Upton Sinclair


Upton Sinclair

California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual

Lauren Coodley

258 pages
23 photographs, 4 illustrations, 1 map, 2 appendixes, index


March 2019


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eBook (EPUB)

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April 2020


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September 2013


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eBook (PDF)

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September 2013


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About the Book

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 by uncovering 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.

Author Bio

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 a trilogy of books about Napa history, as well as California: A Multicultural Documentary History.


"Thoroughly engaging."—Kirkus

"Coodley's biography should renew interest in the works of this passionate writer."—Publishers Weekly

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

"Coodley's book is a welcome resource both for general readers eager to learn more about Sinclair's life after The Jungle and for historians eager for new perspectives on an iconic (and iconoclastic) activist."—Justin Nordstrom, Journal of American History

"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

"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

"It is Coodley's sensitivity to the women in Sinclair's life—a key reason behind his long-lived political activism—that is the most interesting element in this well-researched and well-written book."—Kevin Mattson, Western Historical Quarterly

"This new biography of the much-studied Upton Sinclair actually breaks new ground."—Joe T. Berry, Labor Studies Journal

"[Upton Sinclair is a] concise, lucid, and interesting biography."—Lawrence Wittner, Huffington Post

"A rounded, insightful sense of Sinclair and his times."—Historical Novel Society

“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

“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

“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

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

“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

“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

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Southern Gentlemen Drank, 1878–1892
2. Making Real Men of Our Boys, 1893–1904
3. Good Health and How We Won It, 1905–1915
4. Singing Jailbirds, 1916–1927 .
5. How I Ran for Governor, 1928–1939
6. World’s End, 1940–1949
7. A Lifetime in Letters, 1950–1968
Afterword: A World to Win, 1969–2011
Appendix A: Upton Sinclair’s Women Friends
Appendix B: Recommended Reading

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