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The People of the Abyss

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,206 ratings  ·  123 reviews
In 1902, Jack London purchased some secondhand clothes and, posing as a stranded American sailor, set out to discover how the London poor lived. His research makes shocking reading. Moving through the slums as one of the poor; eating, drinking, and socializing with the underclass;lining upto get into a flophouse, London was scandalized and brutalized by the experience of l ...more
Paperback, 230 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Hesperus Press (first published 1903)
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What Jacob Riis did for New York City with his photos of tenements, Jack London did for London with his book, The People of the Abyss. The abyss that he referred to was the squalid East End of London, where the poorest of the poor lived and died.

All of the horrors are there, described not by a dispassionate historian keeping a professional distance in his reporting, but in eyewitness accounts of and interviews with people living in appalling conditions.

What I found most horrifying about this bo
This is a remarkable classic, deserving of a place on the shelf right next to Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. In fact, The People of the Abyss likely inspired Orwell to write his book, according to a biography I read.

If the reader can put aside the fact of London’s strange ambivalence in matters of race, he is an impassioned and articulate spokesman for the underclasses. His account of an extended foray into what he refers to as “Darkest England,” that is, London’s East End, is rivet
1902. Victoria vient de mourir et l'Angleterre prépare le couronnement de son successeur. London, jeune journaliste américain se fait passer pour un marin en rupture de ban pour pouvoir s’immerger totalement dans les bas-fonds de l’est londonien et vit comme ses habitants. Le Royaume-Uni est alors un grand Empire et une réussite économique incontestable. Pourtant un adulte sur quatre à Londres meurt dans un hospice ou à l’asile. Selon Jack London, 939 habitants sur 1000 finissaient indigents en ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Aug 27, 2012 Elliot Ratzman rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Elliot by: Mark Engler
Before Jack London was the world famous adventure story writer—in his 20s and 30s—he had lived a dozen lives: child laborer, thief, sailor, failed Klondike prospector and hobo. A committed socialist, and hard-charging risk-taker, he turned to writing in his early 20s after nearly dying in an Arctic winter, and this 1903 book was his second major publication, just after Call of the Wild. London disguises himself as a homeless American sailor trapped in England. He explores (the city of) London’s ...more
this book was able to break my heart several times :( i literaly cried at the suffering of people

i don't regret reading this, for i feel it had changed my perspective towards life and people .
Ella Belakovska
Very few people seem to have heard of Jack London these days, and I was only vaguely aware of him, which is a real shame because he stands right up there with the likes of George Orwell - who I've only just discovered was inspired by this very work to write his own 'Down and Out in Paris and London'.

Jack London was an American writer who chose to go undercover in the East End of London (much to the outrage and fear of his friends) and journalise his research. The resulting work is a fascinating
LeeAnn Heringer
I read this as a companion piece to "Wolf", the recent biography of Jack London. He was a lifelong socialist and this was a subject he was passionate about. This was the dark underbelly of the gilted age. And because of unions and the socialist party, we have minimum wage, social security, and welfare to provide a safety net for the kind of problems Jack London explores in this book.

