A revelatory look at the life of the great American author—and how it shaped his most beloved works
Jack London was born a working class, fatherless Californian in 1876. In his youth, he was a boundlessly energetic adventurer on the bustling West Coast—an oyster pirate, a hobo, a sailor, and a prospector by turns. He spent his brief life rapidly accumulating the experiences that would inform his acclaimed bestselling books The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea-Wolf.
The bare outlines of his story suggest a classic rags-to-riches tale, but London the man was plagued by contradictions. He chronicled nature at its most savage, but wept helplessly at the deaths of his favorite animals. At his peak the highest paid writer in the United States, he was nevertheless forced to work under constant pressure for money. An irrepressibly optimistic crusader for social justice and a lover of humanity, he was also subject to spells of bitter invective, especially as his health declined. Branded by shortsighted critics as little more than a hack who produced a couple of memorable dog stories, he left behind a voluminous literary legacy, much of it ripe for rediscovery.
In Jack London: An American Life, the noted Jack London scholar Earle Labor explores the brilliant and complicated novelist lost behind the myth—at once a hard-living globe-trotter and a man alive with ideas, whose passion for seeking new worlds to explore never waned until the day he died. Returning London to his proper place in the American pantheon, Labor resurrects a major American novelist in his full fire and glory.
This engrossing biography paints a sympathetic (though not uncritical) portrait of London's dynamic ambition and energy. Born in San Francisco in 1876 to an impoverished single mother, London (White Fang) took up factory work to support his household while still a child, and by age 18 had worked as an oyster pirate, sailor, and rail-riding hobo. Omnivorous reading and sporadic education fueled his desire to write, and a year spent surviving the Yukon Gold Rush (1897 1898) provided him with inspiration for his earliest nonfiction and fiction. As rendered by Labor (The Portable Jack London), London's official biographer and curator of the Jack London Museum in Shreveport, La., London was a complex and often contradictory individual a writer who turned every experience into literary fodder; who disciplined himself to produce 1,000 words per day; and whose by-his-bootstraps lifestyle fueled his devotion to socialism and social justice. But London's enthusiasms also had their dark side: he was a reckless spendthrift who had to churn out mountains of copy for pay to stay ahead of his creditors; he was an incautious celebrity whose public exploits often made him tabloid fodder; and he was a free spirit who could be self-destructive at times. Here, London emerges as a rugged adventurer with a soft heart, and a larger-than-life character who might have figured as the hero in one of his own brawny bestsellers.