Before there was Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, or Morgan Spurlock, there was Upton Sinclair. Sinclair's classic novel - an exposé of the Chicago meatpacking industry at the at the turn of the twentieth century - achieves new life as an audiobook. Narrator George Guidall's passionate rendering of the text makes it possible to visualize the vicious and grotesque conditions inside the slaughterhouses, and the impoverished immigrants who worked there, in a way that reading the text alone might not convey.
Few books have so affected radical social changes as The Jungle, first published serially in 1906. Exposing unsanitary conditions in the meat-packing industry in Chicago, Sinclair's novel gripped Americans by the stomach, contributing to the passage of the first Food and Drug Act. If you've never read this classic novel, don't be put off by its gruesome reputation. Upton Sinclair was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who could turn even an exposé into a tender and moving novel.
Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant, comes to America in search of a fortune for his family. He accepts the harsh realities of a working man's lot, laboring with naive vigor - until, his health and family sacrificed, he understands how the heavy wheels of the industrial machine can crush the strongest spirit.
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I know it's not actually titled "An American Tragedy" (that's another classic), but this book really details a tragic life in tragic circumstances. In fact, I found it so painfully dismal, I had to stop half way through to listen to another book before coming back to it because it was so intense. Don't let that stop you, though, because it's a book well worth listening too.
It's best known as a muckraking book about the appalling conditions of the Chicago meatpacking plants at the turn of the 20th century, and almost all of the descriptions in the book were found to be true - and two important pieces of food safety legislation were enacted because of it. In fact, Upton Sinclair spent almost 2 months "undercover" working in the meatpacking plants before writing this book - which was originally published in installments.
What struck me more, though, was the horrific situation of the workers, not just in the meatpacking plants themselves, but also their housing and social situations. How new immigrants had been targeted in Europe and encouraged to come to work in the Chicago plants, lured with promises of a land of plenty -- only to find a different reality when they arrived unskilled, unable to speak English, and unprepared for the scam artists of an unregulated marketplace. Wickedly dangerous workplace conditions (resulting in gangrenous wounds, chemical burns, and respiratory failure), ridiculously crowded living conditions (sharing a mattress to sleep in shifts at the boarding house), and high district unemployment that resulted in men begging for work each morning and low wages.
Upton Sinclair, with his clearly socialist leanings in this book, says he aimed for the heart of his reader (with these depictions of unfairly harsh circumstances), but hit the readers' stomachs instead (with depiction of the meatpacking situations). I see that what he means, but truly it was my heart, not my stomach, that was hit by this book.
However, there are no heroes in this book - the hardworking, striving family man who is the protagonist becomes a vandal, mugger, thief, and corrupt political worker who abandoned his extended family after a tragic loss. The employers are corrupt, the unions are corrupt, the police force is corrupt........the only thing left to root for is the Dream itself (or Socialism, if you believe in Sinclair's premise). The book did inspire me to do a little more research and learn a bit more about Chicago at the time - about the Beef Trust, the Chicago freight tunnels, and the scandals, investigations, and legislation that came about because of the horrific practices of those meatpacking plants.
The corruption in the meat packing industry and in the government in Chicago in the late 1800s was very informative in this story. However, the last part of the book is just a long lecture about socialism and I kept waiting for the lecture to end, but it never did. That was the conclusion of the book!!
We never got to get back into the story itself about the Lithuanian immigrant named Jurgis. The conclusion was the preaching of Socialist principles. Very disappointing.
Narration, however, by George Guidall was excellent.
This has been on my reading list for years. I didn't know, but now think of it as the antithesis to Atlas Shrugged. Replete with its own ponderous and myopic "John Gault Speach". Narration was great, just felt the story was a bit over the top in favor of the message.
I found both to be very good. The audio more convenient when unable read the print
How he described the conditions in the meat industry and how the immigrants struggled
The buying of the home, i got a bad feeling about it was lulled into thinking it would be OK then realized it was a con.
I couldn't put it down and was able to read or listen to it through out the day listening on my phone, while doing housework, in the car etc.
Though it is over 100 years since this book was first published so many of the issues are still relevant. With the current news about horse meat being found in processed meat products and the obesity crisis it makes you wonder about the food production industries and the working conditions for low income workers today.
The best part of The Jungle was the narrator. I could listen to George Guidall read a dictionary. He is very good.
Sinclair has an ability to write that I would never seek to disparage. I picked The Jungle because it is regarded as a classic and I wanted to expand my knowledge of the classics. I didn't get particularly involved in this story and had trouble finding interest in listening to it, but the writing was well done, masterful even. I would give Sinclair another try, but I think I would be a bit choosier next time around.
George Guidall's narration was fantastic, but I can't say that I had any favorites from this story. I would say that I did not particularly like any of the characters.
No. I struggled to find time to listen to this one. It did not compel me in that way.
Lots of soapboxing in this one. Seems that in the early 1900s life was terrible for most and not great for the rest. Makes me thankful for the life I have.
Dreary. A monumental and significant book, but not an interesting listen. Listening to it is a bit like watching a cheap murder mystery for the third time, you know who did it and the plot moves ever so slowly to the end -- even slower once your popcorn is eaten. The repeated misfortunes that happen to the main character go from tragic to laughable. After a while, the only interest I had in the book was to experience what great tragedy would now befall the character. Yes it is an important piece of writing, but so too was the Warren commission's report -- it just wasn't engaging listening.
I always believed that the primary purpose of this book was an exposé on the meat processing industry in Chicago during the 19th century. However, the horrors of the industry only serve as context to chronicle the life of Jurgis - which was the true horror. Jurgis arrives in the US with hopes and ambition only to be ground down to nothing. There are several moments when you think his life can't get any worse, and then it does.
Near the end of the book, he discovers socialism. It becomes the solution to all of his problems, eventually becoming almost like a religion to him. I can appreciate the arguments for socialism set down by the book. My biggest concern was the comparison between corrupt capitalism and perfect socialism. With that context, yes - I can see how socialism might seem pretty good. I enjoyed listening to the argument from a perspective that I don't have. Socialism or not, the book highlighted several social ills to be aware of.
And yes, I'll be eating less meat!
The Jungle rates very high on my list of audio books that I have listened to.
All of the characters were well done.
George Guidall performed well.
Many points were moving due to the era and content of the story that illuminated persistent toil and struggle for those who were virtually invisible within society.
Classic book. Sometimes a novel can have a truth that no work of history can have. This book influenced the creation of the modern FDA. It is based on real conditions at the time. It is scary and this is an important book to read. I don't think you should be reading Ayn Rand without getting this as balance. Narration was good. Didn't like having to stop listening.
Lewis gives a wrenching picture of the excesses of unbridled capitalism. I found the socialist dreams at the end very sad sibce we have seen their corruprtion. We did succeed in saving capitalism from its excesses for nearly 50 years. We know it can be done, but we are losing ground day by day.
"A red jungle, a heart of darkness in the city."
A book that will change you, and take you places you never knew existed, a book about the inhumanity of man towards man an animal. A Book that exposed the worst in capitalism and changed laws in the USA. A powerful indictment to greed and abuse for profit.
At the same time a demonstration that freedom of speech and expression can change things and will triumph over regimes that oppress the forces of change the fifth state.
Human nature is not what we would like it to be; so we need check and balances like this book or 1984 by Orwell; we need to expose our baser instincts confront them not as if they were the shortcomings of others but our own. This book is a must read, a warning from the past to the present and the future.
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