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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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  • 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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  • 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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Located within the interface between real and surreal

There is a sense of the surreal as that which is super-real, above, or behind, or prior to what we refer to as “real”. This is Joseph’s land and John Steinbeck respects that location so thoroughly that he never adulterates its character-place with even the slightest embellishment of its organic phenomenology. Even though exquisite beauty and unbearable ugliness, pure happiness and pure pain, are some of its character traits, there is no invitation to speculate whether Joseph is mad or preternaturally sane. Whatever else that who-where-when is, it simply is what it is, a justification unto itself.

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Vibrating with all there is

The story recalled for me Samuel Clemens’ search for God and his conclusion that if we are created in his image what a sorry deity He is indeed (paraphrasing). Joseph exceeded most people’s image of a god conceived in the lowly reaches of fear and ignorance. The story’s twists of fate and willful endeavors of his brother to foist an image of a vengeful god on Joseph brought into sharp relief the one in tune and flow with life and nature and the other strapped to the limitations of narrow conventions hewn from that very fear of not daring to challenge them.

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An entrancing almost religious text

Around the same time that I selected Travels with Charley for my continuing introduction to John Steinbeck, I also selected To a God Unknown. Published in 1933, the book was Steinbeck's third publication (following Cup of Gold and The Red Pony). Despite not being one of the more widely read books by Steinbeck, the premise convinced me that I would enjoy it (more on this later).

I was not disappointed.


The Book
The short book follows the life of Joseph Wayne. A farmer on his dad's land, his desire for his own land leads him to California to establish his own homestead in a valley that suffered a drought in the not too distant past. Without being direct to even the reader, Joseph begins a strange relationship with a specific tree on his property. This relationship becomes something more when Joseph convinces himself that the spirit of his father has followed him to California and inhabited the tree.

In the midst of Joseph's strong connection to the land, his brothers and their wives move out to increase the family homestead. Joseph himself also takes a wife perceiving it to be the natural life-giving role for the head farmer. This obsession with the land puts Joseph out of sync with the lives of those around him and eventually, his "paganistic relationship" to the tree upsets his Christian family. Both of Joseph's obsession paint him as an enigmatic Adam and Christ type figure.

Steinbeck's own obsession with land is evident throughout in his glowing descriptions of it. Through Steinbeck, one can almost feel the anguish of Joseph in the midst of the book's trials. Along the way of this central theme, there are paths of love, lust, and sacrifice that interweave Christian and mythological symbolism. These disconnected themes come together in the final chapters as the full—perhaps even eschatological—scope comes into view. In retrospect, many of these themes reminded me of a thinner more precise East of Eden. As with East of Eden, I felt like the dialogue of the book was terse and wooden. Nonetheless, something about the tone of To a God Unknown made it less of a distraction.


The Audiobook
The reading of Jonathan Davis won't be winning any awards. The almost monotone reading of To a God Unknown fits the story but does little to liven up the wooden dialogue. Still, there is something ironically appropriate in the de-passioned reading of Joseph Wayne's own internal thoughts and conflict. While the experience was fine I look forward to reading the book on my own next time.


In conclusion, To a God Unknown was one of the more curious and disorienting books that I've read this year. Even looking back it is a strange book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt the entire book was made better by its conclusion. This is a book I want to own and digest slowly. I have high hopes that it will become one of my favorites.

Favorite Passage:

She cried as though in pain, “I tell you this man is not a man, unless he is all men. The strength, the resistance, the long and stumbling thinking of all men, and all the joy and suffering, too, cancelling each other out and yet remaining in the contents. He is all these, a repository for a little piece of each man’s soul, and more than that, a symbol of the earth’s soul.”