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Jack London: An American Life
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Jack London: An American Life

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  217 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
A revelatory look at the life of the great American author—and how it shaped his most beloved works

Jack London was born a working class, fatherless Californian in 1876. In his youth, he was a boundlessly energetic adventurer on the bustling West Coast—an oyster pirate, a hobo, a sailor, and a prospector by turns. He spent his brief life rapidly accumulating the experiences
Paperback, 480 pages
Published October 14th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published June 28th 2010)
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"The greatest story Jack London ever wrote was the story he lived," stated critic Alfred Kazin, and his story, from rags to riches, is quintessentially American. EL Doctorow added that London "leapt on the history of his times like a man on the back of a horse" and, concludes bio author Earle Labor, a London scholar, he rode this horse from his childhood to his early death. Yes, London is all about fantastic adventure, heroism, fame, intense suffering -- and genius. This worthy bio is a sturdy d ...more
Eric Ruark
Jul 21, 2014 Eric Ruark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travel, biography
Great read about an absolutely fascinating man. The one of the many things that struck me about this story was the time frame. I always thought London wrote later in the 20th Century. When you stop an think that the bulk of his works were published between 1900 and 1917, it give you pause. London died as Hemingway was going through the process of gathering the experiences that would later emerge as his famous novels and short stories. The other thing about this book is that it makes you want mor ...more
Jim Hale
Jul 16, 2014 Jim Hale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, audiobooks
As the title suggests, this outstanding biography focuses more on London's life than than the literature, but what an extraordinary life. Labor produced a
gem of a book, carefully documenting London's hardscrabble, adventurous and dangerous youth, to world fame as an author and correspondent. I am left in awe of London's discipline as a writer and total commitment to his career. Labor relies heavily on the diary of London's talented wife Charmian, who chronicled their unbelievable Pacific sea vo
Jack London was a great writer, and a heck of an adventurer, but not a terribly great human being. His life shows that there is often a tragic coincidence of talent and self-destructiveness that the talent then permits to proceed to its logical end. Jack London lived a hard life, partly by necessity, but largely by inclination, and he paid the price for it. He wrote at a terrific pace, leaving behind a rich literary legacy, but his terrible personal habits led to his untimely death at only 40. T ...more
Mar 21, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a teenager, I enjoyed Jack London's works, so I was delighted to find this very readable biography. Fascinating, authoritative life of Jack London, the author. Not a literary critique but a narration of his life, his rise from illegitimacy through many jobs such as oyster piracy, gold prospecting in the Klondike, as a sailor, as a hobo, his self education and prolific use of the public library, to fame and fortune with such books as The Call of the Wild, White Fang [London thought of this as ...more
Gaylord Dold
Labor, Earle. Jack London: An American Life, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
New York, 2013 (461pp. $30)

At the height of his fame in the early 1900’s, Jack London was earning ten thousand dollars a month from a variety of sources including royalties on his novels and non-fiction works, magazine serials and articles, journalism assignments and speaking engagements. He could have earned much more had he not been so roundly cheated at business, had he not been so profligate, and had foreign publishers no
Susan Emmet
Mar 10, 2014 Susan Emmet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the better biographies I've read in recent years. I like the way Earle Labor frames an amazing and tragic story. Born to the hard way, London lived short and hard, driven by a huge need to experience life in all its twists and turns.
A hack writer? An adventurer? A fervent believer in the rights of people to work and live? A rancher and sailor and hobo and so much else?
So much I didn't know about London's short life; so much to learn and savor.
Being driven by discipline to write and huge
Mar 17, 2014 Kivrin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned A LOT about Jack London that I never knew. He was a fascinating, complicated man. It was an easy read, but I thought the author sometimes left out pieces of the puzzle as if I either should already know the information or it wasn't important. For example, at one point he mentions that London went into the hospital for surgery. Why? It's never explained. I also would have liked to read more about his most famous novels along the lines of how they were received and how they are perceived ...more
Feb 16, 2014 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My Father's favorite author was Jack London. I can see why after reading this book My Father would have been undergoing elementary through high school at the time many of London's adventure writings were appearing in magazines and books. Having visited London's property at Glen Ellen, California where we saw the burned out remains of his dream house that he never got to occupy, I choose this book to read. I have never read any of his stories but must correct that situation soon.

What an amazing n
Janine Urban
Jun 05, 2016 Janine Urban rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Then the lure of adventure began to grip us. Why not start at once? We'd never be any younger, any of us." (Jack London, The Cruise of the Snark).

I stumbled across this biography the same way I stumbled upon the Jack London house in Sonoma CA; on a whim. A Bay Area native myself, I had no idea that London was born, raised, and called the Bay Area home until his untimely death at the age of 40. I'm grateful for that museum visit as it lead me to one of my favorite books this year. Jack London A
Nov 26, 2014 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a child, Jack London was my favorite author (I especially loved "The Sea Wolf"), but I knew very little about him as a person. It has been a long time since I've read a Jack London story or novel (I think the last one I read was "Martin Eden", probably in college), but as soon as I saw this biography on the shelf of new books at my local library I had to take it home.

