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Jack London's Racial Lives: A Critical Biography Hardcover – February 15, 2009

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Jack London's attitudes toward and treatments of the race issue in his public statements and in his fiction constitute one of the most controversial and problematic aspects of his complex persona. Reesman's study is both exhaustive and definitive. She rightly argues that London's attitudes defy simplification, not only because he was divided on the issue in his own mind but also because his attitudes were dynamic, not static. She has deftly analyzed the causes of his ambivalence and accurately traced the course of his significant attitudinal changes through both his fiction and his nonfiction.

(Earle Labor editor of The Portable Jack London)

Almost certainly destined to be a 'lion in the path' to all future work on Jack London.

(Lawrence I. Berkove coeditor of The Short Fiction of Ambrose Bierce: A Comprehensive Edition, Volume I)

This is an important book, not only because Jack London is an important and often underappreciated writer but because the contradictions and ambiguities about race that marked London’s work continue, alas, to mark American society and politics to this very day. Reading London, as this book so vividly shows, is reading ourselves.

(Paul Lauter general editor of The Heath Anthology of American Literature)

History seems to have dealt London a bad hand as he's now best remembered as an adventure story writer meant for Boy Scouts and teen naturalists. Reesman knows better. Her detailed explications of London's life and writings reveal the complicated and radical thought behind his fiction.

(Steve Horowitz Pop Matters)

Jack London's Racial Lives reveals the ambiguity of London's temperamental views of race while making a case that he was progressive and radical in his racial views in some of his work. Was Jack London a racist? Yes, the answer seems to be, but it's complicated.

(John Lennon American Studies )

About the Author

Jeanne Campbell Reesman is a professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She is the author of American Designs: The Late Novels of James and Faulkner and Jack London: A Study in Short Fiction. She is coediting a major collection of London's photographs that will be published by the University of Georgia Press.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press; First Edition edition (February 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820327891
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820327891
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,390,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Henry Berry on April 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Jack London was a self-avowed proponent of the late Victorian/early 20th century "scientific racialism" supposedly derived from Darwin's theory of evolution. The "scientific racialism" held the superiority of the white race. Nonetheless, London's racial views as depicted and implied in his writings were much more complex; to the point of raising questions about whether London really did believe in "scientific racialism. The U. of Texas English professor Reesman sees this author's racial views conventional among whites of the era as associated with the rough conditions of his childhood, but as demonstrably being considerably modified or even abandoned as London moved to and wrote about far-flung parts of the world. It is in London's fiction, Reesman notes, with the characterizations, settings, interplay of characters, and resolutions of fiction, where his complex feelings and observations about race are most evident.

London was a pioneer in the realistic/naturalistic style of literature coming about in the early 1900s. He wrote journalism about the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, the heavyweight championship boxing match pitting the African-American Jack Johnson against the white man Tommy Burns in 1908, and the Mexican Revolution in 1914. Reesman follows how in London's series of writings on the heavyweight fight, his regard of Johnson underwent a sea change. Settings of London's fiction were the wilderness of Alaska or the Klondike, the remote islands of the South Pacific, or some other unpopulated place where individuals had to use their wits and their strength to survive in direct contact with nature. London's stories drew the interest of movie studios for their adventure and drama of survival.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I tried to like this book; it's not as though I'm poorly educated and simply cannot understand the glut of apocryphal terms slung at the reader here; it's that this book is trying to do something that ought not be done to begin with. That is, Reesman is trying to have her cake and eat it too. It's very obvious that she loves Mr. London's work and is in awe of his literary power, and his persona. Good, so am I. But in "Racial Lives" she's writing for the same dry, dour academics London himself dismissed after his single semester at Berkeley. Well, of course she is, because you can't get a book into hardcover without having an approved academic thesis, and right now, the academic narrative is that Jack London is an incredibly good author, but some of his "racial views" are wrong-headed. So in order to get published under scholarly auspices, you must first implicitly agree that London is a racist.

Where she goes badly wrong here is in trying to laud Mr. London for his extraordinary work, all the while performing a painful dissection of his psyche, trying to explain in clinical terms why he's a racist, or at least a "racialist". This operation is done without anesthesia, and if I may say so, without any surgical training. Jack London himself performed far more skillful tooth extractions on headhunters and other impromptu dental patients during his cruise of the Solomon Islands (see "The Cruise of the Snark" for more on this). What results is a muddy, convoluted amalgam of excuses, conjecture, half-baked theories, and faint praise mingled with subtle slander.
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Haven't finished the book yet, but so far it gives new perspectives on his work and social relations. Important in understanding his work in his life time. I've been interested in Jack Londons work since early 1970's.
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Format: Hardcover
JACK LONDON'S RACIAL LIVES offers the first full study of race and appearance in London's life and works, exploring characters, settings, and choices in satirizing racism in his works of short fiction. Readers of his major works examine method and compare his techniques and results with that of his literary contemporaries in this fine survey, recommended for college-level literary collections already strong in Jack London studies.
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