Upton Sinclair

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Upton Sinclair
Born Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr.
September 20, 1878(1878-09-20)
Baltimore, Maryland
Died November 25, 1968 (aged 90)
Bound Brook, New Jersey
Nationality American
Occupation Novelist, writer, journalist, political activist, politician
Spouse(s) Meta Fuller (1902–11)
Mary Craig Kimbrough, (1913–61)
Mary Elizabeth Willis (1961–67)

Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968), was an American author who wrote close to one hundred books in many genres. He achieved popularity in the first half of the twentieth century, acquiring particular fame for his classic muckraking novel, The Jungle (1906). It exposed conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, causing a public uproar that contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.[1] In 1919, he published The Brass Check, a muckraking exposé of American journalism that publicized the issue of yellow journalism and the limitations of the “free press” in the United States. Four years after the initial publication of The Brass Check, the first code of ethics for journalists was created.[2] Time magazine called him "a man with every gift except humor and silence."[3] In 1943, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Sinclair also ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Socialist, and was the Democratic Party nominee for Governor of California in 1934, though his highly progressive campaign was defeated decisively.

Early life and education

Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Upton Beall Sinclair and Priscilla Harden. His father was a liquor salesman whose alcoholism shadowed his son's childhood. Priscilla Harden Sinclair was a strict Episcopalian who disliked alcohol, tea, and coffee. Sinclair did not get along with her when he became older because of her strict rules and refusal to allow him independence. Sinclair told his son David that around his sixteenth year he decided not to have anything to do with her and stayed away from her for 35 years because a controversy would start if they met.[4] Her lineage was of great affluence. Her parents were very prosperous in Baltimore and her sister married a millionaire. Sinclair had wealthy grandparents with whom he often stayed. This gave him insight into how both the rich and the poor lived during the late nineteenth century. Living in two social settings affected him and greatly influenced his books. Upton Beall Sinclair Sr. was also from a highly respected family in the south, but due to the Civil War and Reconstruction, the family's wealth evaporated and the family became ruined.

Growing up, Upton Sinclair's family would move around continuously due to the fact that Sinclair Sr. wasn't successful. Sinclair Jr. developed a love for reading at an early age of five years old. He read every book that his mother owned for a deeper understanding of the world. In 1888, the Sinclair family moved to Queens, New York, where his father sold shoes and where Sinclair entered the City College of New York, five days before his fourteenth birthday.[5] He wrote jokes, dime novels and magazine articles in boy's weekly and pulp magazines to pay for his tuition.[6]

He graduated in 1897 and then studied for a time at Columbia University.[7] His major was Law, but he was more interested in writing, and he learned several languages including Spanish, German and French. He supported himself through college by writing boys' adventure stories and jokes. Using stenographers, he wrote up to 8,000 words of pulp fiction per day. After leaving Columbia, he wrote four commercially unsuccessful, though critically well-received books, King Midas (1901), Prince Hagen (1902), The Journal of Arthur Stirling (1903) and a Civil War novel entitled Manassas (1904).


File:Upton sinclar 1.jpg
Upton Sinclair early in his career.
File:Upton sinclair white suit black armband picketing rockefeller bldg.jpg
Upton Sinclair wearing a white suit and black armband, picketing the Rockefeller Building in New York City.

In 1904, Sinclair spent seven weeks in disguise, working undercover in Chicago's meatpacking plants to research his political fiction exposé, The Jungle. When it was published two years later, it became a bestseller. With the income from The Jungle, Sinclair founded the utopian Helicon Home Colony in Englewood, New Jersey. He ran as a Socialist candidate for Congress.[8][9] The colony burned down under suspicious circumstances within a year.[10]

During his years with his second wife, Mary Craig, Sinclair wrote or produced several films. Recruited by Charlie Chaplin, Sinclair and Mary Craig produced Eisenstein's ¡Qué viva México! in 1930–32.[11]

The Sinclairs moved to California in the 1920s and lived there for nearly four decades. Late in life Sinclair, with his third wife, moved to Buckeye, Arizona, and then to Bound Brook, New Jersey. Sinclair died there in a nursing home on November 25, 1968.[12] He is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., next to his third wife, Mary Willis, who had died a year before him.

