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.


Dr. Seuss’s 1977 Commencement Address

(Originally posted at on April 4, 2010 8:43 AM)

On June 1977, Theodor Seuss Geisel was invited to give the commencement address of Lake Forest College (outside Chicago). Here is his 75-second address entitled “My Uncle Terwilliger on the Art of Eating Popovers” (from Judith & Neil Morgan, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1995, pp. 234-235):

My uncle ordered popovers
from the restaurant’s bill of fare.
And when they were served,
he regarded them
with a penetrating stare …
Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
“To eat these things,”
said my uncle,
“you must exercise great care.
You may swallow down what’s solid …
you must spit out the air!”

And …
as you partake of the world’s bill of fare,
that’s darned good advice to follow.
Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.
And be careful what you swallow.

Judith and Neil Morgan add: “As Ted sat down, there was bedlam.  Students shouted, cheered and flung their caps into the air.  He was startled, for it was his first experience with the fervor with which many young Americans had begun to canonize Dr. Seuss.  These graduates were of the generation most critical of the Vietnam war, and from their earliest memories of Dr. Seuss books they had assumed that he too must be skeptical of the establishment.  Now they’d heard evidence from the master’s lips.”

On a related note, if ever you are asked to give a commencement address, try not to copy from others.  (See this, this, and this.)