sea ... Yet he recoils at Steinbeck’s machismo and disregard for the feelings of most women (except his third wife, Elaine) ... the biographer also balks at Steinbeck’s treatment of his sons[.]