Upton Beall Sinclair was a prolific American author who wrote over
90 books in many genres, often advocating socialist views, and achieved
considerable popularity in the first half of the twentieth century.
He gained particular fame for his novel, The Jungle (1906), which
dealt with conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry and caused
a public uproar that ultimately led to the passage of the Meat Inspection
Act in 1906.
the main point of The Jungle was lost on the public, overshadowed
by his descriptions of unsanitary conditions in the packing plants.
The public health concerns dealt with in The Jungle are actually
far less significant than the human tragedy lived by his main
character and other workers in the plants. His main goal for the
book was to demonstrate the inhuman conditions of the wage earner
under capitalism, not to inspire public health reforms in how
the packing was done.
Sinclair lamented the effect of his book and the public uproar
that resulted: "I aimed at their hearts, and hit their stomachs."
Still, the fame and fortune he gained from publishing The Jungle
enabled him to write books on almost every issue of social injustice
in the 20th century.
Sinclair lived much of his life in Monrovia, California and later
in Buckeye, Arizona, but near the end of his life he moved to
Bound Brook, New Jersey. He took an interest in psychic phenomena
and experimented with telepathy, writing a book titled Mental
Radio, published in 1930. Sinclair established a socialist commune
called Helicon Hall Colony in 1906 with proceeds from his novel
The Jungle. One of those who joined was the novelist and playwright
Sinclair Lewis, who worked there as a janitor. The colony burned
down in 1907, apparently from arson.
faced what he would later call "the most difficult ethical
problem of my life," when he was told in confidence by Sacco
and Vanzetti's former attorney Fred Moore that they were guilty
and how their alibis were supposedly arranged. However, in
the letter revealing that discussion with Moore, Sinclair also
wrote, "I had heard that he [Moore] was using drugs. I knew
that he had parted from the defense committee after the bitterest
of quarrels … Moore admitted to me that the men themselves
had never admitted their guilt to him." Although this episode
has been used by some to claim that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty
and that Sinclair knew that when he wrote his novel Boston, this
account has been debunked by Sinclair biographer Greg Mitchell
platform for the California gubernatorial race of 1934, known
as EPIC (End Poverty in California), galvanized the support of
the Democratic Party, and Sinclair gained its nomination. Conservatives
in California were themselves galvanized by this, as they saw
it as an attempted Communist takeover of their state and used
massive political propaganda portraying Sinclair as a Communist,
even as he was being portrayed by American and Soviet Communists
as a capitalist following the Que Viva Mexico! debacle. Sinclair
was defeated by Frank F. Merriam in the election and largely abandoned
EPIC and politics to return to writing. However, the race of 1934,
would become known as the first race to use modern campaign techniques,
such as motion picture propaganda.
was married three times.
and social activism
An early success was the Civil War novel Manassas, written in
1903 and published a year later. Originally projected as the opening
book of a trilogy, the success of The Jungle caused him to drop
such plans, although he did revise Manassas decades later by "moderating
some of the exuberance of the earlier version"; a description
-- in Sinclair's case -- very much of a relative kind. The Jungle
brought to light many major issues in America such as poverty
and other social wrongs. There is some rumor that Sinclair was
a racist, with some textual evidence supporting this hypothesis.
Lanny Budd Series
Between 1940 and 1953 Sinclair wrote 11 novels about an American
named Lanny Budd that, read in sequence, detailed much of the
political history of the Western world in the first half of the
twentieth century. Almost totally forgotten today, they were all
bestsellers upon publication and were published in 21 countries.
The third book in the series, Dragon's Teeth, won the Pulitzer
Prize in 1943.