Raised in poverty as an illegitimate child, Jack London dropped out of school to support his mother, working in mind-deadening jobs that would foster a lifelong interest in socialism. Brilliant and self-taught, he haunted California's waterside bars, brawling with drunken sailors and learning about love from prostitutes. His lust for adventure took him from the beaches of Hawaii to the gold fields of Alaska, where he experienced firsthand the struggles for survival he would later immortalize in classics like White Fang and The Call of the Wild.
A hard-drinking womanizer with children to support, Jack London was no stranger to passion when he met and married Charmian Kittredge, the love of his life. Despite his adventurous past, London had never before met a woman like Charmian; she adored fornication and boxing, and willingly risked life and limb to sail and explore. She typed his manuscripts while he churned out novels, serving as his inspiration and his critic.
Lover, fighter, and onetime hobo, Jack London lived large and died before he was forty. This is a rare biography, from bestselling historian Alex Kershaw, that proves the truth can be more fascinating--and a far greater adventure--than a fiction.
Kershaw, a Los Angeles-based English journalist, writes that by the time London was 39, in early 1915, "the muses had indeed deserted Jack." Actually, London seems to have deserted his muses, producing what many considered alcohol-inspired claptrap about violent men and their women intended for quick sale. Even under the influence of John Barleycorn, he usually managed his thousand words a day, writing hundreds of fact pieces, short stories and 20 novels. A few--Call of the Wild, Sea Wolf and Martin Eden--were memorable enough to turn the one-time sailor and laborer into a literary celebrity. Ultimately, he was reduced to purchasing plots to exploit from an aspiring young writer named Sinclair Lewis. London has inspired numerous biographies, though with this work, Kershaw adds little to London's life but cliches ("Jack had... fallen from dizzying heights to rock bottom"). Although writing for an American audience, he uses British spellings ("tyres," "cheque") and lapses into language that would have embarrassed his mostly self-taught subject ("a boy who weighed less than him"; "intellectual ideas"). London, who died at 40, very likely of self-administered morphine while in the agonies of terminal uremia, suffers again in this latest life. Photos.