Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Source: Lit2Go
Length: Approximately 15 hours
Reader: Rick Kistner

The book: The Jungle is best known today as the novel that awoke the American public to the importance of food safety in industrialized meat packing and inspired the foundation of what would become the Food and Drug Administration. The author's intent, however, was to get the public riled up not about the product but about the people of the meat packing industry. Sinclair was a socialist, and believed that through collective action, the workers could wrest control of the meat packing industry away from the greedy capitalists and into the hands of the workers, raising wages and improving working conditions at the same time.

The areas where The Jungle fails are largely due to the transparency of Sinclair's efforts to force his readers to sympathize with the workers. Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkis and his family are hard-working and honest bunch who are just looking a better life in America. Sinclair piles onto this family a host of hardships and swindles, trying to achieve a sentimentalism that is never quite earned. As the story unfolds, we're treated to a fascinating tour of the slums of Chicago and the many ways that workers can be cheated out of their pay, but eventually, Sinclair's agenda overwhelms the verisimilitude of his intensive research. By the end of the book, the deus ex machina solution that Socialism will solve everything seems like mere propaganda.

Rating: 7/10

The reader: Kistner does an nice job with what must have been a difficult book to narrate. The text is filled with tongue-tying Lithuanian names that, to my unknowing ear sound as accurate as I could guess they are. Kistner reads with a quick pace; nonetheless his reading is understandable. There are occasional audible lip smacks, but the sound quality is otherwise good.

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