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Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century Hardcover – April 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


"From the meat-packing houses of Chicago to the automobile factories of Detroit to the voting booths of California, Upton Sinclair cut a wide swath as a muckraking writer who exposed the injustices rendered by American industrial capitalism. Now Kevin Mattson presents a much-needed exploration of this complex crusader. This is a thoughtful, provocative, and gripping account of an important figure who appeared equal parts intellectual, propagandist, and political combatant as he struggled to illuminate the "other American Century" inhabited by the poor and powerless."
--Steven Watts, author of The People's Tycoon, Henry Ford and the American Century and The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life.

"A splendid read. It reminds you that real heroes once dwelt among us. Mattson not only captures Sinclair's character, but the world he inhabited, with deft strokes whose energy and passion easily match his subject's."
--Richard Parker, author of John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics

"I look forward to all of Kevin Mattson's works of history and I've not been disappointed yet. Upton Sinclair is a thoughtful, well-researched and extremely eloquently told excavation of the history of the American left and, indeed, the American nation, as well as a testament to the power of one man to influence his times. Well done."
--Eric Alterman, author of When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences

From the Inside Flap

Upton Sinclair was the first celebrity to run for governor of California. He published an eponymous magazine and lectured Americans on war, wages, diet, education, the media, and anything else he could think of. He wrote books fast, made important friends faster, and made enemies fastest of all. He won a Pulitzer, but not for the most important book he ever wrote, The Jungle. He wrote a book that Disney made into one of his worst movies. His love life was a national scandal. He lost a fortune financing (on Charlie Chaplin's advice) a Sergei Eisenstein film the director never finished. He lived and wrote and argued his way through World War I, workers' revolts, frivolous flappers, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, and even, at the end, Vietnam. Upton Sinclair never thought he'd be the twentieth century's greatest novelist, but he may have been its greatest progressive activist. He was unquestionably a one-of-a-kind American.

Henry Luce called the twentieth century the American century, praising the country's industrial innovation, international might, and entrepreneurial icons like Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller. But there's another version of America, one less a cause for celebration—an America of social injustice, bitter hardships, and widespread inequality. That other American century is epitomized by Upton Sinclair and most prominently depicted in his book The Jungle, an achievement that led many to call him the greatest writer of the century. In Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century, political historian Kevin Mattson presents a wry, insightful portrait of this progressive icon and his turbulent times.

With the publication of his ferocious exposé of the Chicago meat packing industry, Sinclair gained instant fame as a formidable opponent of the powerful forces he saw oppressing the common man—from religion to unregulated capitalism. Not content to simply sit at home and write, Sinclair often took his show on the road. For the next sixty years, he seemed to be at the center of every national debate, supporting workers' rights, running as a Socialist candidate for political office, exposing corruption in industry and government, and, to the surprise of many of his fans, supporting Prohibition and, later, the cold war.

Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century vividly, and sometimes humorously, captures the legend as he really was: obstinate, ingenious, and occasionally even effective. In an era dominated by wealthy industrialists and the entrenched political machines that served them, this muckraking journalist, bestselling novelist, and professional thorn in the side of power was a spectacular advocate for social and economic justice.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 294 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471725110
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471725114
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,215,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Arile on January 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Kevin Mattson's "Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century" is an important book to read in this Occupy moment of our history. There was a time, not very many generations ago, when being a socialist wasn't a source of ostracism or shame, when people stood up for the idea that the masses deserved a voice and people stepped up to be that voice.

Upton Sinclair's career was much longer and more comprehensive than The Jungle, the important novel that ushered in the Food and Drug Administration. He wrote several other well-read books of his time, such as Oil! and The Brass Check. The books were discussed, and Sinclair was an important figure. His run for governor of California was taken seriously as a threat to the corporate establishment, and the negative campaigning against him reads like it was taken from yesterday's headlines. He lost that election, but in many ways the rights he helped win for working people were a victory.

Mattson is a diligent biographer of Sinclair who is obviously sympathetic to the causes he championed. That is a strength of the book, but can also be a weakness, as I wondered at times whether the history being presented was for polemic purposes. A reasonably informed reader can get past that and greatly enjoy this book, which I recommend.
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