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Publisher's Summary

Nobel laureate John Steinbeck's bracing from-the-frontlines account of World War II - now with a new introduction.

In 1943 John Steinbeck was on assignment for The New York Herald Tribune, writing from Italy and North Africa, and from England in the midst of the London blitz. In his dispatches he focuses on the human-scale effect of the war, portraying everyone from the guys in a bomber crew to Bob Hope on his USO tour and even fighting alongside soldiers behind enemy lines. Taken together, these writings create an indelible portrait of life in wartime.

©1971, 1986 Elaine Steinbeck, John Steinbeck IV and Thom Steinbeck (P)2014 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about Once There Was a War

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The greatest war story(ies) ever told

I have read many war biographies and accounts of WWII, including Churchill's, but none come close to bringing WWII to life like this book does. Although stripped of specific details by the censors, the stories lose nothing from the omissions for Steinbeck has done a masterful job of reaching deep into the lives of the men and women of the allied forces and giving them expression that is pure gold. I have lived as an infantry soldier and these words ring so true and deep that one wishes there were volumes of these stories somewhere. Although Ken Burns did much of this for the Civil War, the main difference is that Steinbeck brings his deep understanding and empathy for the common person to the description of events. You will not be disappointed, even if you do not care much for Steinbeck's other works.

16 people found this helpful

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Great stories

Worthy of your time. A look at the war through the eyes of a true observers of the world.

9 people found this helpful

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Immediately Started the Book Over to Listen Again

This collection has got to be my most cherished book from audible. There's so much here that resonates with this Soldier that I can't believe that the sentiments are not from the current conflicts. Steinbeck captures what no others have. The easily unnoticed details of everyday life that seem so arbitrary are written so beautifully that one gets lost in the miasma of war to follow the floating butterfly.

Although I didn't cry, I could feel Steinbeck reaching out and gently massaging my emotions; he made me laugh and caused a soul stirring tremor. Each story is short, but flows as one aspect of one life during one battle. Yet, he covers London through the Mediterranean an often forgotten portion of World War II brilliantly.

Regarding the narration: mellifluous prose that brings Steinbeck to life. Lloyd James did well with this one. He narrates several Heinlein books, including my favorite - Starship Troopers - and I couldn't help but feel as if Steinbeck, Heinlein, and James were all locked in a room and created both of these books concurrently. I've listened to other Heinlein books narrated by James and have listened to several of Steinbeck's by different voices, but the two aforementioned are so a like that if one didn't know the backstory of either, it would seem as if they were each parts of a magnum opus. Steinbeck's stories are so similar to the philosophy that Heinlein analogously portrays through Juan Ricco.

I normally listen at 3x speed and had no problems with this one. The audio is crisp and without editing errors that are saturated in Lloyd James' narration of Starship Troopers.

Highly recommend this book, especially if you're or were a Soldier.

7 people found this helpful

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OK WWII Essays

Although I love most of Steinbeck's work, this is not one of my favorites. These are essays from Europe during WWII. The writing was censored and limited. At the time a war reporter was expected not to say anything that would potentially weaken the war effort, and Steinbeck indicated he tried to do this and was additionally censored.

Regardless of the censorship, I found most of Steinbeck's essays and war reports nowhere close to the quality of his novel writing. These essays are not bad, they are just far from great. They are a little contrived, a little derivative, as well as being limited by self & army censorship.

Nevertheless, for those who want to understand Steinbeck himself, these essays give a very different insight than the novels.

I found the narration good, but not exceptional.

1 person found this helpful

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Once There Was À War ... a long time ago.

I first read this book while living on a plateau in Africa, a long time ago. I was moved by these stories of men in their youth, as I was, in the midst of life, not knowing they were in the past. Those men would have been old when I first read this book and now they are gone. The stories are funny, sad and exciting. Steinbeck brings out their humanity on every page. That is what this book is about. The narrator Lloyd James does a fantastic job. He also gets 5 stars.

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Very enjoyable listen

Steinbeck hit a home run with these short vignettes of WWII stories and experiences of solders during the war. The narration is great and I loved all the little stories. I am listening to many WWII books this summer and this is my 5th book in the last month.
This ranks at the top of list of must listens.

1 person found this helpful

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Authentic, Not Sensational

Who writes better than Steinbeck? No one. The book is a series of vignettes of real men attending a real war. No John Wayne characters to be found. Beautifully rendered.

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wonderful insightful book

Would you consider the audio edition of Once There Was a War to be better than the print version?

I have been on a Jon Steinbeck kick and I loved this. His everyday details about the reality and sometimes the every day heros of war is illuminating and very down to earth.

Have you listened to any of Lloyd James’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

no but he was great

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

don't have to you can read it in segments which is great

1 person found this helpful

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Empathetic and Respectful view of the men of WWII

Over the past two months while reading classics as part of a personal challenge I have fallen in love with the prose of John Steinbeck. Now I intend to find and read everything he wrote! This is my first read of one of his nonfiction books, and my first review of less than 5 stars. However, if there were half stars I would certainly give this one a solid 4.5 stars!

These stories come from John's experiences as a war correspondent during WWII in England, Italy and northern Africa. The beauty of the stories is the way John writes about each soldier with love and respect. He tries to tell the story of their humanity and frailty. This book will not teach you a great deal about WWII unless you know very little, but it will give you insight into the individual men who touched John while he served. He writes with humor, frankness, admiration and love. He has a true empathy for these men, and it is palpable as you read this little book.

LLoyd James was very good -- but I missed Gary Sinise who was so good that I felt like he embodied John Steinbeck.

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Least favorite Steinbeck

Steinbeck is my favorite author. I read this but it was not close to the quality of his other books.