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The Road

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  3,053 ratings  ·  238 reviews
In this entertaining collection of tales and autobiographical essays, London relates the days he spent on the road. Each story details an aspect of the hobo's life - from catching a train to cadging a meal. The wealth of experiences and the necessity of having to lie for a living brought depth London's subsequent stories.
Paperback, 200 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Aegypan (first published 1907)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
The Road, Jack London

The Road is an autobiographical memoir by Jack London, first published in 1907. It is London's account of his experiences as a hobo in the 1890s, during the worst economic depression the United States had experienced up to that time. He describes his experiences hopping freight trains, "holding down" a train when the crew is trying to throw him off, begging for food and money, and making up extraordinary stories to fool the police. He also tells of the thirty days that he sp
Jun 28, 2013 rated it liked it
The Road by Jack London was published in 1907, years before George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and decades before Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

This compilation of stories and essays is gleaned from the remembrances of an older and more successful London, looking back on his days as a tramp and hobo. We learn about life aboard box car trains, running and evading the train conductors, time in prison for vagrancy and the ubiquitous begging and scamming for food.

Also detailed is London
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Not your typical Jack London tale but very interesting and entertaining. It's about his life on the road and his experiences riding the rails as a hobo. A series of anecdotal tales of dodging conductors, railroad security, town sheriffs, and bumming meals while perfecting the art of lying.

What an interesting character this man was. He was a hobo, a seaman, a gold prospector, just to name a few. And he drew on all these life experiences to write some of the most successful novels of the early 20t
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adventure-true
Big Rock Candy Mountain
~~ written by Harry McClintock

Oh the buzzin' of the bees in the cigarette trees
The soda water fountain where the lemonade springs
And the bluebird sings in that Big Rock Candy Mountain

On a summer day
In the month of May
A burly bum came ahiking
Down a shady lane
Through the sugar cane
He was looking for his liking
As he strolled along
He sang a song
Of the land of milk and honey
Where a bum can stay
For many a day
And he won't need any money


In the Big Rock Candy Mounta
Jack London got off to a busy start in life. Born in 1876, before he took off from Oakland CA to be a 17-year-old hobo, he'd worked 12-hour days at a cannery, owned his own boat as an oyster pirate, and sailed to Japan on a sealing ship, among other things. By the time these tales of his adventures crossing the country by rail in 1893-94 were published in 1907, he was already famous for his novels Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, and White Fang.

The nine sketches are a mix of training manual for l
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
The 'Road' in question is the railroad - motor cars were almost unheard of when Jack London was travelling around America as a hobo. This is a fascinating look at a very different country. It's full of great characters and long-forgotten slang and exciting tussles with policemen and railroad employees.

The interesting thing about the book, for me, is that it works so well even though the story doesn't have much of a trajectory. It's really just a series of anecdotes about life as a hobo, from sur
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, non-fiction
This was a great book. When I found the free e-book I didn't realize it was an autobiography until I was a few pages in, then did some research on it. That just made it better. Jack London has to be one of the most fascinating figures in American literature.

This slim book is a series of vignettes about the time he spent as a train-jumping hobo in his youth. It is a fantastic look into a long-past time and a unique culture. Many of the stories are funny, such as how he would win food or elude the
Mar 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Has to be by far one of the most interesting Non-fiction travel stories I have read. A classic needless to say; makes you want to jump on trains and travel across the US or the world for that matter.
J.M. Hushour
Apr 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When he was a teenager, London decided, for the pure fact that the road was there, to become a hobo. Later, he compiled his wanderings into a series of essays, thus, The Road. These stories are wonderful, testament to the fact that London was something far beyond The Guy Who Wrote the Wolf Books. He spent 1892-1893 hopping trains across America and Canada, getting tossed in jail for a month in Erie, playing deadly train-hopping games with railroad employees trying to ditch him, stole boats, begg ...more
Jennell McHugh
Jan 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is The Road before On the Road. It's funny and ugly and individualistic and crafty and bad and good and American and human.

I can't imagine what it's like to be so far over the edge, and then to come back.

