Men dress beef, remove hides, and split backbones in Swift's Packing House, Chicago, in the early 1900s.

Men dress beef, remove hides, and split backbones in Swift's Packing House, Chicago, in the early 1900s.

For The September Readers’ Review, we discuss Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel about an immigrant family’s struggles to get ahead in America. It exposed shocking conditions in Chicago’s meat packing plants at the start of the 20th century and spurred government regulation of the industry.


  • Gardiner Harris Science reporter for The New York Times and author of the mystery novel "Hazard."
  • Peggy Ann Brown Writer and independent researcher
  • Lisa Page President of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and creative writing teacher at George Washington University.

Read an Excerpt

From Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” Reprinted here by kind permission of Oxford University Press.


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining, I'm Diane Rehm. Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel "The Jungle" chronicles a hard working immigrant family, seeking a better life. But brutal labor conditions and a corrupt political system bring desperation and death. The book was immensely influential at the time and remains a gripping story today.

  • 11:07:27

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for this month's readers review to talk about "The Jungle" and its contemporary relevance, Gardiner Harris. He's science reporter for the New York Times. Peggy Ann Brown is writer and independent researcher and Lisa Page is president of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and a creative writing teacher, George Washington University.

  • 11:07:59

    MS. DIANE REHMThe other day, somebody asked me for a recommendation for a book that would be relevant, up to date, and this is the book I recommended. Just a stunning, stunning novel. Gardner Harris, what did you think of it?

  • 11:08:20

    MR. GARDINER HARRISWell, I think you're right, Diane. In terms of -- there's obviously a lot of relevance to today. I mean, what struck me was how many things that Sinclair talks about that I've been writing about over the last five years. You know, the use of downer cows, he talks about. The use of all, you know, sick animals in the slaughter house. I mean, the sort of the sickness associated with it and all that.

  • 11:08:44

    MR. GARDINER HARRISOf course, you know, right now, there is a listeria outbreak going on in cantaloupes.

  • 11:08:48


  • 11:08:49

    HARRISIn cantaloupes, 13 people have died. I mean, as you know, we have talked about this on any number of programs, the food safety issues that continue to ripple across this country. And what's remarkable is how so many of those issues are sort of never-ending. And, of course, for Sinclair, his book really is about worker conditions. I mean, that's what he is focused on, the sort of the terrible toll that working in these slaughter houses have.

  • 11:09:25

    HARRISAnd, of course, that hasn't changed either. I mean, you remember the Hormel meat packing plant strike that went on in Minnesota for, what, something like 10 years. And meat packing continues to be one of the most difficult working environments in this country, so sort of on multiple levels. Not only on the workplace level, but also on the food safety level. What Upton Sinclair describes -- now, obviously, it was even worse back then, but the issues that he talks about are very much relevant today.

  • 11:09:58

    REHMPeggy Ann Brown, it is clear that what Upton Sinclair did was to go in undercover and himself work in these plants in order to create this unbelievably detailed and rich novel.

  • 11:10:22

    MS. PEGGY ANN BROWNWell, Sinclair actually didn't work at the packing plants, but what he did do was for seven weeks, lived in Chicago and was able to go undetected into the plants and study conditions there. Because of his socialist connections, he also spoke with settlement house workers, lawyers, physicians, the workers themselves and was able to get this elaborate picture of what was happening.

  • 11:10:47

    MS. PEGGY ANN BROWNHis technique would be to dress as he was, he was -- had recently been in poverty himself and so he looked like a poor man. He would go into the factories and study the conditions as he saw them and then return back to his room where he was staying and write down everything that he had seen.

  • 11:11:05

    REHMBut how could he do that? I mean, was supervision so lax that he could simply wander those plants?

  • 11:11:16

    BROWNHe did wander in. And he said that there were -- when he didn't get a good understanding of a particular process, he would go back and wander time and time again through the room by dressing in his overalls and carrying a dinner pale. He just looked -- he was able to blend in with the other workers.

  • 11:11:32

    REHMAnd yet, Lisa Page, nobody wanted to publish this book.

  • 11:11:37

    MS. LISA PAGEWhich is amazing. It's amazing to me -- well, of course, they didn't want to publish it, it has so much information that people didn't want to get out. It's scandalous, it changed the law. Yes, for -- for the whole meat industry...

  • 11:11:51


  • 11:11:51

    PAGE...when it finally was published. It's also about the treatment of immigrants, Diane, and about class in Chicago. But throughout the country, frankly, the exploitation of workers. It's multifaceted and complicated and difficult.

  • 11:12:09

    REHMOur hero, Jurgis, comes to this country with his family, truly seeking a better life for his then fiancé. But isn't it interesting that this novel opens with this glorious wedding taking place, this wedding that has everybody joyously participating. But we learn toward the end of the chapter that, at the time, guests were expected to contribute and they hardly got a dime.

  • 11:12:51

    HARRISRight. Right.

  • 11:12:52

    REHMSo they start out in poverty.