I knew London had gone to the Klondike, but I had no idea of the rest--how he could have packed so much adventure and experienc
Virginia Nichols
Jul 16, 2014 Virginia Nichols rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a superb book, richly detailed about its subject. Earle Labor clearly knows his subject well and this biography reveals what an amazing (yes, I mean that over-worked adjective) character Jack London was. Early 1900's Oakland and the surrounding Bay Area come alive through Labor's descriptions of the landscapes and events of the times. There is a quote that is attributed (although it cannot be done so, absolutely) to London: "I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me ...more
Dec 28, 2013 Hilary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best biographies I read in 2013. Jack London lived his remarkable life full tilt and his own story is equal to the adventures in his books. His complicated personal life is as stormy as the seas he traveled. A prolific writer, he's truly a fascinating man who interjected his experiences into his works. If he had a theme song, it would be "My Way."
The Advocate
"Labor tells a remarkable story of a man of extraordinary conviction, whose ongoing legal battles with his first wife became the stuff of tabloid exposés."
Read more here.
Barbara Phillips-Farley
What a life. His later travels were to Hawaii, Tahiti, etc., sailing by small boat. All the members of the expedition contracted various tropical diseases. He also went to several spots -- Korea, Mexico -- on reporting assignments. He hated NYC. He and his wife departed from Baltimore by merchant ship to sail around South America. He truly had wanderlust. He died at age 41.
London's regimen was to write 1,000 words each morning, which his (second) wife Charmian would then type in the afternoon.
Dusty Summerford
Nov 21, 2014 Dusty Summerford rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book in a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway...

This was a very fascinating story about a very fascinating man!! I enjoyed it very much!!!
Oct 30, 2013 Donnell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first thing that hits one about Jack's life is: how in heck did he survive his early years? From the poverty, to the cannery work, to the attempt to learn electricity, to the summer in the laundry, to riding the rails, to the march with Kelly, to the Klondike, to the oyster pirating, to the fish patrolling, to the sealing, to the spending four hours in the Carquinez strait without a boat--he faced so many opportunities to die that, if his life hadn't caused him so much suffering, one would b ...more
Nov 06, 2013 Dpdwyer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
No wonder Jack London wrote adventure stories (among other kinds of writing). His short life was one constant adventure. He was an oyster pirate in San Francisco Bay, a 14-year-old alcoholic, deck hand on a sealing expedition to Japan and Siberia, a hobo train-hopping across the country, an active socialist speaker and writer, and a gold prospector in the Klondike. Then he turned 22 and began writing in earnest. This is a fine biography that reads like a novel but is crammed with vivid detail ba ...more
May 02, 2014 Paladin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jack London was a man's man. We all know about his Klondike experience, because his most famous books were set there. But, his whole life was adventure and the Klondike was actually a relatively small part of it. It is one of the best biographies I've read. Earle Labor is truly an expert on London.
To Jack a man that lived life to the fullest to the very second of death. Whom drink a thousand men under the table revived them, and lived their lives to the fullest hiking and sailing thrice around the world with both hands tied behind his back. Sat down to rest and smiled at death at the age of 40 and sailed away. He also found time to write a few books.
Aug 27, 2016 Lindsey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviews, biography
Sometimes you read a book and feel like the author just gets you. This was one of those for me. I'm relatively new to biographies, having only started enjoying them in the last 10 years or so, and I'm not even a particularly big Jack London fan. I enjoyed The Call of the Wild and White Fang when I was young but I honestly don't think I've read anything else he's written. Mr. Labor's book definitely made me want to, though. It was an honest, well-written tribute to a man Mr. Labor obviously admir ...more
Jul 31, 2015 Kurtis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read! London's life really was as exciting and adventurous as the stories he wrote. I really enjoyed the Bay Area and American history as well. Highly recommended for anyone who likes Jack London's stories, American History or Bay Area history.
Dec 06, 2014 Lois rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was well researched and written. Although I was disappointed in the man- Jack London. What a horrible life he experienced and then what horrible behavior he led throughout his life.
Nicole Marble
Feb 15, 2016 Nicole Marble rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fine book about a fine writer. There is a wealth of letters and source material about London and it is presented clearly and well. Highly recommend.
Iris Dunkle
Feb 21, 2014 Iris Dunkle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent biography of Jack London written by someone who made the study of London his life's work.
Anna Schubert
Apr 19, 2015 Anna Schubert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Generally interesting, with extensive research. Sometimes the writing felt a bit elliptic / clunky.
Cara Mcnulty
Apr 20, 2016 Cara Mcnulty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and extremely interesting account of an author that lived a life as adventuresome as the books he wrote.
Tom Newth
Jan 14, 2015 Tom Newth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
fascinating, full life, told engagingly, if occasionally too gushingly.
Oct 02, 2015 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well written book about a life that reads like fiction.
May 03, 2014 Greynomad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just incredible the life he lived. Was not disappointed in the book at all. My next step is to go on line and find out just how many of London's books are available at the library.
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