This volume, recently reformatted to meet current ebook standards such as having an active table of contents, is the fifth in the Baltimore Authors series, contains seven books by Upton Sinclair: The Jungle, The Machine, The Moneychangers, King Coal, The Metropolis, The Profits of Religion, and 100%: The Story of a Patriot. Upton Sinclair was one of the first so-called muckrakers, a term popularized by Theodore Roosevelt.
President Roosevelt first used the term “muckrake” in a 1906 speech. In that speech, he said that he agreed with many of the charges of the muckrakers but asserted that some of their methods were sensational and irresponsible. He was referring primarily to Upton Sinclair and the journalist Lincoln Steffens. The work by Upton Sinclair that is most familiar to modern readers is, of course, The Jungle. The book was a sensation when it was published. It focused on the lives of the lowest class of workers in the Chicago meat-packing industry. Sinclair’s stated intention was to expose the horribly dangerous conditions in which the workers lived their lives with little reward and constant risk of death or dismemberment (which was almost the same as death in those times of relatively primitive medical care, much of which was rarely available to the workers). What was the result of this sensationally popular work? There was a loud hue and cry, not for better conditions for the workers, but for cleaner practices in the stockyards and packing plants, leading to greater food safety. Food inspection laws were enacted by Congress soon thereafter. Upton Sinclair’s writings are relevant today, at least from the perspective of societal issues. The Machine is relevant today because it describes an urban world with its upper and lower classes, with little more than superficial interaction. Metropolis expands on this urbanization an its effects on people. 100% The Story of a Patriot is, perhaps too cynical a view, although the tendency of some people to wrap themselves in a flag at the same time they espouse ideas counter to what others understand about the United States Constitution and American values. The Profits of Religion is an especially interesting book in the era of televangelism and megachurches, with scandals in most large religious organizations. It is also interesting to note the major disagreements between those who want an absolute wall between religion and law, as in the United States Constitution, and those who want to remove the barrier entirely. The Profits of Religion is clearly a book to keep on hand when listening to some of the current debates. The Moneychangers is, perhaps, the most relevant book to the current American people, indeed the people of the world, because the issues of regulating the highly complex financial industry, and providing some ways for controlling the ability of this industry to bring economic ruin to many because of cascading effects. The near-collapse of the world economy in 2008 was a gruesome reminder of just how dangerous the effects of runaway speculation in complex financial instruments with poorly understood risk could be.