The most common comment about The Jungle is that it was a primary factor in the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. That was all the information I had when I first read it about twenty years ago. It turned out to be a powerful novel about immigrants and their treatment at the hands of businesses, especially in the Chicago meatpacking industry. This is a book well worth reading. I recommend it for any book club because it IS going to engender a lively and perhaps controversial discussion.
I already owned the book in a second edition, but when I saw this new edition from Penguin Classics I bought it. PC editions of classics, especially these Deluxe ones with thick paper covers, rich paper, French flaps, and exquisite designs are among the most beautiful books being issued today--especially when one considers that they are paperbacks. They are worth owning if you appreciate the work and beauty of cover design. What makes this one exceptional is the back cover (which Amazon allows you to see); I recommend checking it out . . . but probably not while eating.
Eric Schlosser wrote the foreword, and it is an excellent essay. He tackles the human interest aspect of the story which is, after all, why Sinclair originally wrote it. To see that things from both a human perspective as well as a food one, have pretty much returned to, just over 100 years after the book's publication, is devastating. Equally compelling is the Introduction by Ronald Gottesman, who shares Sinclair's history as well as that of the book's coming of age and its impact. These two essays add a rich complexity to this particular edition, making it, in its own way, even better than my original edition.
Also included after the Introdiuction, are two-and-a-half pages of "Suggestions for Further Reading" that are well worth considering. It's a shame, really, that The Jungle has been pretty much forgotten as a novel because its dual components--how we treat not just immigrants but our fellow human beings, and how we sacrificing our food quality and cleanliness to cheapness--is very much a part of the twenty-first century. Do we really not want to understand our past? Or do we just prefer to repeat it?