  • 11:12:54

    HARRISRight. But I mean, I think what's difficult, for me anyway, about reading this book is that it, you know, the book really starts at sort of a high note, this celebratory wedding celebration and everybody having a great time. And then just chapter after chapter, you get body blow after body blow of the various disasters that befall this family.

  • 11:13:16

    HARRISAnd I think also what is particularly difficult for me was, you know, yes, this is about the difficulties faced by immigrants, but, you know, I think -- I seem to remember from much of my American history that, I mean, most of those European immigrants were coming from truly disastrous situations. I mean, the sort of the pogroms that were going on in Eastern Europe and elsewhere were hell on earth.

  • 11:13:40

    HARRISAnd -- so even in some of these fairly bad conditions in the United States, many of them -- many of those conditions absolutely terrible, but for many of these families coming from places in -- you know, London was certainly no better and neither were some of the stettles and the ghettos in Europe. So I think many of the immigrants came, you know, inured to terrible conditions.

  • 11:14:06

    HARRISAnd, of course, what is unusual about Sinclair's character is that they actually were relatively well off, the sort of petty bourgeois. Jurgis' family had lived in a bucolic setting in the midst of a beautiful park and had a very good life, which, of course, makes the contrast to his situation once he arrives in the United States that much more stark.

  • 11:14:28

    REHMI want to talk about the title of this book "The Jungle" because in this Oxford world classics version, there's a key paragraph left out. I don't know why, but Peggy Ann, would you read that paragraph for us?

  • 11:14:50

    BROWNYes. I just wanted to make one comment first. The book was called "The Jungle" when it was published in the appeal to reason. When, finally, Doubleday had agreed to publish it, they actually asked Sinclair to change the title and he didn't want to. But they said, well, if you won't change the title, at least we want you to take out some of the references to the jungle. And that's what he did. And this is an example of it.

  • 11:15:13

    BROWNThis is when the family is first coming to Chicago and this is sentences that are left out of the Oxford edition. "Then to the strangers, it seemed like a wilderness, a very jungle. A jungle of houses. It was a jungle too, ruled by strange powers about which they did not understand. Full of creatures which preyed upon each other. They were hunting you without rest. Tracking you in the daytime and watching in your path by night.

  • 11:15:41

    BROWNThe only difference was that they sought, not your life blood, but your money. And when you had been caught by them once or twice, you came to understand that this difference was no difference at all."

  • 11:15:52

    REHMYou see, it's the people who are part of that jungle of individuals being preyed upon. It is the animals who are preyed upon. It is the very society in its class system where those up above prey on those below.

  • 11:16:21

    BROWNI think it's interesting that in the metaphors that are used to describe, particularly Jurgis, that you do get this animal metaphors. He's like a steer that's gotten loose in the factory. He's a buffalo roaming around in his wildness. So there's that imagery, but there's also the imagery of the people being the cogs in the machines being able to be the replaceable parts when they get ill because it's unskilled labor, just a tiny little bit, they're able to be quickly taken out and replaced.

  • 11:16:50

    REHMHere's a message from Kate who says she grew up in Chicago, that people are still hush, hush about slaughter houses there because jobs were lost after this book, "The Jungle" came out.

  • 11:17:12

    HARRISRight. Well, you know, Diane, in many ways, I'm a failed muckraker. You know this. You've known me for a long time. And I've, of course, spent a long time in the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky and went in a lot of mines. I wrote investigative stories about it. I wrote even a novel about it. And, you know, that same sort of code of silence, of course, happens today, to this day.

  • 11:17:35

    HARRISAnd in the coal fields, I mean, we saw this in the recent -- in the disaster two years ago and in the wake of that disaster, almost no one in the mine, you know, spoke to reporters or spoke to the inspectors. And then, over the course of the four, five or six months after the disaster, when people finally realized that they either could not go back to the mine or would not, they finally began to open up about the terrible conditions there.

  • 11:18:03

    HARRISAnd that sort of code of silence happens in the coal mine community right now. I mean, most -- in my experience, in Eastern Kentucky, most of those mines do not run particularly safe on a day to day basis. And the coal miners go along with those conditions because they feel that if they do not, they will lose their jobs.

  • 11:18:20

    REHMAnd you still have sweat shops going on in this country with many, many people jammed into single rooms, producing goods. We'll take a short break here. You can join us, 800-433-8850.

  • 11:20:04

    REHMWelcome back. Our book for our monthly Readers' Review is Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Earlier, you heard Peggy Ann Brown read a paragraph that has been, I don't know what to say, deliberately left out, thrown out, disregarded from the Oxford World classic that all of us read. Peggy Ann, talk about what else got left out.

  • 11:20:45

    BROWNWell, the edition that we're reading, the Oxford edition, is actually the 1906 Doubleday edition and that's the one that's been published since that time. And the one that everyone would be familiar with. When Sinclair first wrote the novel, he wrote it as a serial for the socialist weekly "The Appeal to Reason." And that version actually was 30,000 words longer than this Doubleday version.

  • 11:21:06


  • 11:21:08

    HARRISPaid by the word, I'm sure. Just like Charles Dickens.

