Travels Without Charley

Steinbeck's Statue Gets Another Crack

Monday, 07 January 2013 11:18 AM Written by

Poor John Steinbeck.

Forty-four years after his death, America’s most widely read author is taking some lumps.

First I proved his 1962 “nonfiction” book  “Travels With Charley” was a literary fraud filled with fiction and lies.

Now the Nobel prize people in Sweden have opened their archives and Steinbeck’s reputation has taken another hit.

It turns out Steinbeck, who had been nominated eight times before for the Noble Prize for literature, was a compromise choice for the award in 1962 and he only won because the competition was so weak.

Steinbeck didn’t get much respect from the critics in his later years. Everyone but him wanted him to write “The Grapes of Wrath” over and over.

Even when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Oct. 25, 1962, the literary mafia at the New York Times and Time magazine quickly dissed him, saying he didn’t really deserve it because he hadn’t written anything of value in decades.

Meanwhile, there’s a “Travels With Charley” connection to Steinbeck’s Nobel.

As part of its decision, the Nobel selection committee took into account the roaring commercial and critical success of “Charley” in the late summer and fall of 1962.

When Steinbeck was given the prize in Stockholm, here is what the presentation speech said about “Travels With Charley,” the supposedly nonfiction account of his 1960 road trip that had hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestselling nonfiction list on Oct. 21, 1962.

“Steinbeck’s latest book is an account of his experiences during a three-month tour of forty American states Travels with Charley, (1962). He travelled in a small truck equipped with a cabin where he slept and kept his stores. He travelled incognito, his only companion being a black poodle. We see here what a very experienced observer and raisonneur he is. In a series of admirable explorations into local colour, he rediscovers his country and its people. In its informal way this book is also a forceful criticism of society. The traveller in Rosinante – the name which he gave his truck – shows a slight tendency to praise the old at the expense of the new, even though it is quite obvious that he is on guard against the temptation. ‘I wonder why progress so often looks like destruction,’ he says in one place when he sees the bulldozers flattening out the verdant forest of Seattle to make room for the feverishly expanding residential areas and the skyscrapers. It is, in any case, a most topical reflection, valid also outside America.”

Of course, nearly everything the committee assumed was true about Steinbeck’s road trip and his book was not true. But no one would know that for half a century.

Priceless plugs for "Dogging Steinbeck"

Saturday, 15 December 2012 07:07 AM Written by

Not everyone will like my e-book "Dogging Steinbeck," what I say about John Steinbeck or the literary crimes he committed in "Travels With Charley," or what I say about America and what/who ails it.

But whether “Dogging Steinbeck” is a bust-seller or a best-seller, comments like the ones from big-time authors Paul Theroux and Curt Gentry are priceless.

The great travel writer Paul Theroux, who doesn’t dig it when famous travel writers lie about their trips,  hasn’t read the book. But he encouraged me to write it and has credited me for my findings of Steinbeck’s literary fraud.

“I compared his published letters with his travels and saw great discrepancies,” the author of “The Tao of Travel” told me in an email. “These facts have been public for years, but no one cared to mention them. … Steinbeck falsified his trip. I am delighted that you went deep into this.”

Curt Gentry, whose dozen books including “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders” (with Vincent Bugliosi), did read “Dogging Steinbeck.” He’s also a “character” in it — a mini-hero, actually.

Here’s what Gentry wrote about my book in his Amazon blurb:

“I still believe John Steinbeck is one of America’s greatest writers and I still love ‘Travels With Charley,’ be it fact or fiction or, as Bill Steigerwald doggedly proved, both. While I disagree with a number of Steigerwald’s conclusions, I don’t dispute his facts. He greatly broadened my understanding of Steinbeck the man and the author, particularly during his last years. And, whether Steigerwald intended it or not, in tracking down the original draft of ‘Travels With Charley’ he made a significant contribution to Steinbeck’s legacy. “Dogging Steinbeck” is a good honest book.”

For the latest breaking news about my attempts to sell a book to help repay me for the time and money I've spent chasing Steinbeck, see the web site The Truth About Travels With Charley.



'Dogging Steinbeck' --An Amazonian Production

Sunday, 02 December 2012 08:27 AM Written by

Writing, promoting and selling a book without an editor, a copy editor, a marketing expert, an advertising budget or a PR staff that knows how to get the New York Times to review it is tough.


