The Other Side of Eden


As the son of a celebrated literary icon, John Steinbeck IV grew up in a privileged world peopled by the literati and the intellectual elite. Sadly, it was also a world of alcoholism, bitter divorce, estrangement, and abuse, on the part of both his mother and father. In this fascinating memoir, the late son and namesake of John Steinbeck writes with great insight and a gift for lyrical expression about his often painful youth.


Left unfinished at his untimely death, this testament to his life is here reconstructed by his former wife, Nancy Steinbeck. Interweaving her own reminiscences of her life with John Steinbeck IV, Nancy has created an engrossing account from two perspectives: John’s memories of his chaotic and adventurous upbringing and her own thoughts on their journey together to make a new life apart from the long shadow of a famous father and a troubled past.

Though laboring under the burden of being the son of a 20th-century legend, the younger Steinbeck established himself as a respected journalist in his own right, mainly through his writing on wartime Vietnam, which had a profound impact on his life. The Other Side of Eden contains many thoughts on Vietnam, including a memorable scene of his father’s visit to the war-torn country while the younger Steinbeck was in the army. There are also vivid recollections of his mother’s abusive, alcoholic rages; his lonely years in boarding school; his long battle with drug addiction; and his strained relationship with his remote, conflicted father.

Nancy Steinbeck adds important perspective as an outsider getting to know this complex family through John, and in the end helping him to put his life on a sound footing. Both Nancy and John, in their search for spiritual identity, were drawn to Tibetan Buddhism. Along the way they befriended a strange and fascinating collection of characters, from the Dalai Lama to William Burroughs and Abbie Hoffman. Their tale of triumph in the struggle against parental abuse, drug addiction, and the seductive trap of guru worship is a must read for all Steinbeck fans, as well as anyone who survived the sixties.

The Other Side of Eden


“This book has it all—alcoholism, abuse, the connection of East of Eden to Steinbeck’s real-life family, and John IV’s need to become his own person, a writer on his own merits. Nancy Steinbeck adds an interesting voice to an already fascinating story.”

Excerpt from Writer Magazine, which listed The Other Side of Eden
among the top ten books in 2001 for writers.

“I am honored to write a foreword to this lacerating, profound, and exquisitely written book. The Other Side of Eden has harrowed and elated me, shattered my heart and made me laugh raucously out loud. In John and Nancy Steinbeck’s sophisticated and naked company, few extremes of human emotion go unexplored, often with a brutal brilliance that is as purifying as it is terrifying. This is one of the most original memoirs of the twentieth century. Anyone who finds the courage to read it as it deserves to be read—slowly, rigorously, bringing to it the whole of their feeling and intelligence—will find themselves changed.

All great memoirs are a clutch of different books marvelously conjured into one. The Other Side of Eden is no exception. It is at once an exorcism of family wounds and secrets, an exposé of the projections of religious seekers and of the baroque and lethal world of New Age cults and gurus. This poignant unfolding of a great love affair between two wounded, difficult but dogged lovers is also the account of a journey into awakening through the massacre of illusion after illusion, to the awakening that lies on the other side of Eden. Few books risk, or achieve, so much under such blisteringly candid authority. Reading it is as much a rite of passage as a literary experience.”

Excerpt by Andrew Harvey,
author of
The Direct Path, Son of Man and A Journey in Ladakh

Brilliant, tragic, sad, pathetic, poignant, and powerful, indeed. It’s hard to come up with modifiers to fit the extraordinary story told in The Other Side of Eden, and the even more extraordinary way that story is told by a writer of tortured and torturing genius. John Steinbeck IV illuminates and transcends his famous father here in penetrating, poetic, and often devastating prose. Everywhere—in the barest facts of a brutally painful childhood and an adulthood marked by both awful self-destruction and stunning insights—the father’s ghost leaks through. One steps away from this book in awe of the terrible struggles of this writer’s son whose immense talents might have, under different circumstances, even surpassed his celebrated father’s. Nancy Steinbeck, with skill and sometimes profoundly disturbing candor, fleshes out her husband’s story until, in the end, one feels that nothing has been left out, neither joy nor horror. This is an impossible book to put down once we pick it up.”

Dr. Louis Owens, author of Steinbeck’s Re-Vision of America
and Grapes of Wrath: Trouble in the Promised Land

More than a memoir, this is a powerful account of healing and liberation. This book can help many people.

Tracy Cochran, Editor/Publisher’s Weekly

‘John Steinbeck? Are you any relation?’

“As the son of the literary icon, John Steinbeck IV heard this question for most of his life. Growing up in a privileged world of the famous and intellectual elite, he also experienced the dark side of parental fame: alcoholism, divorce, abuse. He labored in the shadow of his famous father to make sense of his own life and his own literary gifts.

This provocative, fierce memoir begins in 1949 when the younger Steinbeck was ‘a very sick infant with a convulsive stomach that brought me little agonies’. He then traces his years in New York, the influence of Salinas, his lonely years in a boarding school, his strained relationships with his alcoholic mother and remote father, his own journey into drugs, and his pivotal years as a soldier and journalist in Vietnam.

The younger Steinbeck’s story was left unfinished by his untimely death in 1991, during routine back surgery. That is when his wife, Nancy, decided to finish it for him. With candor and a fluid writing style, she looks unflinchingly at her husband’s strengths and weaknesses, his parental wounds and childlike needs.

The insights and strong writing elevate ‘The Other Side of Eden’ above the usual celebrity-parent-bashing books. Both Steinbecks are willing to take hard looks both at the trappings of fame and at themselves.”

Jill Wolfson, San Jose Mercury News

“Haunting and revealing.”

Midwest Book Review

“Only in the years shortly before his death did John Steinbeck IV finally realize that ‘no drug is as powerful as sobriety.’ This fascinating memoir by the son of a celebrated literary icon chronicles his raging life dance with alcoholism, resentment and estrangement and his hard fought recovery over addiction. Unfinished at the time of his death, this richly human memoir was constructed in part by Steinbeck’s widow.”

Hazelden Foundation

“This is the most exciting work I’ve read in years! It is difficult to be this lucid without being bitter, and Nancy Steinbeck never is. It is also very reassuring to see that Nancy is a writer herself—and sometimes a great one—and not just a publicity seeker with a good subject and great names to drop.”

Brad Armstrong, The Advocate

The Other Side of Eden is one of the more inspiring 12-step handbooks in circulation. It’s must reading for anyone who has ever been inspired by John Steinbeck’s works and who are willing to acknowledge that Steinbeck’s own character was fraught with the dark dysfunction and epic hypocrisies often depicted in his own best novels.”

Joe Livernois, Monterey County Herald


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