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How to Hate Oil

Edmund Gordon: On Upton Sinclair, 4 January 2024

by Upton Sinclair.
Penguin, 572 pp., £15.99, January, 978 0 14 313744 3
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... Upton Sinclair​ was born in 1878 to a Baltimore family of rapidly diminishing respectability. His father was a whisky salesman who drank a good deal more than he ever managed to sell. When things got especially bad, Sinclair’s mother would seek refuge in the home of her own father, who was secretary-treasurer of the Western Maryland Railroad, or that of her sister, who was married to one of the richest men in Baltimore ...

Let’s talk class again

Thomas Frank: Demons on the Left!, 21 March 2002

Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes how the Media Distort the News 
by Bernard Goldberg.
Regnery, 234 pp., $27.95, December 2001, 0 89526 190 1
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... than Democrats do.) Media ownership was the starting point for press critics as different as Upton Sinclair (The Brass Check, published in 1919, compared journalists to prostitutes), George Seldes (author of the energetic 1938 exposé Lords of the Press), A.J. Liebling (the New Yorker’s sedentary press columnist) and Edmund Wilson, writing in 1932 ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Mank’, 21 January 2021

... and indeed in what is the best of the film’s several set-pieces. The year is 1934 and Upton Sinclair is running as a socialist for governor of California against the Republican Frank Merriam. Merriam is strongly supported by certain sections of Hollywood, led by Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM. Mank, of course, is an old-fashioned leftie ...

Running on Empty

Christopher Hitchens: The Wrong Stuff, 7 January 1999

A Man in Full 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 742 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 224 03036 1
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... demonstrates in the agonising White-Jordan dialogue above), Wolfe did not find room to recommend Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle. He cited Sinclair Lewis, who is often confused with his near-namesake, but did not even allude to the author who briefly revolutionised American reading habits, and who also made the ...

Reel after Seemingly Needless Reel

Tony Wood: Eisenstein in Mexico, 3 December 2009

In Excess: Sergei Eisenstein’s Mexico 
by Masha Salazkina.
Chicago, 221 pp., £27.50, April 2009, 978 0 226 73414 9
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... to the Soviet Union, having fallen out spectacularly with the film’s sponsors, the novelist Upton Sinclair and his wife, Mary Craig Sinclair. There followed years of acrimonious wrangling over the miles of film he had shot. By the time Eisenstein died in 1948, other filmmakers had carved two features and several ...

Talking More, Lassooing Less

Michael Rogin, 19 June 1997

American Original: A Life of Will Rogers 
by Ray Robinson.
Oxford, 288 pp., $30, January 1997, 0 19 508693 7
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... both chose political targets, Rogers did not want to give offence. In 1934 the former socialist Upton Sinclair won the Democratic primary for governor of California as the leader of EPIC, a mass movement to End Poverty in California. Sinclair terrified the rich, Hollywood moguls prominent among them. As Gregg ...


Christopher Hitchens, 19 October 1995

Palimpsest: A Memoir 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 432 pp., £17.99, October 1995, 0 233 98891 2
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... their prospective clients in this way? Elsewhere among the crosses and headstones one may find Upton Sinclair, Nobel laureate and defeated Socialist candidate for the governorship of California, Alice Warfield Mien (mother of Wallis Simpson) and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, grande dame of Washington dynastic bitchery. (She had a motto emblazoned on her ...


Malcolm Bull, 6 January 1994

The Road to Wellville 
by T. Coraghessan Boyle.
Granta, 476 pp., £14.99, October 1993, 9780140142419
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The Collected Stories 
by T. Coraghessan Boyle.
Granta, 621 pp., £9.99, October 1993, 9780140140767
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... of ‘Organised Rest’. As the visitors included celebrities such as John D. Rockefeller Jr, Upton Sinclair, Percy Grainger and the explorer Roald Amundsen, becoming a patient at the sanitarium held a social as well as a therapeutic attraction. Kellogg fostered this aspect of Battle Creek life by organising a constant round of concerts, lectures and ...