  • 11:21:12


  • 11:21:13

    BROWNActually, he got a flat rate of $500...

  • 11:21:16

    HARRISOh, he did.

  • 11:21:17 write the novel. But when Doubleday agreed -- and this was after McMillan had turned down the novel and five other publishers had turned down the novel, they said, take out the blood and guts. And so the novel in its original form was even worse than what we've read today.

  • 11:21:35

    REHMAnd we've got lots of blood and guts in here.

  • 11:21:39

    BROWNAbsolutely. But the thing that's more curious is actually that he -- that Sinclair cut some sections of the novel that would have made the reader more sympathetic toward the characters. And I can give you one example. In the novel, Stanislovas, Ona's brother, becomes very frightened of the cold when he sees another boy in the large room has his ears break off because they're frostbitten. In the original -- and that's -- it just cuts off like that in the Doubleday version. The ears were rubbed off. In the "Appeal to Reason" version it says the ears fell off. The young boy falls on the floor writhing in pain. Just the addition of that, that's what the reader is left with, this image of this poor boy on the floor, whereas in this version all we have is the picture of the ears on the floor.

  • 11:22:30

    REHMBut has anyone since 1906 published the unexpurgated version?

  • 11:22:39

    BROWNThere have been two editions when it was published. It was published in 1988, which is the "Appeal to Reason" version and it's kind of an interesting story. It seemed to have been lost to history and a construction worker went to Pittsburg State University in Kansas and said, we have found these manuscripts in this old house and a special collections library, and took them. And it took him eight years to go through them and remove the mold. And he had the version from the "Appeal to Reason."

  • 11:23:08

    BROWNThen in 2003, which is the version that I read from, which was from a publication called "One-Hoss Philosophy," which was owned by the same publisher who did "Appeal to Reason." It was a quarterly publication at the time. And so this edition is drawn from that version.

  • 11:23:25

    REHMBut the one that most people see in the bookstores is this original...

  • 11:23:33

    BROWNThe 1906 Doubleday version.

  • 11:23:34

    REHM...the 1906...

  • 11:23:36

    HARRISIs the director's cut Peggy is talking about.

  • 11:23:40

    REHMThe director's cut.

  • 11:23:40

    HARRISAnd isn't this the way, Diane? I mean, those darn editors who always get you.

  • 11:23:45

    REHMYeah. So there are different versions of the story, but it is in whatever form you read it a very, very powerful story. Before Jurgis gets his job in the meatpacking plant, he gets a tour of the plant. And he's very impressed, Lisa.

  • 11:24:09

    PAGEAnd excited. He's thrilled to be there. He sees the economy of the situation. He sees how hard everyone's working. The speeding up even gets him excited. He's like, I can do this. I'm strong. And he is, at that point of the book, strong enough for that work. But that goes away.

  • 11:24:28

    REHMThat goes away because they quickly realize that everyone in the family is going to have to work because they have been lured into buying a house...

  • 11:24:47

    HARRISRight. I mean...

  • 11:24:47

    REHM...which is said to be new.

  • 11:24:49

    HARRISRight. I mean -- I mean, again, you sort of get echoes of the crisis going on in housing right now with the liar's loans and all the rest of -- with obviously tens of thousands of people right now losing their homes. And so they get suckered in even though they get opinions from two lawyers who seemingly are independent, that this is all right. But, of course, they do not realize that they not only have to pay the $12 a month that -- to sort of pay for rent, but they're gonna have to then start paying interest. And there are all sorts of taxes. And...

  • 11:25:25

    REHMAnd it's supposed to be a brand new house.

  • 11:25:29

    HARRISRight. Which, of course, is already 15 years old at that point.

  • 11:25:32

    REHMAnd painted over and over...

  • 11:25:34


  • 11:25:35

    REHM...and just repaired in a ramshackle fashion.

  • 11:25:38

    PAGEAnd it has a cesspool underneath it...

  • 11:25:40


  • 11:25:41

    PAGE...for all of the drainage of all of the people that have lived there that has collected.

  • 11:25:46

    HARRISRight. So it's -- and of course, you know, in one of the many body blows that ends up hitting Jurgis, you know, the street outside is not paved. And his toddler, 18-month-old son, about two-thirds of the book, ends up falling into the mud and drowning is sort of the last, you know, body blow that strikes Jurgis in the sort of the first portion of the book.

  • 11:26:11

    HARRISWe were talking earlier and Peggy was talking about how Sinclair actually was interested in making two books. And there is sort of an extraordinary break...

  • 11:26:22

    REHMYou're right.

  • 11:26:22

    HARRIS...after the death of his child.

  • 11:26:23

    REHM...his -- and of his wife.

  • 11:26:25

    HARRISAnd of his wife, of course.

  • 11:26:28

    REHMYou know, the thing that interested me was that he, Jurgis, goes almost nuts because he learns that his wife has been seduced by one of the bosses and seduced for money.

  • 11:26:53

    HARRISRight. I don't think seduction is quite the word, but is forced to have sex with the boss, yeah.

