Upton Sinclair: California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual


Had Upton Sinclair not written a single book after The Jungle, he would still be famous. But Sinclair was a mere twenty-five years old when he wrote The Jungle, and over the next sixty-five years he wrote nearly eighty more books and won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He was also a filmmaker, labor activist, women?s rights advocate, and health pioneer on a grand scale. This new biography of Sinclair underscores his place in the American story as a social, political, and cultural force, a man who more than any ...

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Had Upton Sinclair not written a single book after The Jungle, he would still be famous. But Sinclair was a mere twenty-five years old when he wrote The Jungle, and over the next sixty-five years he wrote nearly eighty more books and won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He was also a filmmaker, labor activist, women’s rights advocate, and health pioneer on a grand scale. This new biography of Sinclair underscores his place in the American story as a social, political, and cultural force, a man who more than any other disrupted and documented his era in the name of social justice.

Upton Sinclair: California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual shows us Sinclair engaged in one cause after another, some surprisingly relevant today—the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, the depredations of the oil industry, the wrongful imprisonment of the Wobblies, and the perils of unchecked capitalism and concentrated media. Throughout, Lauren Coodley provides a new perspective for looking at Sinclair’s prodigiously productive life. Coodley’s book reveals a consistent streak of feminism, both in Sinclair’s relationships with women—wives, friends, and activists—and in his interest in issues of housework and childcare, temperance and diet. This biography will forever alter our picture of this complicated, unconventional, often controversial man whose whole life was dedicated to helping people understand how society was run, by whom, and for whom.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Known primarily as the author of The Jungle (written when he was only 25), Upton Sinclair went on to produce nearly 80 more books, and, as discussed in this skillful biography, worked as an activist for causes including the labor, temperance, and women’s rights movements. Historian Coodley (California: A Multicultural Documentary History) narrates little-known aspects of Sinclair’s life, such as his gubernatorial campaign in California in 1934, in which he faced a barrage of attacks from newspapers and Hollywood studios; these tactics disgusted so many involved that it helped create “a liberal climate in Hollywood.” Born in Baltimore in 1878, Sinclair learned about political action from his mother, a determined temperance supporter. Indeed, Sinclair had seen the effects of drink on his alcoholic father. He threw himself into his activism, frequently risking, and at times enduring, arrest. In addition, he befriended many female leaders of the movements he supported, such as Margaret Sanger and Jane Addams. Workers’ rights were his first love: Sinclair hoped that readers of his celebrated book The Jungle would be outraged by “the brutality that the workers endured.” Coodley’s biography should renew interest in the works of this passionate writer. 27 illus. (Sept.)
Booklist - Carl Hays

"An invaluable look at Sinclair's full life and influential work."—Carl Hays, Booklist
Julie Salamon

“Lauren Coodley’s perceptive account should awaken fresh interest in one of the twentieth century’s more fascinating cultural figures and his extraordinary—sadly, mostly forgotten—body of work.”—Julie Salamon, author of Wendy and the Lost Boys
Gray Brechin

“Upton Sinclair traversed the first half of the twentieth century like a rogue star. His prodigious writing and activism in the service of social justice perturbed the status quo, awakening millions to everything from appalling working conditions, poisoned food, and media bias to the rise of fascism and environmental decline. Yet his determination to lead a balanced and healthy life led some biographers to disparage him as less than a full man. Lauren Coodley rescues Sinclair from such critical condescension and reminds us of the many lives that he packed into one even as he moved the lives of both the common and the great.”—Gray Brechin, author of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin
Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz

“What a difference a feminist perspective can make! . . . This is the first biography by a historian familiar with the new scholarship on twentieth-century women’s rights activists who is able to contextualize Sinclair as their contemporary.”—Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author of Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–1975
Peter Richardson

“As a best-selling novelist, trailblazing muckraker, and major political candidate, Upton Sinclair practically embodied the Progressive movement for much of the twentieth century. Lauren Coodley adroitly surveys Sinclair’s astounding achievements, but she also shows how his responses to two key social movements—temperance and women’s suffrage—distinguished him from most of his male peers. An important story, well told, about an immensely influential yet consistently underrated American hero.”—Peter Richardson, author of A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of “Ramparts” Magazine Changed America
John Robbins
“Upton Sinclair was one of the most prescient observers of life that our culture has ever produced. He recognized that our food choices not only determine our health but should be part of the political conversation. Lauren Coodley brings this misunderstood aspect of Sinclair’s life to attention with her new biography.”—John Robbins, best-selling author of The Food Revolution and Diet for a New America
Sally E. Parry
Upton Sinclair provides a sympathetic lens through which to view the many writings and activities of this prolific author, politician, and social activist. Readers will be especially interested in the treatment of Sinclair’s lifelong feminist sympathies and his incredibly popular series of Lanny Budd novels set during World War II.”—Sally E. Parry, executive director of the Sinclair Lewis Society
Historical Novel Society

"A rounded, insightful sense of Sinclair and his times."—Historical Novel Society
Midwest Book Review - James A. Cox

"This new biography goes beyond the usual focus on Sinclair's literary prowess to examine the extent of his entire life and his influence on California and American civil and social rights, and fills in gaps narrower focuses have created in the past."—James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review
Working USA:The Journal of Labor and Society - Laura Hapke

"Upton Sinclair is an asset for those beginning to impose order on the real-life and imagined women who help constitute Sinclair's legacy."—Laura Hapke, Working USA:The Journal of Labor and Society
Kirkus Reviews
Coodley (California: A Multicultural Documentary History, 2008, etc.) claims that Sinclair (1878–1968)--social justice advocate, California gubernatorial candidate and author of the classic The Jungle--deserves to be viewed through a feminist lens. Unlike most men of his era, Sinclair understood women's issues and advocated effectively for them. Coodley painstakingly explains Sinclair's interactions with his female family members, his wives and various feminists--some of them well-known (e.g., Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, Helen Keller, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn), some of them nearly forgotten. (In an appendix, Coodley lists his "women friends," along with citations for readers interested in learning more about each one.) Since the story behind Sinclair's traveling to Chicago in his early 20s to investigate meatpacking practices in the stockyards has been told countless times, Coodley mostly avoids discussion of The Jungle and instead focuses on some of Sinclair's many other books and pieces for periodicals. The child of an alcoholic, Sinclair campaigned in favor of temperance, often thought of as a "woman's issue," understanding as he did the ill effects of alcoholism on the family unit, especially wives and mothers. The range of issues for which Sinclair sought reform affected the poor more than the middle class or wealthy, and his sincere compassion comes across as boundlessly admirable. Coodley refers multiple times to exemplary full-length biographies of Sinclair and does not pretend to cover his entire life in depth in such a slim volume. Rather, she hopes to ignite curiosity in readers, who will then study Sinclair's life more fully by consulting his own writings and other biographies. A thoroughly engaging monograph.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803243828
  • Publisher: UNP - Bison Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,493,265
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lauren Coodley is a historian specializing in gender, labor, and locale. She is the editor of The Land of Orange Groves and Jails: Upton Sinclair’s California and the author of three books on local history, as well as California: A Multicultural Documentary History.
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