John Griffith Chaney (Jack London) was born January 12, 1876 in San Francisco.
Jack, as he came to call himself as a boy, was the son of Flora Wellman, an unwed mother, and William Chaney, an attorney, journalist and pioneering leader in the new field of American astrology.
In 1889, London began working 12 to 18 hours a day at Hickmott's Cannery.
In 1893, he signed on to the sealing schooner Sophie Sutherland, bound for the coast of Japan. When he returned, the country was in the grip of the panic of '93 and Oakland was swept by labor unrest. After grueling jobs in a jute mill and a street-railway power plant, he joined Kelly's Army and began his career as a tramp.
As a schoolboy, London often studied at Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, a port-side bar in Oakland. At 17, he confessed to the bar's owner, John Heinold, his desire to attend university and pursue a career as a writer.
The Young Writer
His life as a writer essentially began in 1893. That year he had weathered a harrowing sealing voyage, one in which a typhoon had nearly taken out London and his crew. The 17-year-old adventurer had made it home and regaled his mother with his tales of what had happened to him.
On returning to California in 1898, London began working deliberately to get published, a struggle described in his novel, Martin Eden (serialized in 1908, published in 1909). His first published story since high school was "To the Man On Trail", which has frequently been collected in anthologies.
London married Elizabeth "Bessie" Maddern on April 7, 1900, the same day The Son of the Wolf was edited. Bess had been part of his circle of friends for a number of years.
In early 1903, London sold The Call of the Wild to The Saturday Evening Post for $750, and the book rights to Macmillan for $2,000. Macmillan's promotional campaign propelled it to swift success.
While living at his rented villa on Lake Merritt in Oakland, London met poet George Sterling; in time they became best friends.
He covered the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 for Hearst papers, introduced American readers to Hawaii and the sport of surfing, and frequently lectured about the problems associated with capitalism.
The Sea-Wolf is a 1904 psychological adventure novel about a literary critic, survivor of an ocean collision, who comes under the dominance of Wolf Larsen, the powerful and amoral sea captain who rescues him. Its first printing of forty thousand copies was immediately sold out before publication on the strength of London's previous The Call of the Wild.
On August 18, 1904, London went with his close friend, the poet George Sterling, to "Summer High Jinks" at the Bohemian Grove. London was elected to honorary membership in the Bohemian Club and took part in many activities.
Beginning in December 1914, London worked on The Acorn Planter, A California Forest Play, to be performed as one of the annual Grove Plays, but it was never selected; it was described as too difficult to set to music. London published The Acorn Planter in 1916.
After divorcing Maddern, London married Charmian Kittredge in 1905.
In 1906, London published in Collier's magazine his eye-witness report of the San Francisco earthquake.
The Iron Heel
The Iron Heel is a dystopian novel, first published in 1908.
Generally considered to be "the earliest of the modern Dystopian", it chronicles the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States.
London died November 22, 1916, in a sleeping porch in a cottage on his ranch. London had been a robust man but had suffered several serious illnesses, including scurvy in the Klondike