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Jack London: A Life Paperback – February 15, 1999

3.6 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Alex Kershaw plunges readers into the world of Jack London by using lots of direct quotations and maintaining a fast-paced narrative--just right for dealing with an author who crammed as much action into his brief, 40-year existence (1876-1916) as can be found in his classic adventure fiction The Call of the Wild. Kershaw does justice to London's ardent socialism and pioneering efforts to protect the natural environment; his distasteful racism is acknowledged, but only briefly. This heartfelt tribute aims to kindle our admiration for "the passion and energy with which [London] lived, and which still sustains his best prose." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Written with verve in a direct and emphatic style, this most recent biography of the legendary California-born adventurer and author of The Call of the Wild may prompt a reassessment of London, as its author hopes. Kershaw describes London's emotionally and materially disenfranchised early years as an oyster pirate on the San Francisco waterfront and Klondike adventurer to account for his conflicting lifelong adherence to both Darwinism and socialism. Kershaw also discusses the writer's nourishing relationship with Charmian Kittredge, London's obsessive long-distance travel, his costly attempts to create an environmentally friendly model at his Beauty Ranch, and the drinking and ill health that led up to his death at 40. Preferring living to writing, London nonetheless drove himself to write 1000 words a day. Yet this life reveals that all the money and celebrity that eventually came his way did nothing but starve London's soul, leaving him a broken man with only a reputation as a writer of dog stories. Kershaw's reassessment sees beyond the legend and examines neglected London works. Recommended for all libraries.?Charles Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, Mo.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (February 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031219904X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312199043
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,463,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A brilliant book because it captures the magic of London's life and reads as if he had written the book himself - fantastic stuff, and the academics should take note - this is how you bring a man and writer alive, not kill him with turgif analysis and prose. London would be proud.
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By A Customer on October 12, 1998
Format: Hardcover
It was about time that someone wrote a biography that is as passionate and fast paced as Jack London himself. The biography reads like a heroic novel and does justice to his life.
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Format: Paperback
I've always loved to read Jack London, from "The Call of the Wild" to "On the Makaloa Mat" and many of the books and short stories in between. His stories always take you to another world, an adventure, and another incredible feat of survival. I've often wondered where these amazing stories came from and now I know, he lived them.

Alex Kershaw tells an amazing story of an even more amazing man. He leaves nothing out, the many strengths and human weaknesses bring us all a lot closer to one of the finest authors this country has ever produced. This is an excellent and fascinating read. I just loved this book.
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By A Customer on April 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Simply the best biography I have ever read. Jack London wrote stories that pale in comparison to the excitement and drama of his life.
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Format: Paperback
It would appear that others have read previous London biographies and that Kershaw's work doesn't tread any new ground. I will have to take the word of the many reviewers who have stated this. That said, since this is my first Jack London biography I will review it accordingly.

Alex Kershaw does a sufficient job of describing Jack London's early life of poverty, struggle and devotion to unleashing his creative vision. His exploits on the docks, pubs and back alleys of San Francisco are documented in lively, rough fashion. Jack's wanderlust and exploits to the North are likewise given adequate treatment as are his years as a "success." In fact, for the entirety of the book we are given a good overview of the many stages of Jack's brief but fascinating life; adventures, friendships, loves, fatherhood, etc. What's missing however, is a more intensive look at the man himself. Jack's alcoholic rages, absentee roll as a father, proto National Socialism, gluttony, mood wings, regrets, emotional exhaustion, depression and realization of mortality and many, many contradictions are given superficial treatment in the beginning and middle stages of the autobiography. It's almost as if Kershaw is willing to skim over many aspects of London's personality because Jack's genius as a writer overshadowed whatever shortcomings or riddles he possessed as a man. The problem is however, as any fan of London's work will tell you, Jack is the literature and the literature is Jack. Very few writers were able to inject themselves quite so thoroughly into their work as Jack London. His presence smothers every page of his work. It's not until the end that Kershaw begins to thoroughly explore Jack London's psyche. As Kershaw clearly points out, Jack associated his physical prowess with his creative drive.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Wow. What else can one say about Jack London's life? Few authors have ever achieved his success and recognition, and very few have achieved it so quickly. And few of them have flamed out so spectacularly. Even by the age of 16, London had lived through hardships that would have sufficed a lifetime: poverty, family insanity, grinding factory labor, oyster thievery, drinking and whoring. All of this was in arguably the most dangerous waterfront area in the U.S.: San Francisco/Oakland.

As a safer route, he then went on a 9-month whaling expedition.

But that wasn't enough. At 18, he returned from whaling and decided to settle down. He crammed for exams to pass high school, got into UC-Berkeley, and wowed the undergrads with his tale of derring-do. But instead of staying, he quit before the first semester was done and wound up joining a protest of socialists who took trains to Washington, DC, to protest working conditions. London was jailed after the protests and (and perhaps raped in jail).

But that wasn't enough. He returned to Oakland and again took up factory work, while writing on the side. But then the Alaska gold rush happened, and he joined tens of thousands of speculators. He failed, in the sense that he never really got to the gold fields and had to winter in a cabin in the Yukon with other stragglers. Without money to buy a mining stake, he built a raft and floating 1800 miles down the Yukon and returned home --- a feat that is astonishing in its own right.

And that wasn't enough. He began to write about his Alaska experiences, and within 2 years was one of the most highly paid fiction writers in the world. For the next 15 years, his output was astonishing, and his influence on popular culture was immense.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book provided a wonderful perspective on a very complex, unique American icon. I recommend it highly for individuals who want to gain more knowledge and be entertained at the same time.
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By A Customer on October 29, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a biography that races along like a novel, but with a healthy dose of quality writing (much of it London's own words) Kershaw makes it eminently nourishing. I am recommending this book to everyone. . .
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