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Upton Sinclair selling the "Fig Leaf Edition" of his book Oil! in Boston
File:President Lyndon B. Johnson greets Upton Sinclair.jpg
President Lyndon B. Johnson greets Upton Sinclair as others look on.
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Sinclair's grave in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Aside from his political and social writings, Sinclair took an interest in occult phenomena and experimented with telepathy. His book entitled Mental Radio was published in 1930 and included accounts of his wife Mary's telepathic experiences and ability.[13][14] William McDougall read the book and wrote an introduction to it. It led him to establish the parapsychology department at Duke University.

The Upton Sinclair House in Monrovia, California, is now a National Historic Landmark.[15] The papers, photographs, and first editions of most of Sinclair's books are found at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington.[16]

Political career

In the 1920s the Sinclairs moved to Monrovia, California, near Los Angeles, where Sinclair founded the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Wanting to pursue politics, he twice ran unsuccessfully for United States Congress on the Socialist ticket: in 1920 for the House of Representatives and in 1922 for the Senate. During this period, Sinclair was also active in radical politics in Los Angeles. For instance, in 1923, to support the challenged free speech rights of Industrial Workers of the World, Sinclair spoke at a rally in San Pedro, California, in a neighborhood now known as Liberty Hill. He began to read from the Bill of Rights and was promptly arrested, along with hundreds of others, by the LAPD. The arresting officer proclaimed that "we'll have none of that Constitution stuff."[17]

In 1934, Sinclair ran in the California gubernatorial election as a Democrat. Gaining 879,000 votes made this his most successful run for office, but Frank F. Merriam defeated him by a sizable margin,[18] gaining 1,138,000 votes.[19] Sinclair's platform, known as the End Poverty in California movement (EPIC), galvanized the support of the Democratic Party, and Sinclair gained its nomination.[20]

Sinclair's plan to end poverty quickly became a controversial issue under the pressure of so many migrants to California because of the Dust bowl. Conservatives considered his proposal an attempted communist takeover of their state and quickly opposed him, using propaganda to portray Sinclair as a staunch communist. Sinclair had been a member of the Socialist Party from 1902 to 1934, when he became a Democrat, though always considering himself a Socialist in spirit.[21] At the same time, American and Soviet communists disassociated themselves from him, considering him a capitalist.[22] Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein was deeply involved in Sinclair's campaign, although he attempted to move away from the stance later in his life.[23]

After his loss to Merriam, Sinclair abandoned EPIC and politics to return to writing. In 1935 he published I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked, in which he described the techniques employed by Merriam's supporters, including the then popular Aimee Semple McPherson, who vehemently opposed socialism and what she perceived as Sinclair's modernism.

Of his gubernatorial bid, Sinclair remarked in 1951:
The American People will take Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to 'End Poverty in California' I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them.[24]

Personal life

In 1902, Sinclair married Meta Fuller, who had been a childhood friend and whose family was one of the First Families of Virginia. The couple had a child named David, born on December 1, 1901.Template:SfnTemplate:Page needed Around 1911, Meta left Sinclair for the poet Harry Kemp, later known as the Dunes Poet of Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In 1913, Sinclair married Mary Craig Kimbrough (1883–1961), a woman from an elite Greenwood, Mississippi, family who had written articles and a book on Winnie Davis, the daughter of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. He met her when she attended a lecture by him about The Jungle.Template:Sfn In the 1920s, they moved to California. They were married until her death in 1961.

After Craig's death in 1961, Sinclair married Mary Elizabeth Willis (1882–1967).

Sinclair was opposed to sex outside of marriage and he viewed marital relations as only necessary for procreation.Template:Sfn He told his first wife Meta that only the birth of a child gave marriage "dignity and meaning".Template:Sfn Despite his beliefs, he had an adulterous affair with Anna Noyes during his marriage to Meta, writing an unpublished novel about the affair called Love's Progress, a sequel to Love's Pilgrimage.Template:Sfn His wife then had an affair with John Armistead Collier, a theology student from Memphis, from which they had a child named Ben.Template:Sfn

He believed Christianity to be a religion that favoured the rich and promoted a drop of standards and he was therefore against it.[25]


Sinclair devoted his writing career to documenting and criticizing the social and economic conditions of the early twentieth century in both fiction and non-fiction. He exposed his view of the injustices of capitalism and the overwhelming impact of the poverty. He also edited collections of fiction and non-fiction.

