UPTON SINCLAIR: American Rebel by Leon Harris

UPTON SINCLAIR: American Rebel

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Sinclair was the best-known popular American social critic, faddist and ""cause"" spokesman of the 20th century. His father, a Southern gentleman inebriate, shuffled him from New York bedbugs to the solid gilt of Baltimore banking relatives; his mother, a prissy woman with even fiercer Southern patrician ties, exactly resembled Sinclair's second wife. Upton himself was self-centered, ingenuous, and drenchingly unintellectual. His American passion for the ""concrete"" centered around food, sex and anti-sex, money, and palpable spiritualist phenomena. How Sinclair managed to acquire the understanding of business and businessmen found in The Jungle, Oil?, The Goose-step and his other important books is never explained in this banal biography. Sinclair's exposes rarely even get a precis, although many readers have no acquaintance with them, and they constitute Sinclair's overriding achievement. Thus it is never clear why Flivver King outraged the auto industry, or which allegedly mercenary writers and artists were attacked in Mammonart and Money Writes. For the rest, Harris shows that an array of reform-minded gimmicks dogged Sinclair's genuine human concern: guarantees of press honesty by a group of ""luminaries,"" wages for housewives, amnesty for war resisters, tax reforms and cooperatives were only some of his causes. Not even Sinclair himself believed that any of these could ameliorate ""obscenities perpetrated on the workers"" in The Jungle. Harris accuses Sinclair of being simplistic, but the book itself lacks the kind of moral and aesthetic irony that could throw Sinclair's reductivism into perspective while at the same time giving him more credit than a patronizing pat on the back. Most useful for the hypothetical library lacking other biographies of Sinclair, and Sinclair's books themselves.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1975
Publisher: T.Y. Crowell