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Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair [Hardcover]

Anthony Arthur
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

6 Jun 2006
Few American writers have revealed their private as well as their public selves so fully as Upton Sinclair, and virtually none over such a long lifetime (1878—1968). Sinclair’s writing, even at its most poignant or electrifying, blurred the line between politics and art–and, indeed, his life followed a similar arc. In Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair, Anthony Arthur weaves the strands of Sinclair’s contentious public career and his often-troubled private life into a compelling personal narrative.

An unassuming teetotaler with a fiery streak, called a propagandist by some, the most conservative of revolutionaries by others, Sinclair was such a driving force of history that one could easily mistake his life story for historical fiction. He counted dozens of epochal figures as friends or confidants, including Mark Twain, Jack London, Henry Ford, Thomas Mann, H. G. Wells, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Camus, and Carl Jung.

Starting with The Jungle in 1906, Sinclair’s fiction and nonfiction helped to inform and mold American opinions about socialism, labor and industry, religion and philosophy, the excesses of the media, American political isolation and pacifism, civil liberties, and mental and physical health.

In his later years, Sinclair twice reinvented himself, first as the Democratic candidate for governor of California in 1934, and later, in his sixties and seventies, as a historical novelist. In 1943 he won a Pulitzer Prize for Dragon’s Teeth, one of eleven novels featuring super-spy Lanny Budd.

Outside the literary realm, the ever-restless Sinclair was seemingly everywhere: forming Utopian artists’ colonies, funding and producing Sergei Eisenstein’s film documentaries, and waging consciousness-raising political campaigns. Even when he wasn’t involved in progressive causes or counterculture movements, his name often was invoked by them–an arrangement that frequently embroiled Sinclair in controversy.

Sinclair’s passion and optimistic zeal inspired America, but privately he could be a frustrated, petty man who connected better with his readers than with members of his own family. His life with his first wife, Meta, his son David, and various friends and professional acquaintances was a web of conflict and strain. Personally and professionally ambitious, Sinclair engaged in financial speculation, although his wealth-generating schemes often benefited his pet causes–and he lobbied as tirelessly for professional recognition and awards as he did for government reform. As the tenor of his work would suggest, Sinclair was supremely human.

In Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair, Anthony Arthur offers an engrossing and enlightening account of Sinclair’s life and the country he helped to transform. Taking readers from the Reconstruction South to the rise of American power to the pinnacle of Hollywood culture to the Civil Rights era, this is historical biography at its entertaining and thought-provoking finest.

Praise
"Lively, unsparing look at the turn-of-the-century muckraker, social critic and novelist who changed the way America did business....Arthur organizes his biography into chapters reflecting Sinclair's various crusading "selves"—e.g., The Warrior, The Pilgrim of Love, etc.—and uses a deft, light touch...An immensely readable biography."Kirkus Reviews

“..excellent new biography.”– USA Today
 
“…a model of good biography.” –Los Angeles Magazine
 
“Absorbing.” –The Wall Street Journal

"intimate and intellectually astute."- The New Yorker
“enlightening, frequently stinging biography . . . Arthur organizes a vast amount of information into a fast-flowing, witty, and incisive narrative.” - Booklist [starred review]
“a well-researched, balanced and fascinating portrait.” - Publishers Weekly
"Neither hagiographic nor condescending, Arthur is an exemplary biographer, interested in human beings for their own sake, in all their unvarnished oddity." - The Nation

“Few authors have led as full and fascinating a career, and rare is the biographer capable of packing the fascinating fullness as compactly– and apparently completely – as Arthur has done.” – Chicago Sun Times
 
“…an engrossing and enlightening account of Sinclair's life and the country he helped to transform. . . historical biography at its entertaining and thought-provoking finest.” – Forbes Book Club
 
“The chapters in Radical Innocent that describe the research and writing of The Jungle – the most famous and still the most powerful of all the muckraking novels – are thrilling. . . .Arthur captures nicely Sinclair's almost absurd innocence, his boundless enthusiasm as he met journalists, welfare workers, labor organizers and the men and women who worked in the slaughterhouses." – Los Angeles Times
 
“…an outstanding biography. I recommend it without reservation.” – David M. Kinchen, Huntington News Network Book Critic:
 
“…a bracing biography.” – Boston Globe

“…admirable . . . compelling look at an intellectual life lived to maximum effect.”– Philadelphia Inquirer:

“engaging and perceptive . . . sensitive, engrossing, and even amusing exploration of Sinclair's complex private life.” - Christian Science Monitor
“graceful new biography.”- Columbia Journalism Review
It is to Arthur's credit that he can make Sinclair not only interesting yet likeable . . . Radical Innocent is not only refreshing, it's a shock to read: a biography of a survivor. . . The author has done a Herculean job of sifting through what must, literarily, have been tons of material to produce a thoroughly readable book about a complex man.- Toronto Star
Radical Innocent is a wonderful gift . . . a vital biography of an American treasure, and Arthur proves himself as Sinclair’s vital biographer.” - American Way [American Airlines Magazine]
"Few authors have led as full and fascinating a career, and rare is the biographer capable of packing the fascinating fullness as compactly - and apparently completely - as Arthur has done." -Denver Post