But I am a poor revolutionary (and I think Jack London was too). 100 years later, people are still being chewed up
In the same vein as Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, but lacking the heart and humor that I associate with Orwell's treatment. To be fair, it's an autobiographical account of slumming it in the worst of England's poverty at the turn of the century: why should it be funny or heartwarming? However, when you compare this text with Orwell's, it reads much more like something you'd find in Rolling Stone. A shock piece intended to wake people up and make them realize the horrors of poverty. ...more
Diane S.
For six weeks Jack London dresses and attempts to live like the poor on London's east side. He quickly realizes that no matter how hard a man or woman works, the cards are stacked against them. I'm sure this had a greater impact when read during the time it was written, when bringing the poverty and disease of these people to the public's attention would have been an impetus to change. Interesting and this was a side of London I had not previously been acquainted with.
Pamela Wile
I enjoyed this book. It was a little hard to get through the early 20th century style of writing but this book made an impact on me. My great-grandfather, Charles Henry Smith, arrived in Canada in 1889 at the age of 18 and I wondered what life was like in England when he was a boy. This book was first published in 1903 so 14 years later, so I imagine circumstances were pretty much the same. The conditions that the elderly, sick, out of work adults endured were deplorable. The despair they felt a ...more
Ceci n'est pas un roman mais une enquête sociologique menée par Jack London dans le quartier le plus pauvre de Londres. C'est un véritable effort de recherche, il va s'habiller comme ses habitants, parler comme eux, vivre dans les asiles et s'astreindre le plus possible à une vie semblable. C'est par cette expérience éprouvante qu'il livre d'une part des données économiques, sociales et culturelles, mais aussi politique comme par exemple lorsqu'il dénonce la loi qui empêche les SDF de dormir dan ...more
THE PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS. (1903). Jack London. ***.
London spent six weeks during the summer of 1902 penetrating the bowels of London’s East End – in those days, the home of the have-nots. He went is disguise, dressing in the same kinds of shabby clothes and living under the same conditions. His task was to document how the other half lived – poverty and shame being the primary characteristics. London was in his early days of Socialism, and wanted to bring the conditions of London’s poor to the a
This is a story about what Bulwer-Lytton famously called the "great unwashed," referring to the lower classes in English society in the 19th century. London confirms that not only are they still unwashed at the turn of the century (a bare 112 years ago), but that the situation is unbelievably tragic and applies to hundreds of thousands if not several million English men and women and their offspring. He has no hesitation in ascribing the fault to criminal mismanagement by the elites of the time ...more
I'm an American. I'm middle class and in my neighborhood there are people who are not. It helps to remind me just how lucky I am. It's not always fun or safe. However, there isn't a sense that I'm not awake to what is happening to people in my country who aren't me.

Jack London has made a dramatic call to arms in this book. It's an emotional tale and he doesn't always hold to the same standards that I would expect from a modern day journalist. Still, this book is a keen reminder of how the Britis
Way more ballsy than Barbara Ehrenreich, way less ballsy than George Orwell. He doesn't get caught up in this wishy-washy just-the-facts objectivity thing that's making the rounds. He gets mad, and that goes into the book. He's a socialist and that goes into the book. Of course, he also left himself an escape hatch which he uses constantly. His stories are basically, after decompressing, he goes back under for a visit to a spike, or a lodging house or a trip around town after dark and runs back ...more
En 1902, Jack London séjourne à Londres, afin d’explorer les bas-fonds londoniens et le quartier d’East End. Afin de vivre l’expérience par lui-même plutôt que de rapporter les propos des autres, il se déguise en clochard et s’intègre à la population locale, tentant de comprendre les rouages d’une société de misère au sein d’un Empire florissant.

C’est un constat terrible qui est dressé dans ce récit. Jack London montre comment les pauvres de l’East End n’ont aucune chance de sortir de l’enfer, d
Fascinating book which was basically a sociological investigation of the Whitechapel area of London, while London lived there in the late 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, and how it was possible for Jack the Ripper to commit his crimes. Totally different from anything I have read by Jack London, but worth the read.
Jack London swoops from overseas to gawp at the zoo exhibits. He has a fine time at first, overjoyed at being mistaken for a local when his fancy dress costume works. What a transformation, he chortles, seeing himself in the pawnshop's mirror! People in the street call him 'mate' instead of Guv'na now. He is at one with the people, where it may be cold outside but it is warm in their collective hearts. It's not all fun and games, though. Being homeless soon reveals its ugly underbelly and off he ...more
This masterpiece is right up there with Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. Rather than talk about the future London describes life in the Abyss also known as London's East end in the early 1900. I can't help but feel not very much has changed in London's East end, sure the Olympic park was built there and sure there are rich people, but there are very poor people leading a miserable existence. I would love to read a similar commentary written in this style with a 2012-2013 lens.

The cha
'The People of the Abyss' contains Jack London's reporting on London’s appalling poverty in 1902. (This double London will probably make the review confusing, for which I apologise.) Jack London, the American novelist and essayist, explored and experienced the East End and wrote with a great depth of feeling and empathy about what he found there. Thus, I found the book very depressing, as I’d thought that urban poverty had to some extent been alleviated by the turn of the century. Certainly not, ...more
Em inícios do séc XX o aventureiro Jack London decide "brincar aos pobrezinhos" e para isso assume o papel de sem-abrigo na cidade de Londres. Na época, calculavam-se em 35 000 aqueles que vegetavam sem eira nem beira pelas ruas, à procura de uma côdea de pão e de um sítio para dormir... Um relato que nos faz pensar, por comparação, como houve uma incrível evolução (ou não...) social desde esses primórdios do século.

