The Butter Battle Book

(Originally posted at on September 30, 2010 4:33 AM)

My favorite Dr. Seuss book is The Butter Battle Book.  (I have a copy from the first printing.  I bought it from BOOKSALE.)

Here’s some information about it (from Judith & Neil Morgan, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography.  New York: Random House, 1995, pp. 249-250):

Ted (Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) recalled his Oxford studies of the conflict between the thirteenth-century Guelphs and Ghibellines of northern Italy, a deadly quarrel between those loyal to the Pope and those pledged to the Holy Roman emperor, setting cities like Florence and Siena at each other’s throat.  As Ted chose to remember history, they had fought because the Guelphs cut their apples vertically while the Ghibellines cut theirs horizontally.  Such nonsense became his metaphor for mounting cold war tension, and he plunged into the nuclear-war theme with a vigor that he had not felt for years.  He posed technical questions to retired military friends in San Diego, especially Victor H. Krulak, a Marine Corps lieutenant general who had been prominent in the Vietnam war.  […]

He wrote his nephew that he was working eight to ten hours a day on “the best book I’ve ever written.” […] [A friend] told Ted that the book’s inconclusive ending—would there be nuclear war?—would trouble some readers, but he agreed that it was the only honest one. […]

An in-house memo to Random House salespeople described The Butter Battle Book as “probably the most important book Dr. Seuss has ever created.” […]

Maurice Sendak wrote the following endorsement for the book (Morgan & Morgan, 1995, p. 252):

Surprisingly, wonderfully, the case for total disarmament has been brilliantly made by our acknowledged master of nonsense, Dr. Seuss. . . . Only a genius of the ridiculous could possibly deal with the cosmic and lethal madness of the nuclear arms race. . . . He has done the world a service.


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