  • 11:26:58

    REHMWell, okay. All right. Forced to have sex for money that she believes she's got to contribute to the upkeep of the household.

  • 11:27:08

    BROWNI'm not sure that actually it's for money more than to be able to keep her position.

  • 11:27:12

    HARRIS...keep her job, yeah.

  • 11:27:13

    BROWNBecause he also threatens her that he knows the bosses of everyone else in the family and that...

  • 11:27:19

    REHMSo Jurgis goes nuts and goes after the guy. And then the system kicks in.

  • 11:27:27

    PAGEWell, and he loses his job and he goes to jail and the family loses their jobs and they lose their house. And it all collapses.

  • 11:27:36

    REHM...falls apart.

  • 11:27:37

    PAGEAnd that same boss stays in power. His name is Connor Riley (sic) . And eventually Jurgis meets him later...

  • 11:27:44

    HARRISYeah, exactly.

  • 11:27:45

    PAGE...and beats him up again.

  • 11:27:46

    HARRISHas become by then a power in sort of the Irish Mafia.

  • 11:27:51

    BROWNMafia, right.

  • 11:27:52

    REHMBut the point being that he prevents Jurgis from getting any job anywhere.

  • 11:28:00

    PAGEHe's blacklisted.

  • 11:28:01


  • 11:28:01

    REHMHe's blacklisted. Now, there's an e-mail there, Lisa, that you might want to read and let's get some opinions on this.

  • 11:28:13

    PAGE"Diane, when I was in high school in the 1960s, my American History teacher recommended 'The Jungle.' It wasn't required and for some reason I actually read it. It helped to radicalize me. Not that I thought that the U.S. in the '60s was the same as the U.S. in 1906, but injustice was still injustice and it continued to be institutionalized in so many ways in our country. In later years, I read more of the radical writings of Upton Sinclair and Jack London. It was wonderful.

  • 11:28:40

    PAGERecently, however, I listened to 'The Jungle' as an audio book version on a long trip. It was still excellent, but I was surprised at some of the racist elements in the book. It is Chapter 26 as I recall, which profiles the strike breaking at the meat processing plant, strike breaking by African Americans. Now such events took place many times and across different working situations in our history, making cooperation between white and black workers difficult. But the way that Upton Sinclair profiled this sort of event was shocking.

  • 11:29:11

    PAGEThese African Americans sheltered behind the factory gates day and night are pictured as dancing around bonfires through the night, like so many primitive peoples. Also drinking and cavorting, inviting loose white women to join them in their beastly behavior. Hey, these are almost word for word taken from Upton Sinclair's own descriptions, and you could've knocked me over with a feather. I suppose his writings were indicative of the times and should be appreciated as such. But even in context, it's good to remember that he was a leftist radical. Perhaps I expected better. Paul"

  • 11:29:43

    REHMIt's interesting from Paul. What's your reaction, Peggy Ann?

  • 11:29:47

    BROWNWell, I agree with you that those descriptions are horrible. On the other hand, and this doesn't make them acceptable, he was the middle class reformer. Other middle class reformers had the same nativism, racism and expressed it. He was also a southerner. And I think that doesn't forgive it but perhaps explains it a little.

  • 11:30:07

    BROWNThere -- the images are horrible and I don't believe that the workers were dancing around in the factories. There is documentation that there was a lot of death and disease during the strike because the people were living inside the factories in very close conditions. And why he doesn't bring that more out...

  • 11:30:27


  • 11:30:27

    BROWN...and has these horrible caricatures, it's unclear other than to say that just as a middle class reformer of the time period, that's how they -- they talked about (unintelligible) .

  • 11:30:38

    HARRISWell, remember this was the time of obviously Teddy Roosevelt. And, you know, Teddy Roosevelt had -- was the first president to have dinner with a black man at the White House. And it happened right at this time and it caused a national scandal that Teddy Roosevelt would do this. And Teddy Roosevelt -- and it threatened his reelection prospects. It was such a terrible -- seen as such a terrible thing across the country...

  • 11:31:04

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:31:04

    HARRIS...that he never did it again. And, you know, that sort of racism was absolutely so common across the country.

  • 11:31:11

    REHMLet's open the phones. We'll go first to Limestone, Tenn. Good morning, Eric, you're on the air.

  • 11:31:20

    ERICGood morning. I just have to wonder what your thoughts are on how much has changed in industry. If this book hadn't been published, we likely wouldn't have the FDA. How much has actually changed in industry in the way that they treat workers basically like a commodity. Like in the book, they treat them pretty much as the animals that they're slaughtering.

  • 11:31:48


  • 11:31:50

    HARRISOh, boy, that's a tough one. I mean, I think, you know, let's be fair. There are just enormous reforms that have come up since then. I think the worker's comp system is probably, you know, which is a nationwide system, is probably sort of the most important. Because, you know, what happens to Jurgis and what happens to everybody else in the factory is that this -- you know, he sprains his ankle at one point and he is out of work for two months. And it all but destroys the family.

