The Politics of Upton Sinclair
by RON JACOBS
I’ve always been a fan of the novelist Upton Sinclair. From the day in junior high that I finished his classic about the US meatpacking industry, The Jungle, up to last week when I finally read his novel about Wall Street and the coal-mining industry titled King Coal, I have always found his novels to be well-told tales of life in the domain of Wall Street.
Although the industrial processes he describes in his books are outmoded, the financial chicanery and greed of the financial giants he despised are only more refined. In my mind his works have taken on a new relevance in this period of market manipulation and destruction of the commons under the guise of a free market.
Biographer Anthony Arthur’s 2006 work on writer and activist Upton Sinclair is an engaging and well-researched discussion of the man that was Upton Sinclair. Like the character in Kris Kristofferson’s tune, “The Pilgrim,” Arthur’s Sinclair is “a walking contradiction/partly truth and partly fiction.”
Reaching into the personal papers of Sinclair, his first wife and a number of his friends and colleagues, Arthur has produced a book that is in fact more than a history of the man who was Upton Sinclair, it is a history of the time he lived in. That time spanned two world wars, several revolutions, at least one economic depression, and multiple episodes of governmental repression. Sinclair responded to them all.