The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair, Upton Sinclair, Harcourt Brace & World, 1962, 330 pp
I think most people, if they know who Upton Sinclair was, know of him through his early muckraking novels such as The Jungle and Oil. After years of hand-to-mouth living and writing, The Jungle was his breakthrough. Decrying the wretched conditions for both animals and people in Chicago's meatpacking industry, the book captured the attention of Teddy Roosevelt, President at the time, and resulted in legislation which made the meat we eat safer and gave the workers some right. Upton Sinclair, as is evident in his autobiography, dedicated his life to balancing unfairness in human society.
I came to know of him in a different way. When I started My Big Fat Reading Project, I found him on the Pulitzer Prize lists. He won that prize in 1943 for his novel Dragon's Teeth, in which he tells about the rise of Hitler and his persecution of Jews.
Eventually I read all 10 books of his Lanny Budd series, published once a year from 1940-1949. Quite a writing and publishing feat, as each book is 600-700 pages long! In the Autobiography I learned that he had always written at that pace and continued to do so for decades.
Anyway those 10 books gave me an education on Europe and American in the first half of the 20th century that I never got in school. So when The Autobiography came up on my 1962 list, I just had to read it and find out how he was able to penetrate the history of those times and ferret out the truths behind the two World Wars that defined the period. And find that out I did!
Upton was kind of a goofy guy-a teetotaler for his entire life and somewhat of a prude when it came to sex. I found out why. He mostly learned everything the hardest way possible. But his drive to give the underdog a fair chance; to right the wrongs of greedy industrialists, capitalists, bankers, and arms dealers; and, perhaps a bit too innocently, to make a difference in the world, makes him a hero to me.
His writing in this volume continues in the voice I got to know in those thousands of pages about Lanny Budd. He actually had a pretty good sense of humor about himself, but he just never backed down.
It is my opinion that he, along with many others, did make a difference. The Autobiography reads like a history of what he called Democratic Socialism in the United States. It is a rocky, dirty, demoralizing history that is still ongoing, based on the idea that a democracy is meant to be "of the people, by the people, for the people" (Abraham Lincoln)
The Lanny Budd Series with links to my reviews:
World's End (1940) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/01/books-read-from-1940-part-six.html
Between Two Worlds (1941) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/02/books-read-from-1941-part-three.html
Dragon's Teeth (1942) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/03/books-read-from-1942-part-four.html
Wide Is the Gate (1943) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/04/books-read-from-1943-part-four.html
Presidential Agent (1944) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/05/books-read-from-1944-part-four.html
Dragon Harvest (1945) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/07/books-read-from-1945-part-four.html
A World to Win (1946) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/07/books-read-from-1946-part-three.html
Presidential Mission (1947) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/08/books-read-from-1947-part-four.html
One Clear Call (1948) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/09/books-read-from-1948-part-four.html
Oh, Shepherd Speak (1949) http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/11/books-read-from-1949-part-four.html
(The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair is available in hardcover and paperback but for some reason is quite expensive. I found a copy at my local library.)