“Deep down it’s mine, right to the center of the world,” says a Salinas Valley farmer about his land in John Steinbeck’s To a God Unknown, and Steinbeck the writer could have said the same. From the very start of his career he evoked the landscapes and people of central California with lyrical intensity and unflinching frankness. Through his intimate rendering of that place and those people, he expressed his abiding concerns: community, social justice, and the elemental connection between nature and human society. Here for the first time in one volume are Steinbeck’s early California writings. In prose that blends the vernacular and the incantatory, the local and the mythic, these five works chart Steinbeck’s evolution into one of the greatest and most enduringly popular of American novelists. The Pastures of Heaven (1932), a collection of interrelated stories, delineates the troubled inner lives and sometimes disastrous fates of families living in a seemingly tranquil California valley. The surface realism of Steinbeck’s first mature work is enriched by hints of uncanny forces at work beneath. A sense of primeval magic dominates To a God Unknown (1933), as a California farmer reverts to pagan nature worship and begins a tortuous journey toward catastrophe and ultimate understanding. Steinbeck’s sympathetic depiction of the raffish paisanos of Tortilla Flat (1935), a ramshackle district above Monterey, first won him popular attention. The Flat’s tenderhearted, resourceful, mildly corrupt, ever-optimistic characters are a triumph of life-affirming humor. In Dubious Battle (1936) plunges into the political struggle of the 1930s, painting a vigorous fresco of a migrant fruit-picker’s strike. Anticipating the collective portraiture of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck poignantly traces the surges and shifts of group behavior. With Of Mice and Men (1937), Steinbeck secured his status as one of the most influential American writers. Lenny and George, itinerant farmhands held together in the face of deprivation only by the frailest of dreams, have long since passed into American mythology. This novel, which Steinbeck called “such a simple little thing,” is now recognized as a masterpiece of concentrated emotional power.