The Power of Sunshine

Alexander Cockburn, 10 January 1991

City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles 
by Mike Davis.
Verso, 462 pp., £18.95, November 1990, 0 86091 303 1
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... panic no less than 100,000 bedrock Republicans crossed the lines in 1934 to vote for the socialist Upton Sinclair in his gubernatorial campaign conducted under the slogan ‘End poverty in California’. Four years later, the tide turned and the Midwestern retirees were bellowing ‘Ham and eggs’ – the rallying-cry of a bizarre pension-reform movement ...

Taking back America

Anatol Lieven: The right-wing backlash, 2 December 2004

What’s the Matter with America? The Resistible Rise of the American Right 
by Thomas Frank.
Secker, 306 pp., £12, September 2004, 0 436 20539 4
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... The new industries there, with their legions of immigrant workers, would have seemed familiar to Upton Sinclair and the crusading progressives at the start of the last century: bad working conditions, rigorous discouragement of trade unions, and a lack of social infrastructure in neighbouring towns – in part because the tax breaks needed to attract ...


Neal Ascherson, 8 February 1996

The Collected Works of John Reed 
Modern Library, 937 pp., $20, February 1995, 0 679 60144 9Show More
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... but his campaigns against local corruption in Oregon brought him the respect and friendship of Upton Sinclair and Lincoln Steffens, the last giants of the ‘Muckraker’ generation of American fiction and journalism which was already – by about 1910 – in decline. Steffens, especially, became a sort of literary and political godfather to young ...

Train Loads of Ammunition

Philip Horne, 1 August 1985

Immoral Memories 
by Sergei Eisenstein, translated by Herbert Marshall.
Peter Owen, 292 pp., £20, June 1985, 0 7206 0650 0
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A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema: 1930-1980 
by Robert Ray.
Princeton, 409 pp., £48.50, June 1985, 0 691 04727 8
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by David Thomson.
Secker, 274 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 436 52014 1
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Cahiers du Cinéma. Vol. I: The 1950s. Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave 
edited by Jim Hillier.
Routledge with the British Film Institute, 312 pp., £16.95, March 1985, 0 7100 9620 8
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... hackings-down of Que viva Mexico! by its cinematically ignorant and over-suspicious producer Upton Sinclair, the disapproval of Stalin and ‘the years, following the Mexican trauma, when I could not make films’, the Stalinist proscription of Bezhin Meadow (1937) and prescriptions of Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1940-1945), the ...

Paper or Plastic?

John Sutherland: Richard Powers, 10 August 2000

by Richard Powers.
Heinemann, 355 pp., £15.99, March 2000, 0 434 00862 1
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... more or less by religious extremists’, become ‘this nation of insane consumerism’? Unlike Upton Sinclair and Dos Passos (clear influences on Gain) he doesn’t impose an answering thesis on the narrative, which ends with a twist which is, even for Powers, supremely ironic. Gain is more deeply felt than anything else Powers has written. He records ...

So long, Lalitha

James Lever: Franzen’s Soap Opera, 7 October 2010

by Jonathan Franzen.
Fourth Estate, 562 pp., £20, September 2010, 978 0 00 726975 4
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... materialist mother and Marxist father are. Franzen’s work values these schema: it belongs to an Upton Sinclair tradition where a neat knot of ironies summing up the interconnections of the capitalist system is considered an ideal plot. Thus, the oil and gas man who wants to establish a refuge for a threatened songbird turns out to have a corporate ...

If on a winter’s night a cyclone

Thomas Jones: ‘The Great Derangement’, 18 May 2017

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable 
by Amitav Ghosh.
Chicago, 176 pp., £15.50, September 2016, 978 0 226 32303 9
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... counterexamples (from seven languages) Ghosh cites War and Peace, Moby-Dick and the work of Zola, Upton Sinclair and half a dozen Indian writers: Adwaita Mallabarman, Mahasweta Devi, Sivarama Karanth, Gopinath Mohanty, Vishwas Patil. (He could also have quoted Henry Fielding, who claimed in Tom Jones to ‘describe … not an individual, but a ...

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