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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Sinclair, Upton (1878-1942)
There are a score of great religions in the world, each with scores or hundreds of sects, each with its priestly orders, its complicated creed and ritual, its heavens and hells. Each has its thousands or millions or hundreds of millions of "true believers"; each damns all the others with more or less heartiness -- and each is a mighty fortress of graft.

-- Upton Sinclair


Upton Beall Sinclair was a prolific American author who wrote over 90 books in many genres, often advocating socialist views, and achieved considerable popularity in the first half of the twentieth century. He gained particular fame for his novel, The Jungle (1906), which dealt with conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry and caused a public uproar that ultimately led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act in 1906.

However, the main point of The Jungle was lost on the public, overshadowed by his descriptions of unsanitary conditions in the packing plants. The public health concerns dealt with in The Jungle are actually far less significant than the human tragedy lived by his main character and other workers in the plants. His main goal for the book was to demonstrate the inhuman conditions of the wage earner under capitalism, not to inspire public health reforms in how the packing was done.

Indeed, Sinclair lamented the effect of his book and the public uproar that resulted: "I aimed at their hearts, and hit their stomachs." Still, the fame and fortune he gained from publishing The Jungle enabled him to write books on almost every issue of social injustice in the 20th century.

Personal life
Sinclair lived much of his life in Monrovia, California and later in Buckeye, Arizona, but near the end of his life he moved to Bound Brook, New Jersey. He took an interest in psychic phenomena and experimented with telepathy, writing a book titled Mental Radio, published in 1930. Sinclair established a socialist commune called Helicon Hall Colony in 1906 with proceeds from his novel The Jungle. One of those who joined was the novelist and playwright Sinclair Lewis, who worked there as a janitor. The colony burned down in 1907, apparently from arson.

Sinclair faced what he would later call "the most difficult ethical problem of my life," when he was told in confidence by Sacco and Vanzetti's former attorney Fred Moore that they were guilty and how their alibis were supposedly arranged[1]. However, in the letter revealing that discussion with Moore, Sinclair also wrote, "I had heard that he [Moore] was using drugs. I knew that he had parted from the defense committee after the bitterest of quarrels … Moore admitted to me that the men themselves had never admitted their guilt to him." Although this episode has been used by some to claim that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty and that Sinclair knew that when he wrote his novel Boston, this account has been debunked by Sinclair biographer Greg Mitchell[2]

Sinclair's platform for the California gubernatorial race of 1934, known as EPIC (End Poverty in California), galvanized the support of the Democratic Party, and Sinclair gained its nomination. Conservatives in California were themselves galvanized by this, as they saw it as an attempted Communist takeover of their state and used massive political propaganda portraying Sinclair as a Communist, even as he was being portrayed by American and Soviet Communists as a capitalist following the Que Viva Mexico! debacle. Sinclair was defeated by Frank F. Merriam in the election and largely abandoned EPIC and politics to return to writing. However, the race of 1934, would become known as the first race to use modern campaign techniques, such as motion picture propaganda.

Sinclair was married three times.

Political and social activism
An early success was the Civil War novel Manassas, written in 1903 and published a year later. Originally projected as the opening book of a trilogy, the success of The Jungle caused him to drop such plans, although he did revise Manassas decades later by "moderating some of the exuberance of the earlier version"; a description -- in Sinclair's case -- very much of a relative kind. The Jungle brought to light many major issues in America such as poverty and other social wrongs. There is some rumor that Sinclair was a racist, with some textual evidence supporting this hypothesis.

The Lanny Budd Series
Between 1940 and 1953 Sinclair wrote 11 novels about an American named Lanny Budd that, read in sequence, detailed much of the political history of the Western world in the first half of the twentieth century. Almost totally forgotten today, they were all bestsellers upon publication and were published in 21 countries. The third book in the series, Dragon's Teeth, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943.

 
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