Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

A must-read American classic
Any top ten list of American novels should include Upton Sinclair’s masterpiece, both for its literary qualities and its historical significance. The book has unfortunately been stigmatized as the “dirty meat novel”, when in fact there are only a couple of brief passages that talk about the actual processing of meat. Mostly it’s about the exploitation of immigrant workers, and their struggle to survive in a country where they’re treated as little more than beasts of burden. The ending of the book is often criticized, as the last chapter is basically a Socialist manifesto, but Socialism was a powerful force in America in the early 20th century, and this novel paints a vivid picture of that era in American history.

With all the editions of The Jungle out there, why buy the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition? The introduction and foreword are excellent, providing valuable historical context, an in-depth account of the book’s reception by critics and the public, and insight into the long-term effects of The Jungle on the meat industry. Plus, the book is well-designed, with elegant, comfortably readable typography, and a dramatic cover design by Charles Burns that’s sure to turn heads at the coffee shop.

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