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Publisher's Summary

Set in familiar Steinbeck territory, To a God Unknown is a mystical tale, exploring one man's attempt to control the forces of nature and, ultimately, to understand the ways of God.

©2012 Penguin Audio (P)1933 John Steinbeck

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 04-28-13

My Favorite Steinbeck; Terrible and Beautiful

I love Steinbeck and this has, for many years, been my favorite and was not available on Audible until recently. This early Steinbeck has exceptional writing and numerous elements appearing in his later works, in a pure, condensed, and powerful form. This novel has potent mystical imagery which might not sit well with some religious folks. Perhaps that is why this novel does not get the attention I think it deserves. The excellently narration complements the intensely beautiful and terrible writing. Like the Grapes of Wrath, this is an intense read without a lot of fun but with a thoughtful concentrated unflinching examination of life and death.

50 of 51 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Early Steinbeck and Good Narrator

I've recently read and listened to most of Steinbeck's major works, and now want to work through his lesser known works.

To a God Unknown was a good story. The subject matter and themes were interesting to me, so that probably helped my appreciation of it all. While this book definitely isn't as good as his other pieces, it was interesting to see all the hints of things to come.

Jonathan Davis did a very good job as the narrator. Very professional and he suited the material very well.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jessica
  • MACON, GA, United States
  • 10-08-13

Classic and Amazing

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This book is so good, and the narrator's voice matches the idea of the characters and setting perfectly. Such a good listen. :)

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 05-27-13

Interesting minor, early Steinbeck novel

An early Steinbeck filled with amazing biblical, pagan, and Greek images. The novel essentially relates the relationship between Joseph and his homesteading out West with his family. It is a story of four brothers who move from the East (Vermont) to the West (California) to homestead the land. Joseph Wayne isn't the oldest, but he is the leader/patriarch of the brothers ever since their dying father gave him his blessing (hints at Isaac’s blessing on Jacob). Joseph is convinced that his father's spirit abides in a large oak tree on his farm. He communes, talks, seeks advice and sacrifices to the Oak.

It isn't my favorite Steinbeck, but there were parts that were amazing and powerful.

22 of 25 people found this review helpful

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Great performance, very good story

Where does To a God Unknown rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

A very well narrated audiobook. Solid performance!

What other book might you compare To a God Unknown to and why?

Compared to other works by John Steinbeck I'd say this one is a bit less compelling.

Definitely a good read, full of symbolism in the good old-fashioned and thought provoking Steinbeck style, but (to me) it still ranks below his other works.

What does Jonathan Davis bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Although I occasionally disagreed with the narrator's interpretation of the tone, he brought a very credible rendition of the characters' voices, accents and feelings throughout most of the story.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful book!

I highly recommend this book to listen because it is a John Steinbeck special. It is very relaxing and because i had a lot of anxiety in my life this book is a relief. Thanks John Steinbeck, Rest In Peace.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Descriptions A+

This is my favorite John Steinbeck book. The descriptions of plant and land and animal are so drenched with feeling, I cannot shake it from my person. I carry this world in my heart

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great story

Mr Davis did an excellent job with the characters voices and accents. I enjoyed this performance so much.

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  • J. Hudson
  • Marietta, Georgia United States
  • 05-21-18

What an interesting book.

It started off as almost a formulaic book on rural life in California. But it expanded into a truly through provoking book. I'm still thinking about it. This is one of Steinbeck's best.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Excellent Narration & Writing. Joyless Story.

I will be thinking about this book for a few weeks yet. Clearly, this is Steinbeck's efforts to write a story which supports the theories/ideas of his close friend at the time, Joseph Campbell. His and Campbell's friendship with theosophist, Ed Ricketts, also seems like a strong influence on this weird "divinely predestined" tale. If you take an outline of Campbell's structural teachings in A Hero with a Thousand Faces, you can pretty much create chapter headings for To A God Unknown, and theosophical ideas of a patterned and structured universe, ordered by a shared human psychic connection are also prevalent. Additionally, as a matter of course, Campbell's teachings were also largely influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, and I picked up on the presence of his philosophy in this book fairly early on as well. I had to google that one when I began to suspect, but there it was. Nietzsche and I don't get along very well - I repeatedly feel an urge to abuse his books by throwing them against a wall - so I sort of knew at that point there was a chance for turbulence ahead.

