"Jack London, An American Life"

Reviewed by Diane Disbro, Union Branch Manager, Scenic Regional Library

Jack London was never still. By the time he was 17 years old he had been an oyster pirate in the waters off of the California coast, a member of the shore patrol charged with apprehending his former workmate pirates, a seal hunter in the Bering Sea, a hobo riding the rails from coast to coast, and an inmate in a New York prison. Imagine having those life experiences and then returning to high school. That is what Jack did. He had been a voracious reader all of his life and he knew the importance of education.

But Jack London couldn't keep still. He took off for the Klondike before completing college, as much in search of adventure as in search of gold. He didn't find gold but his experiences in Alaska provided fodder for hundreds of stories. He loved being on the water and wanted to circumnavigate the globe. He bought land in northern California and wanted to build the most perfect house and a thriving community on his land.

He, his wife, and a small crew look off in the Snark to sail around the world. Three years later, their bodies riddled with disease, the sailors returned to the ranch he had left in the charge of his mother-in-law. Only near-death convinced Jack to abandon the project. He continued to make long sailing expeditions while building his ranch. And all the time, he continued to write.

London wrote short stories for magazines. He wrote novels. He wrote “The Call of the Wild” in one month in 1903 when he was27 years old. His regimen, from which he never departed, was to write at least 1,000 words daily. He wrote because he had something to say, but also because he needed the money his writing brought in. Some of his work was less than stellar but readers ate up even his most trite adventure stories. He had over 30 books published in his lifetime.

London’s health had deteriorated by the time he was 40 years old. His heavy drinking and high-protein diet, in conjunction with injuries and illness contracted in a life full of restlessness, simply burned him out.

Earle Labor, this book’s author, is the acknowledged authority on Jack London. Knowing that, you might expect him to have written at least a three-volume work on the life of Jack London, but his offering is one volume, 385 pages. There are extensive notes at the end of the book. Labor's writing style is easy to read and his subject is fascinating.

I was left wishing that I could have met Jack. His was a wonderfully charismatic personality, passionate for the underdog, madly in love with life. No one who met him ever forgot him.