The Jungle

His novel based on the meatpacking industry in Chicago, The Jungle, was first published in serial form in the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason, from February 25, 1905 to November 4, 1905. It was published as a book by Doubleday in 1906.[26]

Sinclair had spent about six months investigating the Chicago meatpacking industry for Appeal to Reason, work which inspired his novel. Sinclair intended to "set forth the breaking of human hearts by a system which exploits the labor of men and women for profit".[27] The novel featured Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who works in a meat factory in Chicago, his teenage wife Ona Lukoszaite, and their extended family. Sinclair portrays their mistreatment by Rudkus' employers and the wealthier elements of society. His descriptions of the unsanitary and inhumane conditions that workers suffered served to shock and galvanize readers. Jack London called Sinclair's book "the Uncle Tom's Cabin of wage slavery".[28] Domestic and foreign purchases of American meat fell by half.[29]

Sinclair wrote in Cosmopolitan Magazine in October 1906 about The Jungle: "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."[3] The novel brought public support for Congressional legislation and government regulation of the industry, including passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.[30][31] At the time, President Theodore Roosevelt characterized Sinclair as a "crackpot",[32] writing to William Allen White, "I have an utter contempt for him. He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth."[33] After reading The Jungle, Roosevelt agreed with some of Sinclair's conclusions but was opposed to legislation that he considered "socialist." He said, "[R]adical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist."[34]

The Brass Check

In The Brass Check, Sinclair made a systematic and incriminating critique of the severe limitations of the “free press” in the United States. Among the topics covered is the use of yellow journalism techniques created by William Randolph Hearst. Sinclair called The Brass Check "the most important and most dangerous book I have ever written."[35]

Sylvia novels

  • Sylvia (1913) was a novel about a Southern girl. In her autobiography, Mary Craig Sinclair said she had written the book based on her own experiences as a girl, and Upton collaborated with her.[lower-alpha 1] She asked him to publish it under his name.[37] When it appeared in 1913, the New York Times called it "the best novel Mr. Sinclair has yet written–so much the best that it stands in a class by itself."[38]
  • Sylvia's Marriage (1914), Craig and Sinclair collaborated on a sequel, also published by John C. Winston Company under only Sinclair's name.[39] In his 1962 autobiography, Upton Sinclair wrote: "[Mary] Craig had written some tales of her Southern girlhood; and I had stolen them from her for a novel to be called Sylvia."[40]

The Lanny Budd series

Between 1940 and 1953, Sinclair wrote a series of 11 novels featuring a central character named Lanny Budd. The son of an American arms manufacturer, Budd is portrayed as holding in the confidence of world leaders, and not simply witnessing events but often propelling them. As a sophisticated socialite, who mingles easily with people from all cultures and socioeconomic classes, Budd has been characterized as the antithesis of the stereotyped "Ugly American".[41]

Sinclair placed Budd within the important political events in the United States and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Today out of print and nearly forgotten, the novels were bestsellers upon publication and were published in translation, appearing in twenty-one countries. The third book in the series, Dragon's Teeth (1942), won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1943.[42]

The Lanny Budd series includes: Template:Colbegin


Other works

Sinclair was keenly interested in health and nutrition. He experimented with various diets, and with fasting. He wrote about this in his book, The Fasting Cure (1911), another bestseller.[43] He believed that periodic fasting was important for health, saying, "I had taken several fasts of ten or twelve days' duration, with the result of a complete making over of my health".[44]

Sinclair favored a raw food diet of predominantly vegetables and nuts. For long periods of time, he was a complete vegetarian, but he also experimented with eating meat. His attitude to these matters was fully explained in the chapter “The Use of Meat” in the above-mentioned book.[45]

Later references to Sinclair

Sinclair is extensively featured in Harry Turtledove's American Empire trilogy, an alternate history in which the American Socialist Party succeeds in becoming a major force in U.S. politics following two humiliating military defeats to the Confederate States and the post-1882 collapse of the Republican Party, with Abraham Lincoln leading a large number of Republicans into the Socialist Party. He wins the 1920 and 1924 presidential elections and becomes the first Socialist President of the United States, his inauguration attended by crowds of jubilant militants waving red flags. However, the actual policies which Turtledove attributes to him, once in power, are not particularly radical.[citation needed]

Sinclair is featured as one of the main characters in Chris Bachelder's satirical fictional book, U.S.!: a Novel. Repeatedly, Sinclair is resurrected as a personification of the contemporary failings of the American left and portrayed as a quixotic reformer attempting to stir an apathetic American public to implement socialism in America.[46]

Upton Sinclair and his EPIC plan are referred to by Sinclair Lewis in his 1935 novel, It Can't Happen Here.

