how many have you read?

rollover books for details

  • Dante | Inferno
  • Thoreau | Walden
  • Sophocles | Oedipus Rex
  • Kafka | Metamorphosis
  • Melville | Moby-Dick
  • Shakespeare | Hamlet
  • Homer | The Odyssey
  • Austen | Pride and Prejudice
  • Bronte | Jane Eyre
  • Steinbeck | Of Mice and Men

the number 1 pick

In this clip, Jill Newman, Copy Editor, Penguin Books, discusses Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Click here to watch the complete twenty-minute video program, The Ten Essential Penguin Classics, highlighting each of the essential books.

Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men
ISBN 9780140186420 | $13.00 |

Jill also sent us these thoughts about why Steinbeck's book is essential…

What It's About:
Of Mice and Men is about two migrant workers in California who, during the Great Depression, hire themselves out to farm (although they hope to settle down and own a place of their own someday). One of them is named Lennie; he's one of those gentle giants who doesn't know his own strength. George, his best friend, is the strong-and-silent type and he's devoted to Lennie and is always bailing him out of trouble. There's a strong bond between the two of them, until one day tragedy strikes and George comes to the rescue in one of the most shattering ways that you could ever imagine.

Why it's a classic:
Well, for a thousand and one reasons. First off, you can read it at so many levels. There's the story alone—and the drama and the pathos of it all—and if you only read it for those reasons, it would be worth your reading. And then there are all those levels of meaning—about friendship, and love—but I think it's mainly about having dreams and plans and hopes, and what happens to them once life, or reality, intervenes.

What It Influenced:
Well, I think the title says it all (although I think the phrase originated with a Robert Burns poem): "the best laid plans of mice and men," and how you think everything is going to go one way and then something happens, or lots of things happen, and everything goes awry. I think people talk about the best laid plans of mice and men all the time, even if they've never read the book. Also, it's quite simply the ultimate original; a true jewel. Like Steinbeck's other powerhouse, The Red Pony, Of Mice and Men is unbelievably short. It's over before you've even begun, but it blows you away and you come up gasping for air that anyone could write anything so perfect. A true gem; a diamond as big as the whole Out West.

Is the Movie Version Any Good?
The last rendition was the one with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. But in terms of sheer power and scope and impact and panorama, nothing will ever, ever, ever knock you out like the book.

Visit the Penguin Classics Website | Sign up to the Penguin Classics Newsletter