The Jungle

Upton Sinclair

I never was assigned this book in high school and probably only read it now because it happened to coincide with some curiosity about Lithuanian ancestors we know nothing about and a casual mention of this to a friend who happened to reading this book at the time. While this book is well-known for its effect on the meatpacking industry, it’s primarily an argument for support of socialism, by showing the extent of terrible conditions for unskilled workers (mostly immigrants) in the late 1800s.

[Sinclair] famously noted the effect of his book in leading to meat packing regulations — but its failure to lead to popular support for socialism — by stating that “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach. — 

I have to admit that I skipped most of the long socialist speeches at the end because it was too expository after the balanced narrative of the rest of the book. It’s sad that conditions for unskilled workers (specifically in meatpacking, as noted in the introduction by Jane Jacobs in this edition) are still characterized by low pay, bad conditions, and high turnover, but then reading a few chapters of socialist tracts to finish off the book did make it clearer. These are things that can’t change without a change in economics. Whether socialism is the only answer is a matter for separate debate.