Upton Sinclair: California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual

Written by Lauren Coodley
Review by Kristen Hannum

Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Upton Sinclair was paying attention. This biography is a balanced but sympathetic look at the idealistic, passionate man who wrote The Jungle when he was just 25. That book, which he hoped would outrage Americans about dangerous, dirty working conditions workers endured in the meatpacking industry, instead alerted people to the fact that their meat might not be as safe as they’d like, prompting the creation of the Pure Food and Drug Act. Undaunted, Sinclair went on to write 80 more novels and nonfiction books, many of which were self-published. Coodley emphasizes Sinclair’s support for temperance and women’s suffrage (and other feminist issues, including housework and childcare), and she shows how those issues fit together in the early 20th century. Sinclair (whose father was an alcoholic) was also a health pioneer, believing that by eating right and eschewing alcohol he would do better work in the world.

I enjoyed this well-edited account, which moved right along without undue verbiage, and yet gave a rounded, insightful sense of Sinclair and his times.