  • 11:32:17

    HARRISI think you would be hard pressed to find certainly there -- the New York Times had a Pulitzer Prize winning series a few years ago about these pipefitting companies that had, by far, the worst worker's comp records in the country, where people were getting killed and injured. But that -- I think that level of injury and death -- I think you would -- it just does not happen at this point.

  • 11:32:45

    REHMBut would the FDA have been created had it not been for this book?

  • 11:32:50

    HARRISWell, that's also sort of under dispute by historians. I mean, obviously there was -- I mean, Upton Sinclair was not the first or even the only muckraker of the day. There was considerable push toward some -- toward the Pure Food Drug Act of 1906. He helped sort of push that reform enormously, but it probably would've happened without him.

  • 11:33:18

    REHMGardiner Harris of the New York Times. He's also author of the mystery novel "Hazard." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Lisa.

  • 11:33:31

    PAGEYeah, I want to sort of take issue with you here a little bit...

  • 11:33:33


  • 11:33:34

    PAGE...because there was a book about tomatoes out this year, about immigrants working in tomatoes in Florida, and I'm sorry I don't remember the name of the book or the writer, but the immigrants there were horribly exploited. There are problems with pesticides...

  • 11:33:49


  • 11:33:50

    PAGE...very comparable to what's happening here. Am I...

  • 11:33:54

    HARRISI think -- I mean, I certainly think that certainly, you know, with the -- in some of the fruit picking and in the vegetable processing, because largely those workers are illegal immigrants at this point they're sort of -- their legal status is sort of always in jeopardy. They tend not to complain. And I think that there has been some pretty good journalism and some investigations about the working conditions in those plants.

  • 11:34:23

    HARRISAnd oddly enough, you know, one of the big pushes towards improving those conditions is actually coming from the FDA because what has gone on is that you have poor sanitation on the part of the workers. They don't have any facilities to go to the bathroom so that -- then they end up passing on e-coli onto the plants themselves. And so...

  • 11:34:46

    REHMAnd that seems to be perhaps what happened in this latest outbreak with the cantaloupe so...

  • 11:34:53

    HARRIS...of cantaloupes, exactly. So it's a constant problem and -- but there are pushes to sort of address it. And I'm not saying that these problems have disappeared, but the sort of jungle-like atmosphere that sort of pervades all of Chicago I think, you know, for a fair-minded person you would be hard pressed to sort of find those conditions, you know, throughout an area.

  • 11:35:18

    REHMAll right. Peggy Ann, you wanted to add something.

  • 11:35:20

    BROWNI was just going to say that while there were a number of investigators looking into aspects of the Pure Food and Drug Act, I think that Sinclair's novel was successful in doing -- giving that final nudge...

  • 11:35:32


  • 11:35:33

    BROWN...that Roosevelt said he was getting so much correspondence from his constituents who were saying, you have to look into this. And he did send two investigators after "The Jungle" was published to Chicago to look into it. And they said actually that parts of the novel were understated.

  • 11:35:51

    REHMWhat about the creation of the union movement here?

  • 11:35:56

    BROWNSinclair really doesn't talk much about the unions in the novel. He was not a big union supporter. And so I think that that was one aspect that probably should've come out more in the novel...

  • 11:36:08


  • 11:36:08

    BROWN...and doesn't.

  • 11:36:09

    HARRISRight. His character Jurgis was a strike breaker, you know, oddly enough.

  • 11:36:14

    REHMRight. In the end, he...

  • 11:36:16

    PAGEBut again for money.

  • 11:36:16

    HARRISRight. Absolutely.

  • 11:36:17

    REHMExactly. Let's go to Sterling, Va. Very quickly, Gary, you're on the air.

  • 11:36:24

    GARYI rode on a train with ten meat packers and they all didn't want to talk about the killing room. And they all agreed that if they had a room where all the cattle could be moved into and the oxygen pumped out and soft music played to them and the cattle went to sleep, and then they could go in and slaughter them. I told them also a village, an el valle in the Republic of Panama was famous for their chicken. And what it was they used to give the chicken a tablespoon of wine, it'd go to sleep and then they'd kill it.

  • 11:37:00

    REHMYou know, it's interesting because people like Temple Grandin who has autism in her history and background came up with this whole idea of how to mercifully do away with the cattle as opposed to slaughtering them in the way they clearly do in this book. We've got to take a short break. Gary, thanks for your call. When we come back, we'll go to Orlando, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Ohio.

  • 11:40:03

    MS. DIANE REHMAnd here's an email as we talk about Upton Sinclair's book "The Jungle." It's from Mack who says, "This show so far is giving the same narrow treatment to "The Jungle" that it received at the time the book was originally published. Sinclair was seeking to promote a general Democratic Socialism in America and overturning of the corporate (word?) of his time. Instead, the public and the corporate controlled press at that time got all upset about the very limited issue of food contamination and created better safety laws. Sinclair famously said, quote, 'I aimed for America's heart, but I hit its stomach.'" Peggy Ann.