"I became a tramp-well, because of the life that was in me, of the wanderlust in my blood that would not let me rest. Sociology was merely incidental; it came afterward, in the same manner that a wet skin follows a duckling. I went on 'The Road' because I couldn't keep away from it; becaus

Quite interesting, alas, only up to the prison part; after that it becomes repetitive, boring, and just plain silly and impossible. A band of hoboes lording it over a helpless city – please. The style is great, energetic and springy, bordering on purple (good purple), but what it mainly serves is the endless boasting about riding trains for free and being healthy. It makes for nervous reading; the style promises grand things, but doesn’t deliver.

There is also a distinct stink of racism, and a ce
Sep 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
I’ve enjoyed several other hobo accounts (such as Jim Tully's great Beggars of Life), and don’t know how this had escaped my notice for so long, but I enjoyed it so much I think it may kick off a Jack London binge for me. In these real-life adventures drawn from his tramping days during the depression years of the 1890s, London shares with the reader the fine art of lying and begging for food, the vicious skill of holding one’s own amidst the rough handling of wolfish road kids and predatory pro ...more
I am still on the fence about London. But he can tell a story. And that was what stood out to me throughout this book - everything hinged on his skill at storytelling. The way way he describes life as a hobo is one of learning how to read what story his audience will believe and spinning it so they give him something of themselves. He says he did some of his best work on the road. I couldn't help thinking of Huck Finn. Or even Ed Ricketts ( Cannery Row, John Steinbeck). It actually made me wonde ...more
Tim Mercer
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-this-year
These are the authors recounting of some of his late teen years. Rather than get a job, he decided he wanted to wander America as a tramp. At the time the main way to travel for a tramp was hitching a ride on a train. This is not an end to end story but more a recounting of examples of how he did thing on the road such as beg for food, catch a ride on a train and dodge being thrown off the train by the train guards. The number of tricks and pitfalls he had to navigate was fascinating and at time ...more
Erika B. (SOS BOOKS)
Jan 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
"I went on "The Road" because I couldn't keep away from it; because I hadn't the price of the railroad fare in my jeans; because I was so made that I couldn't work all my life on "one same shift"; because — well, just because it was easier to than not to.” -London

I went into this with apprehension. What I found was that Jack London is a first class "blown in the glass" wit! I found myself laughing out loud at his tall tales and his near escapes. He keeps the road realistic but still makes it rom
Apr 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, hobos
Three and a half stars. I hadn't been interested in reading any more hobo literature after "You Can't Win" - it just didn't seem like anything had a chance against Jack Black. However, Jack London's stories of tramping are definitely worth reading, and I'm glad I gave this book a chance. I especially recommend this one if you are interested in hobo terminology; by the time you get through the book, you will have learned a bunch of the lingo for train-hopping and other hobo activities.
Nancy Lewis
Dec 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: serial-reader
Great storytelling about life as a hobo in the 1890s. More about Kelly's Army here. ...more
Jeffrey Bumiller
Aug 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
Painfully boring. Poorly written. This happened, then this happened, then this happened. On and on for 100 pages. It's a shame that this is so bad because it is an interesting subject (train hopping, the life of a hobo) The reality is that it's been written about so much better, with so much more insight. This left me completely unmoved, it is filled with as much emotion as the instruction manual to my electric toothbrush. Good for you Jack London, you were a hobo for a few years when you were a ...more
Jun 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Should have been called "The Rail". There are a lot of train-related stories, which were my favourites. The rest were not so good; the one about the gypsies left an especially bad taste. As did the bit in Kelly's army when he was in L company.

The narrator lost all credibility from the start when he admitted to being a great liar. For the rest of the book I wondered "Is this true?" As someone who values truth and honesty above most things, this particular suspicion grated on my nerves throughout
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved it! It's the hobo life for me! Not. What a great story-teller Jack London is & what a colorful life he lived. This gives me pause to consider whether fiction writers are just pathological liars or not. 😏I thoroughly enjoyed this writing at its best. The historicity and cultural portrait of America in the late 1800's is amazing. I never knew anything about "Kelly's Army". The prosperity of Quincy, IL is interesting in light of my own LDS historical ties with that generous ci ...more
May 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
No one was a greater champion of Jsck London's work than Jack Kerouac himself, and with The Road it's easy to see why. Lots of stories about tramping, riding the rails and the wanderlust that takes you through the hills and valleys of the great North American landscape.

