My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Despite its flaws (particularly preaching at the end that is out of keeping with the narrative), The Jungle is a book that should be read by every American. Most who talk about the book focus on the horrible conditions and practices of the meatpacking industry, and particularly since this takes place at the turn of the twentieth century, they pretty much stop there. One might get the impression that having been instrumental in the creation of what eventually became the Food and Drug Administration, The Jungle has done its job and should be relegated to the dusty shelves of history. But that would be wrong. Sinclair's novel is every bit as timely today as it was a century ago.
We might assume that because of the FDA, food is safer and the industries that bring that food to our tables are less corrupt than in 1906. However, books such as Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation demonstrate otherwise. Yet there is more to the novel than an expose of the industry.
The story of Jurgis Rudkis is one in which we see the evils of unchecked capitalism and greed and how they work to rob an honest, working man of physical and emotional life, his dignity, his morality, and eventually: hope. We do not get a lesson in how bad luck can bring a man and his family to soul crushing poverty. We see the machinations that bring that poverty and perpetuate it, destroying everything human in its path, with nothing to stop it.
This book needs to be read now because there is something of Jurgis Rudkis (or one of his ill-fated family) is every working American. Only the players and some of the schemes have changed. Many like to believe we live in a country were we can do and be anything if we work hard enough, but the poor know better. The plight of the "wage slave" has only been obscured by an a obese and television soaked nation.
Upton Sinclair famously stated about The Jungle, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach." If we do not want history to repeat itself, I suggest we read this book with our hearts and our minds.
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