California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual
By Lauren Coodley
(Bison Books, Hardcover, 9780803243828, 256pp.)
Publication Date: September 2013
Enter your zip code below to find indies closest to you.
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.
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.
“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
“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
-Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz
“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
-Sally E. Parry