He was one of the muckrakers, and an interest in social and industrial reform underlies most of his writing. The Jungle (1906), a brutally graphic novel of the Chicago stockyards, aroused great public indignation and led to reform of Federal food inspection laws. With the money from that novel, Sinclair established in 1906 his short-lived socialist community, Helicon Home Colony, at Englewood, N.J. Among Sinclair's other novels exposing social evils are King Coal (1917), Oil! (1927), Boston (on the Sacco-Vanzetti Case, 1928), and Little Steel (1938). In his social studies, such as The Brass Check (1919), on journalism, and The Goose-Step (1923), on education, he tried to uncover the harmful effects of capitalist economic pressure on institutions of learning and culture. An ardent socialist, Sinclair was in and out of the American Socialist party. In 1934 he was defeated as the Democratic candidate for governor of California. World's End (1940) is the first of a cycle of 11 novels that deal with world events since 1914 and feature the fictional Lanny Budd as hero; the third, Dragon's Teeth (1942), won a Pulitzer Prize. Many of Sinclair's more than 80 books have been widely translated, and he is one of the best-known American authors in Europe.
See his autobiography (1962) and reminiscences, American Outpost (1932) and My Lifetime in Letters (1960). See also study by Floyd Dell (1927, repr. 1970); bibliography by Ronald Gottesman (1973).
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