  • 11:41:05

    MS. PEGGY ANN BROWNThis was a quote that Sinclair said over and over and Mack's absolutely correct. Sinclair felt that presenting the facts, people would understand that socialism was the way out of all these problems. At the same time, Sinclair admitted to Macmillan and Doubleday that the book should have been put into two separate parts, that the second half was not successful in communicating to the readers why socialism would be the way out.

  • 11:41:34

    REHMDo you think that that's why so many people have gotten focused on the one issue and not the broad issue?

  • 11:41:43

    BROWNI think that and also the fact that those images are so startling you can't help but focus on them, but also just as I said before, the fact that he took out some of the more empathetic sections of the book, that the middle class reader who was reading this book, all they could think about were their own concerns about food and they couldn't identify at all with the characters and what was happening to them.

  • 11:42:06

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Centerville, Ohio. Good morning, James. You're on the air.

  • 11:42:14

    JAMESYes. What concerns me and really alarms me, especially of late and ties in with this book, is how especially politicians and particularly Republicans seem to stress how important it is that we not do anything, especially raise taxes, that will in any way hurt or cause problems with the wealthy that, quote, "create jobs." And no one talks about the worker. And no matter how many people there are that invest money to create jobs, without the worker, you know, nothing will get done.

  • 11:42:52

    JAMESAnd we do nothing to uplift the worker in our country even still today, forget about 1906. Now Ann Ran and her book where all of the wealthy and the inventers leave and say, well, what will to happen to society if we're not around? Let's leave and see what happens. How about if all of the workers were to leave, the ones that create the proverbial widgets and there were no widgets left. I mean, the worker is so key to our society, but yet no one talks about the worker and what's needed to help them. It's always those who create the jobs.

  • 11:43:25


  • 11:43:26

    MS. LISA PAGEWell, I agree with that statement. I also think that the other people who are not talked about very much in the press are the poor. Whether they're the working poor or they're not working, they're getting ignored. And there are reports today from Chicago of young children on the south side coming to school unwashed because they don't have running water in their homes. Those are real stories happening in America that we don't wanna look at. We wanna look at other things.

  • 11:43:53

    MR. GARDINER HARRISYeah, I mean, I think every one of the bad guys in this book would be called a job creator today.

  • 11:43:58

    PAGEYeah, absolutely.

  • 11:43:59

    HARRISYou know, Diane, I think -- and it's obviously a very different ethic that Upton Sinclair has and, of course, even the very definition of what socialism is has changed dramatically. When people term Barack Obama a socialist, I think Upton Sinclair would not recognize the term.

  • 11:44:19


  • 11:44:19

    HARRISSo the political spectrum obviously has shifted enormously since then.

  • 11:44:23

    REHMI wanna ask you all about the second half of this book because it seems so out of sync with the first half of the book in that Jurgis loses his mind in effect and runs, runs out to the country, sleeps wherever he can find. And then he encounters one of Chicago's wealthiest sons and stays with him for -- it didn't make any sense to me. Did it to you? What was Sinclair doing there?

  • 11:45:12

    BROWNI think that the second half of the book very clearly matches with some of the problems Sinclair was having in his own life. And he said that he was bothered by problems with his ill wife and his ill son and that he poured a lot of the emotion from that experience into the novel. When he was telling Macmillan that he wanted to separate the book into two halves, he said, I need to do more research. I need to go back. I need to find out about the politics of Chicago. And so it was obvious that he did not have this section as well researched. He's trying to show the contrast with Freddie Jones with Jurgis, but he's not successful in...

  • 11:45:55


  • 11:45:55

    BROWN...making that mean anything.

  • 11:45:56


  • 11:45:58

    HARRISWell, Lisa probably knows this better than I 'cause -- as head of PEN/Faulkner. I mean, but my sense in writing myself is that, you know, that middle third of the book when you write a book is by far the most challenging. It's so -- it's relatively easy to set up your characters and set up your problems. And then your resolution you sort of have in mind, but sort of getting from your set up to your resolution is sort of the meat of the book and can be so difficult where all of the strains have to sort of braid together. And I really got the sense in reading this that Upton Sinclair hadn't really figured out how to make the braid.

  • 11:46:37

    PAGEI think that's right and I'm so impressed with what you've been saying that he...

  • 11:46:41


  • 11:46:41

    PAGE...meant this to be two books...

  • 11:46:43


  • 11:46:43

    PAGE...because it felt like that to me.

  • 11:46:44


  • 11:46:45

    PAGEThe other dynamic when you talk about literature and its structure that struck me about the book is you have the conflict, the conflict, the conflict, no resolution...

  • 11:46:55

    HARRISRight, right, right.

  • 11:46:55

    PAGE...conflict, conflict, no resolution, until the end and then you've got Socialism.

  • 11:46:59


  • 11:47:00

    HARRISRight. In a pages, pages long speech.

  • 11:47:03

    PAGEExactly. And it doesn't work really.

  • 11:47:04

    HARRISYou know, it's fairly unsatisfying, yeah.

