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Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant, comes to America in search of a fortune for his family. He accepts the harsh realities of a working man's lot, laboring with naive vigor - until, his health and family sacrificed, he understands how the heavy wheels of the industrial machine can crush the strongest spirit.
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By Calliope on 02-11-14
THIS is an American Tragedy
I know it's not actually titled "An American Tragedy" (that's another classic), but this book really details a tragic life in tragic circumstances. In fact, I found it so painfully dismal, I had to stop half way through to listen to another book before coming back to it because it was so intense. Don't let that stop you, though, because it's a book well worth listening too.
It's best known as a muckraking book about the appalling conditions of the Chicago meatpacking plants at the turn of the 20th century, and almost all of the descriptions in the book were found to be true - and two important pieces of food safety legislation were enacted because of it. In fact, Upton Sinclair spent almost 2 months "undercover" working in the meatpacking plants before writing this book - which was originally published in installments.
What struck me more, though, was the horrific situation of the workers, not just in the meatpacking plants themselves, but also their housing and social situations. How new immigrants had been targeted in Europe and encouraged to come to work in the Chicago plants, lured with promises of a land of plenty -- only to find a different reality when they arrived unskilled, unable to speak English, and unprepared for the scam artists of an unregulated marketplace. Wickedly dangerous workplace conditions (resulting in gangrenous wounds, chemical burns, and respiratory failure), ridiculously crowded living conditions (sharing a mattress to sleep in shifts at the boarding house), and high district unemployment that resulted in men begging for work each morning and low wages.
Upton Sinclair, with his clearly socialist leanings in this book, says he aimed for the heart of his reader (with these depictions of unfairly harsh circumstances), but hit the readers' stomachs instead (with depiction of the meatpacking situations). I see that what he means, but truly it was my heart, not my stomach, that was hit by this book.
However, there are no heroes in this book - the hardworking, striving family man who is the protagonist becomes a vandal, mugger, thief, and corrupt political worker who abandoned his extended family after a tragic loss. The employers are corrupt, the unions are corrupt, the police force is corrupt........the only thing left to root for is the Dream itself (or Socialism, if you believe in Sinclair's premise). The book did inspire me to do a little more research and learn a bit more about Chicago at the time - about the Beef Trust, the Chicago freight tunnels, and the scandals, investigations, and legislation that came about because of the horrific practices of those meatpacking plants.
17 of 18 people found this review helpful
By Cheryl on 12-17-15
Life in the stock yards of Chicago in late 1800s
The corruption in the meat packing industry and in the government in Chicago in the late 1800s was very informative in this story. However, the last part of the book is just a long lecture about socialism and I kept waiting for the lecture to end, but it never did. That was the conclusion of the book!!
We never got to get back into the story itself about the Lithuanian immigrant named Jurgis. The conclusion was the preaching of Socialist principles. Very disappointing.
Narration, however, by George Guidall was excellent.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
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By Wras on 02-24-15
A red jungle, a heart of darkness in the city.
A book that will change you, and take you places you never knew existed, a book about the inhumanity of man towards man an animal. A Book that exposed the worst in capitalism and changed laws in the USA. A powerful indictment to greed and abuse for profit.
At the same time a demonstration that freedom of speech and expression can change things and will triumph over regimes that oppress the forces of change the fifth state.
Human nature is not what we would like it to be; so we need check and balances like this book or 1984 by Orwell; we need to expose our baser instincts confront them not as if they were the shortcomings of others but our own. This book is a must read, a warning from the past to the present and the future.
7 of 10 people found this review helpful
By Michele on 11-29-16
Profound, Amazing, Heartwrenching
Any additional comments?
This book has changed the way I think of the open market and the regulatory process. It shows the abuse of humans in a way comparable to slavery, and the easy and heartless way it was done. I also believe that these practices and the treatment of people in the US are still effected by their dire start in life. For example in the way US workers in the IT industries are not paid overtime and are expected to be available out of hours. Also the cut throat climbing of ladders. I couldn't however finish it. The audible version makes you hear every word of the text, whereas were you reading, there would be the option to skip any overly emotional sections, or at least skim them. The reading made me overly upset as the author, as was his aim, caused me to like these poor innocents, who were looking for a better life and found themselves in a trap.After about half of the book, i read the Wiki page about what happens and stopped listening.Even though i didn't get through it, this book has had a profound effect on the way i see the world. I feel like an innocent who's had their eyes opened, and i'm not a young person!
Anyway, I'm now reading Bridget Jones Mad about the boy to get my spirits back up
2 of 3 people found this review helpful