John Griffith "Jack" London (January 12, 1876 – November 22, 1916) was an American author, journalist, and social activist. He was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction and was one of the first fiction writers to obtain worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his fiction alone.
London was also influenced by the socialistic theories of Karl Marx (1818–1883). An early book, The People of the Abyss (1903), described slum conditions in London, England. Other books of the same type included The War of the Classes (1905), The Iron Heel (1907), The Valley of the Moon (1913), and The Human Drift (1917).
When London returned to California, he tramped around the U.S. for almost a year before finding himself in his mother's kitchen, resolving to give up his vagrant ways and help support his family. His time away had made Jack newly determined to get an education, so at age nineteen, Jack decided to go back to high school. He now had to study as well as earn a living. He developed interests in political theory, especially socialism. Jack wanted to enter the revolutionary movement, but set his sights on finishing high school and attending college. His involvement in the Socialist Labor Party got him kicked out of school, so he studied on his own for entrance exams to the University of California at Berkeley. He was accepted, but he dropped out after six months, either because he was disappointed by the experience or because he needed to earn money for his family. He began to pursue writing in earnest, working at a laundry to support himself. When the Klondike gold rush hit, London borrowed money from his sister and struck out for gold and adventure. The experiences he had, the observations he made, would be crucial to some of his most successful writing. Returning to Oakland, Jack's big break finally arrived. "An Odyssey of the North," a short story, was published in 1900 and achieved critical success for its virility and vivid descriptions. That same year he met and married Bessie Maddern.
London's health deteriorated rapidly in 1916. He was suffering from uraemia, a condition that impairs the functioning of the kidneys. On 21st November, 1916, Jack London died from a morphine overdose. From the available evidence it is not clear whether this was an accident or suicide.
At 19 he crammed a four-year high school course into one year and entered the University of California at Berkeley, but after a year he quit school to seek a fortune in the Klondike gold rush of 1897. Returning the next year, still poor and unable to find work, he decided to earn a living as a writer.
In addition to his daily writing stint and his commitments as a lecturer, London also carried on voluminous correspondence (he received some 10,000 letters per year), read proofs of his work as it went to press, negotiated with his various agents and publishers, and conducted other business such as overseeing construction of his custom-built sailing ship, the Snark (1906 - 1907), construction of Wolf House (1910 - 1913), and the operation of his beloved Beauty Ranch, which became a primary preoccupation after about 1911. Along with all this, he had to continually generate new ideas for books and stories and do the research so necessary to his writing.
The Iron Heel (1908) also reflects his socialist views. In 1897 London was among the first hordes to leave for the Klondike during the Gold Rush. It was a perilous time; he found no gold and suffered scurvy, living out the winter in his now-famous Klondike cabin. It was there that he wrote the ominous "To Build A Fire"; he also gained invaluable experience for future writings. And they were now appearing in such magazines as the Overland Monthly and The Atlantic Monthly.
Back in Oakland, London met Anna Strunsky (1879-1968) who would become a life-long friend, and with whom he would co-author The Kempton-Wace Letters (1903). On 7 April 1900 London married Bess Maddern (1876-1947) with whom he would have two daughters: Joan (1901-1971) and Bess (1902-1992). They divorced in 1904. The same year he was married, London's first book was published, The Son of the Wolf (1900). It was followed by The God of His Fathers (1901), A Daughter of the Snows (1902), The Children of the Frost (1902), and The Cruise of the Dazzler (1902). While living in the East End of London, England he wrote The People of the Abyss (1903).
Jack London ascribed his literary success largely to hard work - to "dig," as he put it. He tried never to miss his early morning 1,000-word writing stint, and between 1900 and 1916 he completed over fifty books, including both fiction and non-fiction, hundreds of short stories, and numerous articles on a wide range of topics. Several of the books and many of the short stories are classics of their kind, well thought of in critical terms and still popular around the world. Today, almost countless editions of London's writings are available and some of them have been translated into as many as seventy different languages.
As an adolescent, the boy adopted the name of Jack. He worked at various hard labor jobs, pirated for oysters on San Francisco Bay, served on a fish patrol to capture poachers, sailed the Pacific on a sealing ship, joined Kelly's Army of unemployed working men, hoboed around the country, and returned to attend high school at age 19. In the process, he became acquainted with socialism and was known as the Boy Socialist of Oakland for his street corner oratory. He would run unsuccessfully several times on the socialist ticket as mayor. Always a prolific reader, he consciously chose to become a writer to escape from the horrific prospects of life as a factory worker. He studied other writers and began to submit stories, jokes, and poems to various publications, mostly without success.
Jack had little formal schooling. Initially, he attended school only through the 8th grade, although he was an avid reader, educating himself at public libraries, especially the Oakland Public Library under the tutelage of Ina Coolbrith, who later became the first poet laureate of California. In later years (mid-1890s), Jack returned to high school in Oakland and graduated. He eventually gained admittance to U.C. Berkeley, but stayed only for six months, finding it to be “not alive enough” and a “passionless pursuit of passionless intelligence”.
Jack London, whose life symbolized the power of will, was the most successful writer in America in the early 20th Century. His vigorous stories of men and animals against the environment, and survival against hardships were drawn mainly from his own experience. An illegitimate child, London passed his childhood in poverty in the Oakland slums. At the age of 17, he ventured to sea on a sealing ship. The turning point of his life was a thirty-day imprisonment that was so degrading it made him decide to turn to education and pursue a career in writing. His years in the Klondike searching for gold left their mark in his best short stories; among them, The Call of the Wild, and White Fang. His best novel, The Sea-Wolf, was based on his experiences at sea. His work embraced the concepts of unconfined individualism and Darwinism in its exploration of the laws of nature. He retired to his ranch near Sonoma, where he died at age 40 of various diseases and drug treatments.