Excerto: "havia também seres disformes e inquietantes, de rostos grotescos e de
Pedro Menchén
Admirable trabajo de investigación sobre la terrible situación de los habitantes del East End de Londres en 1902 y, por extensión, de las clases populares británicas de la época. El libro es muy ameno. Hace años que lo tengo y no me había atrevido a leerlo, pensando que sería un texto aburrido, lleno de datos y estadísticas, pero no hay nada de eso. Bueno, sí hay datos estadísticos, pero muy bien dosificados, que sirven al autor para ilustrar su teoría de que "el Imperio no funciona". Pero tambi ...more
People of the Abyss describes in great detail what it was like to live in the East End of London during the late 19th Century from the viewpoint of an American journalist Jack London. Despite being written nearly 100 years ago the book is very easy to read, I found London a very likable narrator and I particularly enjoyed the chapter where he stayed at a workhouse.

I found it amazing just how much London and the UK has changed so much in the last 100 years with the utter desperation of being hom
Jack London spent time in London living in hostels and cheap lodgings, queueing for handouts, roaming the streets and finding out about working class life. He then wrote this deeply felt and passionately expressed polemic. There had been various reports on conditions of the working poor in the capital. More people probably read this and so it may have helped persuade some middle and upper class, literate people to support and bring about some of the social changes brought about by the Asquith, L ...more
I read a lot of strange things as a kid, and a few years ago I asked my Dad if he was ever worried about some of the things I read. He shrugged and said, "Not really... but there was this one book you read, about poor kids or something, that had you really upset for a while" He couldn't remember what it was, and neither could I. A couple years later, and I finally figured it out. Jack London's People of the Abyss. I read a lot of Jack London's fiction as a child (Call of the Wild, White Fang, th ...more
Fred Fisher
I actually finished this some time ago. Writing about it hasn't come easy. I do highly recommend this book to people interested in history and politics. Even though this book is about England, the squalor here in the US was much the same at the time. It is in the same vein as "The Jungle" about the conditions in the meat packing industry about the same time (turn of the 19th Century to the 20th.). London describes the poorest areas of London, showing us the work houses, tenements, flop houses an ...more
Bill Taylor
Still quite a readable book despite its age (1903) due mainly to the matter of fact style of writing and the amazing parallels with modern society in UK cities. Its reads like a piece of investigative journalism, which is exactly what it is, with a lot of interesting detail about life in the East End of London for what today is called the underclass, but what is called the People of the Abyss by London. Today is is relative poverty but the effect is still the same, and people are still living in ...more
Kevin Varney
Very similar to Orwell's writings thirty years later, including criticism of the Salvation Army, a night spent out on the street, a night spent in a "spike", and a day spent hop picking. I liked the first part of the book better when Jack London gets into the East End and records what the people say to him. He brought them to life very well. In the second half, London seems to use information from newspapers and libraries to support his arguments. I thought the chapter on Wages was particularly ...more
Living in London, North to be precise and studying sociology at University I knew a little about the East of London before reading this book. I also read up in the past on Jack the Ripper which, although is a mysterious case as they never caught the killer, it brought awareness to the extreme poverty that the normal person lived in.
So I had some back ground, yet I was still surprised. Jack London a American journalist, socialist and writer, travelled to London in 1902. He decided to mingle with
Christopher Sutch
This is one of the "slumming" exposes that were popular among realist writers around the turn of the 20th century. London explores the plight of the workers and impoverished living in London's East End through his observations made disguised as an out-of-work American sailor (roughly the first half of the book) and through statistical and other studies by authorities regarding certain key issues (e.g. wages, suicide, temperance, etc.). As a socialist tract it is far from reliable (though, obviou ...more
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Jack London was an American novelist, journalist, social-activist and short-story writer whose works deal romantically with elemental struggles for survival. At his peak, he was the highest paid and the most popular of all living writers. Because of early financial difficulties, he was largely self educated past grammar school.

London drew heavily on his life experiences in his writing. He spent ti
More about Jack London...
The Call of the Wild White Fang The Call of the Wild/White Fang The Call of the Wild, White Fang and Other Stories The Sea Wolf

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“Class supremacy can rest only on class degradation” 3 likes
“And yet the quality of the life is good. All human potentialities are in it. Given proper conditions, it could live through the centuries, and great men, heroes and masters, spring from it and make the world better by having lived.” 2 likes
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