Jack London


California Faces: Selections from The Bancroft Library Portrait Collection, Jack London 1876-1916.

One of my favourite books as a child was Jack London’s White Fang and, as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed the 1991 movie based on the book. Although a young Ethan Hawke played a lead role very well, for me it was the hybrid wolf/dog Jed that was the star of the show. However, the man behind the book led a life as adventurous and sometimes as dangerous as the characters he created.

Jack London died a century ago, on 22nd November 1916.

‘Born in 1876, the year of Little Bighorn and Custer’s Last Stand, the prolific writer would die in the year John T. Thompson invented the submachine gun. London’s life embodied the frenzied modernization of America between the Civil War and World War I. With his thirst for adventure, his rags-to-riches success story, and his progressive political ideas, London’s stories mirrored the passing of the American frontier and the nation’s transformation into an urban-industrial global power. 

With a keen eye and an innate sense, London recognized that the country’s growing readership was ready for a different kind of writing. The style needed to be direct and robust and vivid. And he had the ace setting of the “Last Frontier” in Alaska and the Klondike—a strong draw for American readers, who were prone to creative nostalgia. Notably, London’s stories endorsed reciprocation, cooperation, adaptability and grit.’ 

You can read the rest of Kenneth Brandt’s fascinating account of Jack London’s short but adventurous life here: The Smithsonian



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