I think Kerouac tells tramping stories a lot better, though. London goes into tedious attention to tramp detail, page after page, and I think some of the stories aren't terribly enjoyable. I wasn't too impressed about the story o
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-owned
Fifty years before Kerouac, Jack London published a memoir about his life “on The Road.” In this case, The Road was the railroad, as London describes his years as a hobo riding the rails across the country. The essays are rather loosely connected, arranged by topic rather than chronologically. Indeed, only toward the end does London delve into how he began his life as a hobo after his teenage years as an infamous oyster pirate in San Francisco. (And you think THAT’S weird? Just wait until you re ...more
Apr 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Read "You Can't Win" by Jack Black (not the modern day celebrity, a different guy) if you want the full hobo life experience. This is a watered down version of that. Also this book isn't really a story but more like some anecdotes, short stories, and essays about the life of a young hobo. Really boring stuff... Jack Black's hobo adventures were far superior. Jack Black was a "yegg" which is basically a term for a hobo of elite status in the hobo world.
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is the story of Jack London's life as a hobo (stiff). He traveled North America by rail, as a stowaway, always trying to avoid the police (bulls). He details his experiences, good and bad, the people he encountered, and the hard times of the life of a hobo. He did this in the 1890's, which was a time of great economic hardship and depression. Thousands of people were in the same state of depression and depravation as Jack London was. The book makes you feel the terrible living conditio ...more
Jul 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
#ReadHarder Challenge task #7: Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, kindle
I appreciate Jack way more now. Such an interesting look into the life on The Road back in the day. Jack is quite a humorous fellow too.
Oct 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Like some of the Kerouac works London influenced, but with sociological observations in the place of poetic ones. I had expected an adventure tale about the adventurer himself hopping trains across the US. It’s more of a hardass, pre-Gonzo Gonzo journalistic account of the massive underworld of vagrants during the 1890s American depression as they rove by any means necessary from village to prison to village, surviving on cunning, violence, robbery, and an informal political system that had, as ...more
Bernie Gourley
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a freight-hopping hobo, you need look no further than Jack London’s autobiographical account of the hobo life. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t know London had been a hobo, or anything about the man other than that he wrote a book called “The Call of the Wild” that you read in high school. When you read “The Road” you’ll learn skills like how to avoid getting kicked off a train, how to survive being jailed for vagrancy, and how to tell a ...more
Aug 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hobo, autobiography
I've embarked on a project (both academic and personal) to read lots and lots of hobo narratives (both fictional and autobiographical). London's book is often mentioned (by those who bother to talk about such things) as the first literary treatment of the subject, although other writers (e.g., Josiah Flynt) had addressed the subject before. Published in 1907, the book is made up of a series of articles that London published earlier that year (strictly for the money, apparently). The articles are ...more
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Out of all the books that I have read this wasn't the favorite, but it wasn't a bad book. One of the most amazing things about this book is the fact of how all of it is true being told after the fact. At times it seemed impossible for the fact that everything was interesting. Following the travels along as a tramp. Puts a very different perspective on how times have changed. It was masterfully written as to explaining and telling what happened in his life. At the same time keeping me engaged and ...more
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The Road 3 19 Dec 17, 2007 08:08PM  

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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

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“Every once in a while, in newspapers, magazines, and biographical dictionaries, I run upon sketches of my life, wherein, delicately phrased, I learn that it was in order to study sociology that I became a tramp. This is very nice and thoughtful of the biographers, but it is inaccurate. I became a tramp — well, because of the life that was in me, of the wanderlust in my blood that would not let me rest. Sociology was merely incidental; it came afterward, in the same manner that a wet skin follows a ducking. I went on "The Road" because I couldn't keep away from it; because I hadn't the price of the railroad fare in my jeans; because I was so made that I couldn't work all my life on "one same shift"; because — well, just because it was easier to than not to.” 9 likes
“Perhaps the greatest charm of tramp-life is the absence of monotony. In Hobo Land the face of life is protean—an ever changing phantasmagoria, where the impossible happens and the unexpected jumps out of the bushes at every turn of the road. The hobo never knows what is going to happen the next moment; hence, he lives only in the present moment. He has learned the futility of telic endeavor, and knows the delight of drifting along with the whimsicalities of Chance” 7 likes
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