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1001 Book Review: The Jungle Upton Sinclair



I have finally returned to the land of the living. The last two days I’ve been knocked out by a horrendous cold which my daughter brought home from kindergarten. She had a mildly stuffy nose, while I felt like I was dying. I was even too sick to read. If you’d like to get a sense of what happens when you try to review a book while under the influence of a 103 degree fever you can check out this review. Anyway, I’m feeling well enough now to actually schedule a joint 1001 review that we read a while back: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Check out what we thought.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Published in: 1905
Reviewed by: Book Worm  and Jen
Rating: ★★★
Find it here: The Jungle

Synopsis from Goodreads: Upton Sinclair’s dramatic and deeply moving story exposed the brutal conditions in the Chicago stockyards at the turn of the nineteenth century and brought into sharp moral focus the appalling odds against which immigrants and other working people struggled for their share of the American dream. Denounced by the conservative press as an un-American libel on the meatpacking industry, this book was championed by more progressive thinkers, including then president Theodore Roosevelt, and was a major catalyst to the passing of the Pure Food and Meat Inspection act, which has tremendous impact to this day.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: Having finished the book and wanting to know how much was accurate I turned to my old friend Wiki (who never lies) and learned the following:

  1. The story was first published in serialized form in the socialist magazine Appeal to Reason.
  2. Readers were more concerned about eating contaminated meat than they were about the lives of the workers.
  3. The book lead to reforms including the Meat Inspection Act
  4. Sinclair worked undercover in the meat packing district of Chicago for 7 weeks to get the material for his story.

So having established that there is a lot of accuracy in the book, that it lead to improvements in the lives of the workers, and improved the quality of food for everyone else, how did I feel about it?

I felt like I was being hit over the head with a blunt object several times as Sinclair hammered home his points about social reform and the need to prevent wage slavery. The family suffer one tragedy after another (which is probably accurate) so much so that by about half way through I was immune to the tragedy. Whenever anything was going well my first thought was, “well this can’t last so who is going to die next?”

There is a lot of graphic detail about the meat industry and the killing of livestock which is not for the faint hearted.

Sinclair did a great job of bringing conditions to light and influencing reform of the industry and from a political point of view he did a great job. However when it comes to reading about things like this, give me Steinbeck every time.

Jen’s Thoughts: This book is brutal. I too felt like I was being hit over the head with the brutality of the situations in the novel. These situations are so vividly described that the imagery will be forever seared into you brain and may convert even the most avid meat lovers into vegetarians.

And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests–and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without a pretence at apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering-machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory.

This book is more social justice expose/propaganda than it is a novel and yet I think it’s an important book to read since it made a huge impact on the meat packing industry leading. But, it’s a hard book to read and I did not find it enjoyable at all. Sinclair piles on the misery and one is left wondering whether the author placed all the miseries of the entire meat packing industry onto one single family.

You’d think that after so much time has passed, that we’d have more empathy as a country (I live in the United States) toward our immigrant workers who often come here and struggle to make ends meet in jobs that most of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. Yet the current political situation with talks of building walls and deporting everyone suggests that perhaps we should all be rereading this book.

So who would like this? I think this is an important book to read (even if you don’t enjoy it) for anyone who wants to know how far we have come since the 1900s in terms of working conditions and treatment of workers. It is a book that lead to significant reform of an industry and even if you don’t agree with the political views that are clearly pushed forward, it is the sort of book that will make you a well-rounded reader.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Jungle

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tracy S #

    Great reviews, and I hope you feel better soon, Jen! I also hope Miss E. Is loving school, and wowing them with her smarts!
    I first read this as a freshman in high school, and the propaganda went over my head. I did stop eating hot dogs, though. Then, about 10 years ago, I read it again. This time I got beaten with the propaganda stick. I agree, it is important to read, because it affected big changes in food production and worker treatment- it’s part of American history. It’s too bad the points that books like this make have to be driven home so hard, but if they were subtle, they wouldn’t cause change, I guess. And I’m still not eating hot dogs. Yuck.


    September 21, 2016
  2. I’m sort of the opposite of Tracy in my reaction to this book. To the best of my recollection I read it in eighth or ninth grade and my take away message was that unchecked capitalism was an evil rapacious force. Yeah the meat industry was gross and hot dogs were never the same afterwards but the more lasting effect was a lifelong support for the labor movement. In retrospect not much has changed in the last one hundred years. The meat packing industry still exploits immigrant labor only now it is undocumented labor from Central America rather than legal immigrants from Eastern Europe. Now the industry gets to exploit the fact that undocumented workers are hardly going to be in any position to blow the whistle on violations of laws and regulation at least partially motivated by Sinclair’s The Jungle.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 22, 2016
  3. Diane Zwang #

    My thoughts on this book were in line with both of yours. My copy of the book had an introduction that explained the book and a little about the author. It mentioned some of the information that was quoted in Wiki. I am glad that I read this book.


    September 30, 2016

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