But so far so good.

"Dogging Steinbeck" is on and a print-on-demand book is coming soon. Amazon gets its knocks, but it has democratized and disintermediated the book publishing business. Thanks to its smooth, Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace divisions, any idiot can assemble a book and put it for sale before the whole world.

I've proved that.

My adventure cost me a ton of time and money and lost opportunities.

Who knows how many Pulitizers I might have won had I not spent the last 2.6 years trapped on Steinbeck World.






'Dogging Steinbeck' -- The Book Arrives at Amazon

Friday, 16 November 2012 09:17 AM Written by


I discovered two important and surprising truths in the fall of 2010 when I retraced the route John Steinbeck took around the country in 1960 and turned into "Travels With Charley in Search of America."

I found out the great author’s iconic “nonfiction” road book was a deceptive, dishonest and highly fictionalized account of his actual 10,000-mile road trip.

And I found out that despite the Great Recession and national headlines dripping with gloom and doom, America was still a big, beautiful, empty, healthy, rich, safe, clean, prosperous and friendly country.

 “Dogging Steinbeck” is the true story of my adventures on and off the road with John Steinbeck’s ghost. It’s about the dozens of good Americans I met and the great places I saw on my high-speed drive from Maine to Monterey along what’s left of the Old Steinbeck Highway.

And it tells how I stumbled onto a literary scoop that forced a major book publisher to finally confess the truth about “Travels With Charley” after 50 years.

Part literary detective story, part travel book, part book review, part primer in drive-by journalism, part commentary on what a libertarian newspaperman thinks is right and wrong about America, my book is subjective as hell. But it’s entirely nonfiction.

"Dogging Steinbeck" is on sale on for $6.99 -- only $2.04 more than what Steinbeck's hardback sold for in 1962. Anyone who's interested in John Steinbeck, the truth about "Travels With Charley" and how much America has changed in the last half century should read it -- and help me recover the costs of my 2.6-year adventure in entrepreneurial journalism.

Bill Steigerwald

It's taken 50 years, but the publishers of "Travels With Charley" have finally admitted that the classic road book -- which has been passed off as a work of nonfiction since 1962 -- contains so much fiction it should not be taken literally.

On Oct. 2, the Penguin Group published a new edition of “Charley” to mark its 50th birthday and to co-celebrate the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize.

The introduction of the book, first written in 1997 for a paperback edition by Middlebury College English professor, author and Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini, was quietly updated by Parini -- at the behest of Penguin -- in response to the "controversy" started by yours truly.

Parini inserted a few new sentences and parenthetical disclaimers into his introduction that all but warns readers that they are about to read a work of fiction.


You can read what he wrote and how I reacted at, my new web site.

Steinbeck's "Travels" Still Masquerades as Nonfiction

Saturday, 22 September 2012 08:31 AM Written by

On Sept. 23, 1960, John Steinbeck and his faithful French-born poodle Charley left Sag Harbor, N.Y., and began the road trip that would become "Travels With Charley in Search of America," one of the best-selling nonfiction books of 1962.9780143107002L

As I discovered in 2010, Steinbeck's beloved, iconic road book, which turned 50 on July 27, is not a work of nonfiction. It is a highly fictionalized and dishonest account of his actual trip, who he traveled with and what he really thought about the America he found.

On Sept. 25 Penguin Group will release a 50th anniversary edition of the book, which it describes on its web site as:

"At age fifty-eight, John Steinbeck and his poodle, Charley, embarked on a journey across America. This chronicle of their trip meanders from small towns to growing cities to glorious wilderness oases. Still evocative and awe-inspiring after fifty years, Travels with Charley in Search of America provides an intimate look at one of America's most beloved writers in the later years of his life—a self-portrait of a man who never wrote an explicit autobiography. Written during a time of upheaval and racial tension in the South—which Steinbeck witnessed firsthand—Travels with Charley is a stunning evocation of America on the eve of a tumultuous decade."

Considering the true nature of Steinbeck's trip, that's a disingenuous and overly generous description of a multi-flawed book that never deserved its nonfiction designation and has been outed as a 50-year-old literary fraud.

In an email a few weeks ago I asked if the Penguin Group had “an official response to my discovery that ‘Charley,’ though marketed and reviewed and taught as a nonfiction account of Steinbeck's 1960 trip, is heavily fictionalized?”

