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The People of the Abyss

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  2,900 ratings  ·  262 reviews
From the author's preface: "The experiences related in this volume fell to me in the summer of 1902. I went down into the underworld of London with an attitude of mind which I may best liken to that of the explorer. I was open to be convinced by the evidence of my eyes, rather than by the teachings of those who had not seen, or by the words of those who had seen and gone b ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Aegypan (first published 1903)
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4.02  · 
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 ·  2,900 ratings  ·  262 reviews

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Kathleen Fowler
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
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
Diane S ☔
Apr 20, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I find myself amazed and honestly a little depressed that a book published in 1903 about the poor of London can seem so relevant today. There are familiar themes of a wealthy, booming society that does little to nothing to care for its indigent, while also passing laws and serving punishments seemingly built to purposefully propagate a cycle of destitution, that feel like they haven't changed a lick in 115 years.

As a little background, Jack London (the same one who wrote White Fang and many othe
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
Daniel Villines
Mar 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My present political position in life is one that has evolved through time. I was a young Republican in my early adult life and then began to observe how our first-world society works and more importantly, read about how it used to be. Books such as The Jungle, Sister Carry, and Martin Eden defined for me the societal conditions that existed when the free market was allowed to shape society under near laissez-faire conditions. By looking at life as it is depicted in these books I was able to dev ...more
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book while visiting East London near the Mile End Road, described by Jack London as a terrible slum in the early years of the 20th century. Fortunately, it has now changed beyond recognition. This is a shocking vision of the desperate poverty suffered by huge numbers of people living in the "abyss" of dirt, illness and constant hunger.

Jack London showed the way forward to George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London by spending time living as a tramp. This gave him a feeling of
Elliot Ratzman
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jan 07, 2009 rated it liked it
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

If civilization has increased the producing power of the average man, why has it not bettered the lot of the average man? There can be one answer only — MISMANAGEMENT.

Jack London's first-hand account of the People of the Abyss is not fictional. It is direly real. In the summer of 1902 London (the author) went to London (the city) to witness the "life" of the people in London's East End, the infamous Whitechapel District, or, what the author called the under-world of London. I have to put the wor
Ella Belakovska
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dystopia
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 .
Is it possible for a book of horror and suffering to be beautiful? This book was beautifully written, there's no question about it. The best of London that I've come across yet. (Why he, an American, decided to go to England to investigate poverty, I don't know. Was it that Jacob Riis had already done this for New York City (1890)?) The thing that sets this book apart from most other books about slum life is that London does a Nellie Bly - he buys a set of old clothes, rents a room, and tries to ...more
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dystopia, genius
I loved this from start to finish. Well maybe not the statistics parts but anyway still a great book, and important. What is shocking is that people are still living this way to some extent in England. I've lived among the homeless for years now and I know that Jack London, if he was around today to write this kind of book, would have written a book almost identical, meeting the same kinds of people he wrote about here. Excellent read, and London has such great wisdom. I shelved this under Dysto ...more
Laura Macy
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up, started reading it, and finished the first few chapters before I discovered that it’s nonfiction. London’s description of London’s East End poverty seemed too filthy and wretched to be something that he experienced. He depicts scenes of 1902 London which are foreign and, at the same time, surprisingly current.
Perry Whitford
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jack London goes down and out in East London.

OK, he was no George Orwell, merely dipping in and out of the East End decked in tramp's togs for a day here or a night there during the summer of 1902, before returning to more comfortable accommodation elsewhere for a wash and a clean bed. He didn't try to pretend otherwise though.

Perhaps appropriately for a writer renowned for his seafaring stories, at his first sight of the dirty, endless streets of the East End he was reminded of 'so many waves o
Dec 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Andi Gaywood
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jack London describes the cityof London as it was in 1902. Jack was a known author and wanted to understand the people of London, especially the East End. He went in undercover to get the full experience and stayed in undesirable places, mixed with people of the street and are the food available of the day to the poor.

He describes the conditions of the poor a wretched and filthy that which animals would not even live in. He looks at the statistics of the day and how many large families lived I.
Pamela Wile
Mar 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This took me by surprise. A man who knows and a man who cares goes into London's East End and finds it a place where the population live in the most abject conditions while a couple of miles away the wealthy and great live in splendour and state. And the place at the top of the international table is granted to Britain on account of the few living in luxury while those who toiled to create the wealth live either on the very edge or in the Abyss itself.

Very much a companion piece to Orwell's Road
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: brit-lit
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
Jan 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan C
Aug 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, england, non-fiction
Obviously I put this book down and forgot to pick it back up until just recently.

This seemed to me to border on 2 1/2-3 stars and I gave it the boost.

Jack London knew what it was like to be poor. But he got lucky, had a knack for writing and this ability was fostered by an educated man. He had been an oyster pirate in his youth before becoming an enforcer. Went on the adventure to Alaska.

In this book he went to London and saw severe poverty in the East End. He got a room and left his things ther
Nov 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorie-authors
I have a hard time reviewing a book written by Jack London. I love to read the words he has written. Life must have sucked in early twentieth century London. That's what he taught me this time. It would probably be a waste of his time to read my words. Now I am second guessing this review. What if he does read this? Ah! The pressure is enormous! I don't want to let him down. Maybe he will never see it after all. I like The People of the Abyss by Jack London. Jack London is great.
Jun 26, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
Justin Gould
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book gave me nightmares

It was beautiful and terrible. It put the fear of poverty and homelessness in me. In the sense that they are real, terrible and everywhere. I shudder to think how many similarities there are between the UK breaking down and now America breaking down.
Mar 02, 2016 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Mark Goodwin
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.
Feb 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Racist, classist, just horrible. Very interested to see what my professor is going to say about this book since I had to read it for class.
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Dark and dreary aspects of human life for the down and out. Not a light read.
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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
“Class supremacy can rest only on class degradation” 10 likes
“Man always gets less than he demands from life; and so little do they demand, that the less than little they get cannot save them.” 5 likes
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