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The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle exposes the horrors of the early-20th-century meat-packing industry in Chicago through the story of Lithuanian immigrants, Jurgis Rudkus and his extended family, who arrive in the city looking for social and economic opportunity. It doesn't take long for their optimism to turn dark as they confront an unending string of almost unbelievable injustices and hardships embedded in a system set up to enrich the slaughterhouse owners and their business and political cronies. Sinclair learned about the stockyards and the tragic stories of the unfortunates who worked there by living and laboring among people like the fictional Rudkuses. The book almost overwhelms the reader with tales of injustice to workers and consumers alike, and it includes a graphic discussion of the cruelties visited upon the thousands of animals funneled daily into the yards for slaughter.

The hopeless situations Sinclair presents in The Jungle are redeemed by his compelling writing style and the reader's knowledge that upon publication in 1906 the book became a best-seller and aroused public anger that led to passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, and establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.

Beyond its focus on cruelty to humans and animals, the book offers a detailed look at the early years of the United States' economic boom. Looking at today's struggles between business and consumer that we read about almost daily, it's possible to draw parallels to a time when the greed of big business stood untamed and there was little concern about how the era would be represented in history books.