"The book provides an interesting narrative on an extraordinary American life. It not only offers specific details rendered from meticulous research, but also a historical context that makes it easier to understand the circumstances of the time period in which this "most conservative of revolutionaries" worked."-The Post and Courier

Product details

  • Hardcover: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (NY) (6 Jun 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400061512
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400061518
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.5 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 606,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificent Biography of a Fascinating Mind 3 May 2007
Format:Hardcover
Anthony Arthur is to be roundly praised for his wonderful study of the life and thought of Upton Sinclair. An American radical novelist and thinker, Sinclair is shamefully overlooked today in academia, where he could serve usefully as both a seismograph of his age and an important novelist in the social realist tradition. Sinclair links the two great American radical traditions of communitarianism (in the case of his Helicon Hall experiment) and state interventionism (in his support for the New Deal and his own campaign for the governorship of California, promoting his 'End Poverty in California' platform). While more willing to roll his sleeves up and get his hands dirty, Sinclair in many ways comes across as an American H. G. Wells, self-consciously using literature as propaganda and, while never ceasing to be a novelist, privileging journalism, sociology and political tracts at different times of his career when his principles and objectives commanded him to do so. This biography is a most readable work for the general public, while being an excellent provacteur to the academy, making the case for a re-examination of Sinclair's significance in American letters and indeed within world social literature. My only quibbles with the book are that it perhaps lacks the international context of Sinclair's significance, and occasionally lacks depth on important subjects. Thus, while it is several times mentioned that Sinclair was widely read across Europe, that reception is ignored and the dialogue between Sinclair and European artists and thinkers is skipped (except when the European's went to him, as with Einstein and Eisenstein). Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and fascinating biography of Upton Sinclair 11 Aug 2006
By B. B. WHITEHEAD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was not familiar with the works of Upton Sinclair, but drawn to this book via a review in the New York Times. Sinclair was definitely a man out of sync with his times, as he would be if he were living now. I did not know that after many years as a socialist, he switched to the Democratic Party to run for Governor in California in 1934. He was involved in all types of progressive causes concerning labor/industry, the media, civil liberties, and health care. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his historical novel, Dragon's Teeth, which is a fictional account of the beginning of Adolph Hitler's Third Reich. I've tracked down a copy of that (now out of print) and am reading it due to the parallel with our time and the rise of what some are calling American fascism. (There, I've shown my hand). Nevertheless,

this biography is very well written and compelling. I took it with me on a beach vacation and had no problem finishing it.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Upton Sinclair the author of the Jungle is well served in this fine biography 11 Aug 2006
By C. M Mills - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dr. Anthony Arthur has written a superb biography of Upton

Sinclair (1878-1968) whose long, colorful and controversial career in writing novels and in California politics takes the

reader through the twentieth century.

Sinclair was born to a fading southern family with aristocratic pretensions in Baltimore. His father died a drunk;

he was not close to his mother. Sinclair grew up in New York

graduating from CCNY and attending the Columbia Law School. As

an only child he was coddled at home. Sinclair was an eccentric

who always had self confidence in his amazing intellectual gifts.

Sinclair married Meta Fuller in 1900 with the union producing a son David (who later became a scientist) They lived in tents in Princeton where Sinclair labored on his novels and articles.

The couple divorced after they both had several affairs. The

lifestyle of the Sinclairs was bohemian with the young family living in communal situations as Helicote in New Jersey

and others.

Sinclair would wed two more times in his long life. His reputation is solidly based on his expose of the meat industry in 1906's "The Jungle" and the Lanny Budd novels beginning with

"World's End". Sinclair won a Pulitzer Prize. He was a friend of

such luminaries as Albert Einstein; Jack London; HG Welles and

George Bernard Shaw. He dabbled in film work getting to know Chalrie Chaplin and many other directors and actors.

Sinclair was arrested several times for marching in union

protests. He was high strung and a man who valued his privacy.

He wrote several novels in his career but is little known by

the general public in the twenty- first century. He is often

confused with Sinclair Lewis.

Sinclair was the Democratic candidate for governor in California in 1934 promoting his End Poverty in California

agenda (EPIC). He was defeated by big business and the moguls of

Hollywood.

Upton Sinclair was an avid tennis player who enjoyed the outdoor life. He was tough, eccentric and blessed with a genius

for putting words on paper which the general public could comprehend.

This is a worthy biography for persons interested in American literature an history.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars hopelessly biased 30 Mar 2014
By maximilianus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book endlessly praises Sinclair's socialism, blindly ignoring his soft spot for Stalin and propaganda in the service if Marxism. Author is taken with his subject.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Haven't read it yet. 6 Jun 2013
By Robert Allen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I haven't read this work yet - but have read books written by Upton - so I want to know more about the influences that shaped his orientation. Sinclair Lewis in "It Can't Happen Here" (written in 1935) presents a rather scathing cratique of Upton - and I want to know why - since both were contemporary authors of an interesting period within American History.
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