Books: Earth to Earrh

What was so compelling about the story of a Chinese peasant who rose to riches—actually through his wife's shrewd looting of a local rich man's house during a rebellion? Well, it was both uplifting and escapist literature for Americans harassed by tumbling stock prices, declining job opportunities and general disillusionment with a society that had disappointed them. Published in 1931, The Good Earth made Pearl Buck rich, and, at the relatively late age of 39, an instant celebrity.

Every male chauvinist pig of a certain age can remember the movie, where the docile wife (played by Luise Rainer, German accent and all,...

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