Remember The Past: Suggested Readings Series
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
— George Santayana
These words of George Santayana, written in 1913, profoundly express the historical idea that progress can only be attained and maintained if we remember the past. This is especially true today in the United States and other countries, as reactionaries in many countries try to reestablish societies with living conditions that regressively date back to a century or more ago.
One of the best ways to remember the past and to compare it to the present is to read the literature of past eras: fiction, poetry, and plays that bring to life the social conditions of those days. Then, as the reader, you can ask yourself: what has really changed since then? Are we better or worse off as a society? If better, in what ways? If worse, in what ways? What still needs to be done for the good of society?
The Remember The Past: Suggested Readings Series is dedicated to helping readers answer these questions. In this series, we offer works by authors who may have been forgotten, but whose writings give us vivid pictures of what it was like to be an American in previous historical eras.
With these goals in mind, Laughing Fire Press is offering the first three works in this series: The Octopus, a novel by Frank Norris; The Moneychangers, a novel by Upton Sinclair, and The Iron Heel, a novel by Jack London. These books are offered to our readers for free in ebook and audiobook versions, courtesy of The Gutenberg Project and Librivox, and are available for download through links from this webpage.
The Octopus, published in 1901, may be considered to be one of the top candidates for the Great American Novel. Epic in scope, it tells the story of the conflict between wheat farmers trying to make a living and the railroad, a rising monopoly trying to control the farmers’ lands. It is rich in characterizations and details of the time, passion, romance, social criticism, and has a moral focus. Influenced by the French school of naturalist writing, Norris sharply depicts an era when corporate greed and governmental corruption rule and individuals suffer under the boot of the system.
The Moneychangers, published in 1908 and written by the author of The Jungle, is a fictionalized account of the bank panic of 1907 and tells the story of how bankers manipulated the banking system to push the system into crisis until they were “too big to fail” and had to be bailed out by the federal government at terms that were so favorable they were able to make an enormous profit by their actions. Remember the banking crisis of 2008? Sound familiar? The story unfolds slowly and is told from the perspective of a young and rather naïve lawyer who learns about the unscrupulous and corrupt activities of heads of leading banks and corporations from members of the financial community who unabashedly recount these activities to him.
The Iron Heel, by the author of White Fang, The Sea-Wolf, and The Call of the Wild, was published in 1908. It is an alternative history of the years just preceding, during, and after World War I, in which corporate oligarchies rise throughout the world and ruthlessly control commerce and governments and are met with revolts for freedom by the oligarchies’ oppressed workers. The major conceit of this novel is that it is told by one of the revolutionaries in the form of an historical account of the era, the account being found several hundred years later when a brotherhood of man has been established on Earth and read by the novel’s narrator, who also interjects footnotes so that the reader can understand the historical events described in the discovered manuscript. It is a chilling and plausible story of what could happen in the not-too-distant future. The Iron Heel is considered to be one of the first dystopian novels.
Dos Passos, J., Three Soldiers, 1921; USA Trilogy: 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), The Big Money (1936)
Dreiser, T., The Financier (1912)
DuBois, W.E.B., Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911)
Ford, F.M., The Good Soldier (1915)
Lewis, S., The Job (1917), Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), It Can’t Happen Here (1935)
Lippman, W., A Preface to Politics (1913), Public Opinion (1922)
London, J., War of the Classes (1905), The Valley of the Moon (1913)
Mencken, H.L. and Nathan, G.J., The American Credo (1920)
Owen, W., Poems of Wilfred Owen (1921); Several other editions of his poetry are also available.
Sandburg, C., Chicago Poems (1916)
Sassoon, S., The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon (1919)
Sinclair, U., The Jungle (1906), The Overman (1907), The Metropolis (1908), The Machine (a play) (1912), King Coal (1917)