Jack London

By: Peggy Nelson
January 12, 2012

From the early slings of poverty and illegitimacy in Oakland, California, to the mature arrows of international literary fame and fortune, JACK LONDON (John Griffith Chaney, 1876–1916) lived between worlds, at home everywhere but belonging nowhere. Like his canine protagonists Buck and White Fang, London navigated between the poles of civilization and wilderness. He prospected for gold in the Klondike; sailed the Pacific in a tiny, self-built boat; and served as a war correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War. He worked in a jute mill, as an oyster pirate, on the California Fish Patrol, and tramped and protested as part of Kelly’s Army. His adventures extended socially as well as geographically: a tireless advocate for socialism and unions, London published a densely researched book on the social conditions of working people; he also campaigned for the cause in person. Paradoxically, he earned enough from his writing to become a gentleman rancher in northern California, where he died at 40 from complications due to heavy drinking. London lived the kind of storied life most writers can only dream about. But he knew no adventure is complete until you tell the tale.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Emmanuel Levinas.

READ MORE about members of the Psychonaut generation (1874-83).


In 2012, HiLoBooks will serialize, then reissue in beautiful paperback form (in May; PRE-ORDER NOW), Jack London’s 1912 science fiction novel The Scarlet Plague. Introduction by HILOBROW’s Matthew Battles. More information here.


HiLo Heroes, Literature