The company’s PR department in New York declined to comment.

Penguin, which for obvious reasons was not interested in helping me find more smoking guns, also told me that the company does not have Vikings’ old “Travels With Charley” files “on site” and that they are probably with Steinbeck’s estate. Perhaps future scholars will want to study them.



Meanwhile, if you can read Dutch, you can order Geert Mak's new book "Traveling Without John in Search of America." Mak, a well-known and high-quality journalist and author in the Netherlands, did what I did and carefully repeated Steinbeck's trip in the fall of 2010.

Mak did a lot of the same Steinbeck research I did and his nearly 600-page book about the current state of America includes much of what I discovered about Steinbeck's real trip.

Here, translated by Google's clever but imperfect computers, is how the book is described on Mak's web site:

Travelling without John

Looking for America

On September 23, 1960 left the legendary writer John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley for an expedition across the American continent. He wanted his country and his countrymen again know. Exactly fifty years later, on the hour, was Geert Mak again for the old house of Steinbeck. It was the beginning of a renewed inspection tour in the footsteps of Charley and John, but now with the eyes of 2010. What is the past half century in American cities and towns changed? Where is Main Street USA go?

Which dreams chased the Americans over the centuries their ideals? What is it ended? What remains of that "city on the hill", the Promised Land which was once the world looked? And above all, what we have together, America and Europe in the 21st century?

Geert Mak avoided, like John Steinbeck, the beaten path. He drove thousands of miles through the potato fields of Maine and the infinity of the Midwest, sat day after day at the table with farmers, laborers, fishermen and schoolmasters, met with shiny suburbs and boarded-up village shops, searched, again and again, to the stories of this country which nobody ever gets finished.



You can read about how I stumbled upon the truth about Steinbeck's last major work in “Sorry, Charley” in the Post-Gazette or the April 2011 issue of Reason magazine. At you also can read "Whitewashing John Steinbeck," which for the first time publicly reveals a highly X-rated paragraph of filthy language that was cut from the original manuscript of "Charley" in 1962.


Happy Birthday "Travels With Charley"

Friday, 27 July 2012 02:18 PM Written by

We should all wish "Travels With Charley in Search of America" a happy birthday.

But whether you are young or old, overly romantic or just plain too gullible, don't be fooled into thinking that John Steinbeck's last major work is the true and honest account of the cross-country trip he and Charley made in the fall of 1960.

For half a century, we've been told and taught that "Charley" was a work of nonfiction.  But it wasn't.

You can read about how I stumbled upon the truth about the Nobel laureate's beloved, iconic, best-selling road book in “Sorry, Charley” in the Post-Gazette or the April 2011 issue of Reason magazine.

And over at you can read "Whitewashing John Steinbeck," Why partisan politics and virulent racism were cut from the celebrated “non-fiction” road book Travels With Charley."

Along with detailing some of the many devious edits made to the original manuscript of "Charley" by Steinbeck's publisher, the July 25 Reason piece reveals an X-rated paragraph of filthy language that has never been made public until now.

Posts of interest:

A “Travels With Charley” Timeline.

“America Looks Good From Steinbeck’s Highway” is the last of eight print-side travel stories I wrote in 2010 for the Post-Gazette.

Still Traveling with John Steinbeck

Wednesday, 25 April 2012 08:50 AM Written by
Stacy Innerst/Post-Gazette


"Travels With Charley in Search of America" turns 50 this summer. For half a century, we've been told and taught that John Steinbeck's beloved, iconic, best-selling road book was a work of nonfiction. It wasn't.

In 2010 I proved "TWC" was more fiction than fact. It's not the true and honest account of the cross-country trip Steinbeck made in the fall of 1960. You can read about how I stumbled upon it in “Sorry, Charley” in the Post-Gazette or  the April 2011 issue of Reason magazine.

This web site contains the road blog I wrote in the fall of 2010 while I retraced Steinbeck's trip as precisely as possible, exactly 50 years after he took it. I drove more than 11,000 miles, alone, doglessly and socklessly, in a 2010 Toyota RAV4 with a bed rigged up in the back. Enjoy.

Bill Steigerwald lives in Eighty Four, Pa. His email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Posts of interest:

A “Travels With Charley” Timeline.

“America Looks Good From Steinbeck’s Highway” is the last of eight print-side travel stories for the Post-Gazette from “Down East” Maine to Route 66.

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