  • 11:47:06

    PAGEYeah, it doesn't work.

  • 11:47:06

    REHMYeah, and then there's the criminal element in Chicago that he even becomes involved in.

  • 11:47:15

    PAGEAnd the political machine which...

  • 11:47:17

    REHMAnd the political machine.

  • 11:47:18

    PAGE...which is still there...

  • 11:47:19

    HARRISRight, right.

  • 11:47:19

    PAGE...even if Mr. Emmanuel (sp?) could try and change it.

  • 11:47:21

    HARRISThere's another thing we didn't even talk about...

  • 11:47:22

    PAGEYeah, right.

  • 11:47:22 know, how it's present today and they're talking about paying people to vote and, you know, sort of all what...

  • 11:47:29


  • 11:47:29

    HARRIS...Chicago has long been famous for, its political corruption.

  • 11:47:31

    PAGEAnd dead people voting.

  • 11:47:33


  • 11:47:33

    PAGEVote early and vote many times.

  • 11:47:35

    REHMExactly. And some people literally voted many times. What was the public reaction when the book first came out?

  • 11:47:45

    BROWNWell, the reaction was to the images of how their food was being prepared. Everyone became vegetarians for awhile. They were worried about what was going into their food stuff. They were able to -- this was the final nudge to get that Pure Food and Drug Act passed in June.

  • 11:48:03

    REHMBut was it a best seller?

  • 11:48:06

    BROWNIt was a best seller.

  • 11:48:07

    REHMIt was.

  • 11:48:07

    BROWNIt was. Within I think it was six weeks it had sold 25,000 copies. Doubleday was approached by a staff member from Armour who tried to bribe him and...

  • 11:48:20

    HARRISThat's a meat packer.

  • 11:48:21

    BROWNA meat packer. Armour's a meat packer. And he was so offended by this because he said, can you kinda cut back on the publicity and don't publish it in Europe. And Doubleday was so offended by this that within the year, it was translated to 17 languages and became a sensation in Europe also.

  • 11:48:37

    REHMInteresting. Let's go to Arlington, Texas. Good morning, Ed.

  • 11:48:43

    EDHi. So am I correct in understanding that the most atonally available versions of this book are incomplete? Typically when I want to read a serious work of literature, I consult Norton Critical Editions or the Modern Library. I was under the impression that they would probably have produced a reliable copy of this book. Are you saying that, no, that those versions would be incomplete? And if so, where...

  • 11:49:08

    BROWNNo, they're not incomplete. The version that's available is the 1906 Doubleday version that Sinclair approved, but the original version that appeared in the "Appeal to Reason," "The Socialist Weekly," and in "One-Hoss Philosophy" include the sections that he cut out for the Doubleday version.

  • 11:49:28

    REHMWhere can one get that?

  • 11:49:31

    BROWNI don't think that the 1988 version is available anymore. It was not well publicized and is no longer in print. The edition that was from One-Hoss Philosophy is published by See Sharp Press and it's called "The Jungle: The Uncensored Original Edition." And I believe that this is still available. It came out in 2003.

  • 11:49:57

    REHMAnd do you think that might be available on Amazon?

  • 11:50:02

    BROWNI think that it might be. I'm not positive about that.

  • 11:50:04

    REHMGood. Well, give a good look for it. Ed, I'm with you. Let's go to Stueyville (sp?) , Utah. Good morning, Shauna.

  • 11:50:15

    SHAUNAGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me.

  • 11:50:17


  • 11:50:18

    SHAUNAI just wanted to make a comment from some remarks of the previous caller who said something to the effect of nobody is thinking this day of the workers, we always want to think of the people who are the job creators. And I would just point out that it were because of labor unions and workers that a lot of these safety requirements and regulations were actually put into place under the safety of a organized union. Many workers were able to stand up to employers and actually refuse to go into unsafe conditions and still keep their jobs and not have the fear of losing their livelihood.

  • 11:50:58

    SHAUNAAnd I think that labor unions play a huge part in all of this and they have. At the time that this was going on, there was a rise of labor unions. And I would propose that perhaps we maybe take a look at the correlation between the kind of labor unions in today's workplace and what's happening in the workplace and safety conditions as well as the other regulations that have come into play with this. And I know I have a bad connection, so I'll take any comments off the air. Thank you.

  • 11:51:26

    REHMAll right, Shauna. Thanks for calling.

  • 11:51:29

    HARRISWell, that's right. I mean, right now there is a huge debate going on in this country about regulations, government regulations. And, you know, many of the Republican candidates for president believe and are saying that regulations are choking the economy of the United States. It is regulations, though, that basically have created the environment that save people's lives on a day to day basis. It's the regulations in coal mines. They were just reformed again two years ago in the wake of yet another disaster. It's the regulations in construction sites.

  • 11:52:07

    HARRISSilicosis was once at very high levels in this country. Silicosis is something that can kill you very quickly through sort of a emphysema like reaction where essentially your lungs get cut as if they were ground in glass. There are countless workplace injuries that are less common and are not present at all because of these sort of regulations. And I think that people sort of tend to forget sort of the upside of regulations.