Upton Sinclair and his wife Meta are referred to by Joyce Carol Oates in her 2013 novel, The Accursed.



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See also


  1. According to Craig, at her insistence Sinclair published Sylvia (1913) under his name. In her 1957 memoir, she described how she and her husband had collaborated on the work: "Upton and I struggled through several chapters of Sylvia together, disagreeing about something on every page. But now and then each of us admitted that the other had improved something. I was learning fast now that this novelist was not much of a psychologist. He thought of characters in a book merely as vehicles for carrying his ideas."[36]


  1. The Jungle: Upton Sinclair's Roar Is Even Louder to Animal Advocates Today, Humane Society of the United States, March 10, 2006, http://www.hsus.org/farm/news/ournews/the_jungle_roar.html, retrieved June 10, 2010 [dead link]
  2. "Upton Sinclair", Press in America, PB works, http://pressinamerica.pbworks.com/w/page/18360241/Upton%20Sinclair .
  3. 3.0 3.1 Uppie's Goddess"Books", Time, November 18, 1957, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,868072,00.html, retrieved November 6, 2010 .
  4. Derrick, Scott (2002), Bloom, Harold, ed., What a Beating Feels Like Authorship Dissolution, and Masculinity in Sinclair's The Jungle, Infobase, pp. 131–32 .
  5. Sinclair, Upton, "Joslyn T Pine Note", in Negri, Paul, The Jungle, Dover Thrift, pp. vii–viii .
  6. Sinclair, Upton (1906). "What Life Means to Me". The Cosmopolitan. Schlicht & Field. pp. 591ff. http://books.google.com/books?id=vHJBAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA591-IA3. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  7. "Upton Sinclair", Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/545642/Upton-Sinclair, retrieved June 16, 2010 .
  8. "Upton Sinclair's Colony To Live At Helicon Hall. Luxury In Co-Operation And There May Be Some Compromises Just At First" (PDF). The New York Times. 7 October 1906. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9E05E3DE1631E733A25754C0A9669D946797D6CFD6CF. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  9. Paulin, LRE (March 1907). "Simplified Housekeeping: The Present Quarters of Upton Sinclair's Colony At Englewood, New Jersey". Indoors and Out: the Homebuilder's Magazine III (6): 288–92. http://books.google.com/?id=P0BAAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA288. Retrieved 2009-08-16. 
  10. "Fire Wipes Out Helicon Hall, And Upton Sinclair Hints That the Steel Trust's Hand May Be In It" (PDF). The New York Times. 17 March 1907. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9406E5DB163EE233A25754C1A9659C946697D6CF. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  11. Dashiell, Chris (1998), "Eisenstein's Mexican Dream", Cinescene, http://www.cinescene.com/dash/eisenstein2.htm, retrieved June 16, 2010 .
  12. "Upton Sinclair, Author, Dead", The New York Times, November 26, 1968, http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F4071FFA3A541B7B93C4AB178AD95F4C8685F9&, retrieved July 22, 2010 .
  13. Gardner, Martin (1957), Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science, Courier Dover, pp. 309–10 , Google Books.
  14. (Books) Mental Radio, Google, http://books.google.com/books?id=4sbmCMiXmo8C&, retrieved July 25, 2010 .
  15. "Upton Sinclair House". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1076&ResourceType=Building. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  16. "Upton Sinclair (1878–1968)". Lilly Library Collections. Indiana University Bloomington. http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/overview/sinclair.shtml. 
  17. Robert Gottlieb, Mark Vallianatos, Regina M. Freer, and Peter Dreier (2005). The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City (second ed.). Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-25009-3. 
  18. Sinclair, Upton. "End Poverty in California The EPIC Movement", The Literary Digest, 13 Oct 1934
  19. Bread Upon The Waters, ch. 31, by Rose Pesotta, 1945
  20. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, The Nation 1865-1990, p. 80, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1990 ISBN 1-56025-001-1
  21. Alden Whitman, Rebel With a Cause, New York Times, November 26, 1968
  22. Greg Mitchell, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair and the EPIC Campaign in California (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991)
  23. Patterson, William H. Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve New York: Tor Books, 2010; pp. 187-205, 527-530, and passim
  24. Spartacus Educational: "Socialist Party of America," Upton Sinclair, letter to Norman Thomas (25th September, 1951), accessed June 10, 2010