The Mains: This story's protagonist is simply utterly unnatural. His responses are odd - most character responses in this book are odd, but his are the oddest. The result is a consistently present irony. Steinbeck tells you (through the other characters) repeatedly that his responses and reactions to things are "godlike", but in reality come off as something subhuman. If I met Joseph Wayne in real life, I would be very unnerved and disturbed by him. I would actually briefly suspect him of psychopathy, then conclude that he was just a sociopath. I *never* like him. I never believe that anyone else in this book does either, even though the book keeps telling us that they do. He's not evil. Just unnatural. Very very unnatural. The characters around him conclude that this is because he is more like a "man god" than they are. Steinbeck and I apparently have very different ideas about the nature of God (which is, at its heart, what this book is truly about). While Christian theology declares that meaning is focused in the person of Christ, in Joseph, all meaning is obscured and fuzzy. Those around him know less about themselves and the world rather than more.

Further, Joseph, while consistently compared to Christ by everyone around him, does not seem capable of true love for anything that is real. He is passionate, yet dispassionate. He smiles, but seems wholly separate from true Joy. He occasionally acknowledges love, but withholds himself from everyone. He is the classic image of the All American Male - driven by the animal instinct, capable of expressing feeling for everything except the things that matter most, reserved when he should be outspoken, outspoken when he should be silent, tearless, unmoved except by empty things. Empathy seems a thing he can never experience (until we see his wife give birth), and even then, there is a nothing. There is empathy with physical pain, but no heart. There is no heart. This is the cold god of American male myth - and I dislike him intensely.

Where this all gets weird and rather important is that this framework of thought and character seemed to be the support Steinbeck formed for a series of deplorable actions towards his first wife which led Campbell to publicly criticize and reject him. Carol Steinbeck, a creative in her own right, left her home to move with John to a cottage in California where he wrote most of his books. She gave up her whole life to help him with his writing, typing up the manuscripts on demand, working round the clock as secretary. She was even the one who suggested "The Grapes of Wrath" as a title for Steinbeck's most well known book. Everything was *all about John* and his passions, his writing. So when Carol got pregnant and John thought a baby would just be a huge and unwelcome interruption to his writing, he pressured Carol to abort. She did, and then became so badly infected she had to have a hysterectomy and was never able to have children. He cheated on her. Then, once his career, with her help, took off, he left her and married another woman who gave him two children. Yeah, a real hero. In her despair, she turned...to Joseph Campbell.

Combining those autobiographical details with this book creates an inflated image that Steinbeck perhaps held for himself (and his writing) and that - ironically - Campbell and Ricketts' friendship helped to create. Yuck. In my opinion, "To A God Unknown" could just be called "An Altar To Me."

Again, Steinbeck and I clearly disagree on the nature of God because that is an altar I simply won't bow to. ;)

I could probably write for hours on the philosophy that he weaves into this book - both Campbell and Ricketts' theosophy - but so much of it would be speculative. So much is veiled, and the veil is never torn, either for the protag or the author. Not in this book anyway - his life is another story.

While I ultimately dislike "To A God Unknown", I'm very glad I read it. It is an iron to sharpen iron. And it gives me a much deeper insight into the mentality (and morality) of Steinbeck before plunging into his other works.

In simpler terms, the writing is STUNNING. I've always felt that where Hemingway's words can fall bland and his stories are full of life, Steinbeck's words are irresistibly magnetic while his stories are devoid of life. This is certainly true here. The UPs: his women are actual characters. That is always refreshing. They aren't characters that I can relate with, but they are actual beings who really, at most times, overshadow the underdeveloped male characters. That, too, is probably largely owing to Carol Steinbeck. AND THIS NARRATOR is the first male I've heard on Audible that reads women's dialogue without sounding ridiculous. Since I feel this is just impossible for most male narrators to do (even when they're trying very hard), I was particularly impressed that he pulled it off. He gets five stars for that alone. He was well suited for this book and at times, even sounded a bit like Bruce Dern in his earlier films.

While this is perhaps the least well known of Steinbeck's books, I feel like it is the most insightful for the author, and that his readers won't fully imbibe the fuller meaning of his other books unless they sit through this one first. I can't say you'll enjoy it (maybe you will) but I recommend it as a starting point for Steinbeck. He's not the writer or person America's history has made him.