  • 11:52:47

    REHMGardiner Harris of The New York Times. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Winter Garden, Fla. Good morning, Chris.

  • 11:52:59

    CHRISGood morning, Diane. I love the show.

  • 11:53:02

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:53:04

    CHRISDiane, I wanted to maybe ask -- have your panel talk about contemporary muckraking with regards to film and television. I'm specifically thinking about the PBS documentary "Banks and the Poor" that exposed redlining or Frederick Wiseman's "Titicut Follies" which exposed the Boston mental health system. And as film and television obviously has made an impact on the muckraker's job, but what specific comments maybe do your panel have as to making it easier or making it more difficult?

  • 11:53:38


  • 11:53:39

    PAGEWell, I think that it's a great time that we have a documentary like "Food, Inc." that...

  • 11:53:44


  • 11:53:45

    PAGE...breaks down what's happening today with the beef industry. The other film about like "Fast Food Nation."

  • 11:53:53

    HARRISNation, right.

  • 11:53:54

    PAGEAnd then there was the -- I mean, all of these films have I think moved the discussion forward and made people a lot more aware of what's happening and I think that's good news.

  • 11:54:05

    HARRISRight. I mean, some of the original muckraking work was obviously in mental health institutions. I mean, they began in the 1870s and 1880s. And what's remarkable is just what a well spring that sort of muckraking has been. I mean, they continued through the '60s and '70s. Who am I think of, the famous TV journalist with the mustache who sort of established themselves in New York by a famous insider look at sort of the mental health institutions, you know...

  • 11:54:38

    REHMAre you talking about "60 Minutes" or...

  • 11:54:40

    HARRISNo. Well, no.

  • 11:54:41


  • 11:54:42

    HARRISYeah, Geraldo, Geraldo.

  • 11:54:43

    REHMOh, Geraldo.

  • 11:54:43

    PAGEGeraldo Rivera.

  • 11:54:44

    HARRISGeraldo Rivera. I mean, he made his...

  • 11:54:46

    PAGEYes, it's true.

  • 11:54:46

    HARRIS...bones by yet another sort of muckraking thing on a mental health thing. And The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize I wanna say four or five years ago exposing problems in dealing with children with mental disabilities in Washington D.C. I mean, I think this stuff goes on and hopefully will continue to go on forever.

  • 11:55:08

    HARRISI'm at The New York Times. You know, we have a very strong investigative unit. It is harder to sort of become employed in some of these places. We have rules against lying. Some of the underground sort of video, which oddly now of course is coming out, sometimes even on the Republican side. Obviously you're having some video semi journalist and political activists against ACORN and some of these...

  • 11:55:34

    REHMSure. And...

  • 11:55:34

    HARRIS...other places, so this is a lively area that continues.

  • 11:55:38

    REHMBut Mike in Keller, Texas points out that we mentioned that Sinclair researched "The Jungle" by wandering around in packing plants. Try doing that anywhere now...

  • 11:55:52


  • 11:55:53

    REHM...near a modern food production facility. Michael Pollen has noted it's difficult even to photograph the exterior of a factory farm. One may as well forget about documenting any details of their operation.

  • 11:56:12

    HARRISRight. Infamously, Oprah was sued when she spoke...

  • 11:56:15

    PAGEWhen she talked badly about hamburgers.

  • 11:56:16


  • 11:56:17

    PAGEBut the other thing is that investigative journalists are fewer and farther between, so...

  • 11:56:21

    HARRISThey are unfortunately.

  • 11:56:22

    REHMBecause newspapers are not putting the money...

  • 11:56:26

    HARRISA dime.

  • 11:56:27

    PAGERight, exactly.

  • 11:56:27

    HARRISI'm sorry, but my industry is going down the tubes, Diane.

  • 11:56:29

    PAGEExcuse me, what did you say?

  • 11:56:31

    REHMWell, I think we were talking about this last night at a small dinner party. I do believe that while a great many people are going to turn to online reading, The New York Times, however small, is gonna be with us.

  • 11:56:52

    HARRISI certainly hope so.

  • 11:56:53

    REHMI do, too.

  • 11:56:54

    HARRISI'm hanging on with my bare hands here, Diane.

  • 11:56:57

    REHMAll right. Gardiner Harris, he's also a novelist. It's titled "Hazard." But his day job is a science reporter for The New York Times. Peggy Ann Brown is a writer and independent researcher. Lisa Page is president of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, creative writing teacher at George Washington University. And next month, on October 26, we're going to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the book children and adults adore "Peter Pan."

  • 11:57:39


  • 11:57:39

    REHMSo I hope you'll be with us. Thanks for listening all. The book we've been talking about, Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Revisiting The Decision To Drop The Bomb

Thursday, May 18 2023As President Biden's visit to Hiroshima dredges up memories of World War II, Diane talks to historian Evan Thomas about his new book, "Road to Surrender," the story of America's decision to drop the atomic bomb.