  25. Page 270 of Mammonart by Upton Sinclair
  26. "The Jungle", History News Network
  27. ^ Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle, Dover Thrift Editions, General Editor Paul Negri; Editor of The Jungle, Joslyn T Pine. Note: pp. vii-viii
  28. http://www.socalhistory.org/bios/upton_sinclair.html
  29. PBS: "Sinclair's 'The Jungle' Turns 100", PBS Newshour, 10 May 2006, accessed 10 June 2010
  30. Marcus, p. 131
  31. Bloom, Harold. Ed., 'Upton Sinclair's The Jungle,' Infobase Publishing, 2002, p. 11
  32. Fulton Oursler, Behold This Dreamer! (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964), p. 417
  33. Roosevelt, Theodore (1951–54), "July 31, 1906", in Morison, Elting E, The Letters, 5, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 340 .
  34. "Upton Sinclair, The Jungle", Spartacus, UK: School net, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jupton.htm .
  35. "Upton Sinclair & The Jungle", Socialist standard (World socialism) (1227), Nov 2006, http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2000s/2006/no-1227-november-2006/upton-sinclair-and-jungle .
  36. Sinclair, Mary Craig, Southern Belle, pp. 106–8, 111–2, 129–32, 142; quote 111–2 .
  37. Prenshaw, Peggy W, "Sinclair, Mary Craig Kimbrough", in Lloyd, James B (Google Books), Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817–1967, pp. 409–10, http://books.google.com/books?id=RfXGJBB1HvoC&pg=PA409&, retrieved November 9, 2010 .
  38. "'Sylvia': Mr. Upton Sinclair's Novel upon a Much-Discussed Theme", The New York Times, 25 May 1913, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30B10F93B5F13738DDDAC0A94DD405B838DF1D3, retrieved November 6, 2010 
  39. Southern Belle, p. 146 .
  40. Upton Sinclair, The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962, pp. 180, 195
  41. Salamon, Julie (22 July 2005). "Upton Sinclair: Revisit to Old Hero Finds He's Still Lively". New York Times: Books. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/22/books/22sala.html. Retrieved 21 January 2010. 
  42. Brennan, Elizabeth A.; Clarage, Elizabeth C. (1999). Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Phoenix: Oryx Press. p. 493. ISBN 978-1-57356-111-2. http://books.google.com/books?id=63nvmt4HqTEC&pg=PA493. Retrieved 29 November 2011. 
  43. "'The Fasting Cure', by Upton Sinclair", Soil and Health
  44. "Perfect Health!" (chapter), The Fasting Cure, at Soil and Health
  45. "The Use of Meat" (chapter). The Fasting Cure, at Soil and Health
  46. L'Official, Peter. "Left Behind". The Village Voice (Villagevoice.com) (14 February 2006). http://www.villagevoice.com/books/0608,lofficial,72231,10.html. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  47. "The Jungle (1914)", Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0004182/, retrieved July 1, 2010 .
  48. "The Jungle (1914)", The New York Times, http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/97443/The-Jungle/overview, retrieved July 1, 2010 .
  49. "The Gnome-Mobile", Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061715/, retrieved June 10, 2010 .
  50. "There Will Be Blood", Internet Movie Database, 2007, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0469494/ .
  51. New York : Weekly Masses Co.


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Further reading

  • Arthur, Anthony (2006), Radical Innocent Upton Sinclair, New York: Random House .
  • William A. Bloodworth, Jr., Upton Sinclair. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977.
  • Lauren Coodley, editor, The Land of Orange Groves and Jails: Upton Sinclair's California. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2004.
  • Lauren Coodley, Upton Sinclair: California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.
  • Engs, Ruth Clifford, [Ed] Unseen Upton Sinclair: Nine Unpublished Stories, Essays and Other Works. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. 2009.
  • Ronald Gottesman, Upton Sinclair: An Annotated Checklist. Kent State University Press, 1973.
  • Leon Harris, Upton Sinclair, American Rebel. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1975.
  • Kevin Mattson, Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2006.
  • Greg Mitchell, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair and the EPIC Campaign in California. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991.
  • Kerwin Swint, Mudslingers: The Twenty-five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.
  • Jon A. Yoder, Upton Sinclair. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975.
  • Martin Zanger, "Upton Sinclair as California's Socialist Candidate for Congress, 1920," Southern California Quarterly, vol. 56, no. 4 (Winter 1974), pp. 359–73.

External links

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