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Lincoln Bell
Lincoln Bell

Jack London: A Biography


Jack London: An American Lifeby Earle LaborFarrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013"Hypersensitive, contentious, moody (possibly bipolar), and medically frail despite his vigorous muscularity. Famous for his ever-ready public smile and generousness of spirit, he was subject to spells of mordant invective and emotional cruelty, especially as his health deteriorated" - from Earle Labor's description, you might think the subject of his new biography was Marcel Proust or some such hothouse flower. It hardly sounds like our traditional characterization of Jack London, boot-wearing outdoorsman who gave the world such savagely vigorous novels as White Fang, The Sea-Wolf, and of course The Call of the Wild. And yet London is indeed the subject here; Labor is the world's foremost London scholar, curator of the Jack London Museum and Research Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, and author of many articles and reprint Introductions about the man's work. This new book, Jack London: An American Life represents the culmination of a lifetime's study and clearly looks to be the definitive work, replacing such earlier efforts as Daniel Dyer's workaday Jack London: A Biography or Alex Kershaw's quite well-done Jack London: A Life.Labor loves London. He venerates the writing and wants to raise it up out of the sub-basement of 'boys adventure stories' into which so much of it has fallen. The opening pages of modern biographies tend to be where their authors do the loudest general-purpose trumpeting for their subjects, and Labor is no exception - he blares with gusto about the study-worthiness of his favorite author:Granting the "large and obvious" personal faults to which [London's friend and fellow socialist] Anna Strunsky Walling alluded, the unembellished facts of London's career are the stuff that dreams and legends are made of, more fabulous than anything Horatio Alger ever imagined. Here was an infant born out of wedlock into near poverty, one whose paternity has never been definitely established. Here was the child who spent his precious boyhood years delivering newspapers, hauling ice, and setting up pins in bowling alleys to augment the family's meager income ...




Jack London: A Biography


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In terms of research, the book is a prodigious advance over its predecessors, and in terms of Labor's eloquent passion for his subject, the book has no parallel. It's only when those two elements come together that something unforeseen and quite toxic is produced; Labor's passion drives his research, but it also muzzles that research in ways that are deeply unsettling. The partisan zeal of Jack London: An American Life makes it a gripping read, but that same partisan zeal makes this a baldly untrustworthy book. It's hagiography of a medieval stamp: its subject is very fallible, but he's never actually at fault.We get a running tally of the physical ailments that afflicted this great outdoorsman - pyorrhea, cramps, malaria, rectal fistulae, kidney stones, a "collapsing urinary system," even gout - but venereal disease isn't mentioned. We're told that both London's wives complained that he could occasionally be sullen and rude - but if either one of them (or their friends) ever extended these complaints to anything more, a cuff across the face, say, we never hear about it. The picture Labor paints is one of a moody, temperamental severe alcoholic - to the point where even the most generous-minded reader will wonder if somewhere in the large London archives this particular moody, temperamental severe alcoholic is ever seen behaving the way hundreds of millions of his counterparts have behaved throughout history.Despite many hints on such subjects throughout the history of Jack London biographies, readers could perhaps stifle their suspicions if they thought Labor was being straight with them everywhere else. But that's the problem with arousing distrust: once you've done it on one subject, you've done it on all of them.Take for example Irving Stone. Even if the reader weren't aware of how extensively Labor has railed elsewhere against Stone's 1936 London biography Sailor on Horseback, it would be easy to tell from Jack London: An American Life that Labor has nothing but contempt for the book; in hundreds of pages, he mentions it by name only once, in the fine print of an end-note on sources. Which would be acceptable (odd, but acceptable) if Stone's book were just one in a long list of London biographies to appear in the 20th century, but it wasn't. It was a runaway bestseller when it first appeared, and more importantly, it (and the movie based on it) sparked a popular revival of interest in London that lasted for nearly twenty years. It had an effect on London's literary reputation far exceeding what a normal biography would have, and it set in motion a number of controversies (about London's paternity, for instance, or the silly speculation that he committed suicide) that, for better or worse, have become inextricably linked with the subject. Writing a detailed biography of London without discussing it is about as eyebrow-raising as writing a biography of Samuel Johnson without discussing Boswell.Or, much more importantly, take the admittedly uncomfortable subject of plagiarism. It dogged London for virtually the whole of his writing career, and it flared up more than once to unavoidably public dimensions. These were not Stone-style speculations; these were newspaper stories and letter-writing campaigns involving Jack London, and yet, incredibly, they receive no mention in Labor's book. No mention, for example, of Frank Harris' contention that the seventh chapter of London's book The Iron Heel was lifted wholesale from his own work (to the extent that Harris bitterly joked that he deserved a percentage of the book's royalties). And one mention of the name Egerton Young - one astounding mention:What inspired him to write such a book [The Call of the Wild]? His love of animals, especially of dogs, was a primary factor. One of his earliest photographs is of him and his ranch pet Rollo. He had been deeply moved by the dogs he had seen in the Klondike, not only the trail-hardened huskies but also the city-bred shorthair breeds that were doomed to perish in an alien land. Furthermore, he had just finished reading Egerton R. Young's My Dogs in the Northland, which brought back nostalgic memories of the Klondike sled dogs. Most important, perhaps, he had found in the canine species the selfless unconditional love celebrated in the Christian concept of agape.


Labor is considered the leading authority on the life and works of Jack London. Historian Douglas Brinkley calls him "the true-blue dean of London studies" and recommends his Jack London: An American Life (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013) as "brilliantly researched and elegantly written." Labor's biography has elicited similar praise from reviewers in such notable media as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and PBS. The book won the Western Writers of America 2014 Golden Spur Award for Best Western Biography.


in jack london's all gold canyon, the prospector sings a song"Tu'n raround an' tu'n yo' faceUntoe them sweet hills of grace(D' pow'rs of sin yo' am scorning'!)..... . . . . . . . "What is the source/meaning of the song...


I recently wrote a book review of the Iron Heel over at Spike Magazine; which can be found here:- -jack-london-iron-heel.phpI would be intruiged to feel what other readers think of the book. In the UK where I live, the book has only just gone back into print after many years, which I find staggering. It seems to have a very low profile indeed, most UK readers of "Call of the Wild" have never heard of it. I presume it has not been quite so neglected in the US, and wonder if it has caused more of a general critical "feel" which seems absent here.As I say in the review, I feel it has major flaws, principally in its characterisation, but...


"A lively and authoritative biography."-Caleb Crain, The New Yorker"Mr. Labor-an excellent writer, who knows the London canon backward and forward, brings this most American of authors to vivid life. Jack London: An American Life is almost as much fun to read as its subject's best work . . . Mr. Labor, a professor of American literature at Centenary College in Shreveport, La., is the country's foremost London scholar. He wisely lets London's life and art unfold without judgment. Despite his continuing popularity, London has often been dismissed as a mere writer of boys' tales. But at his best he is among the greatest writers that this country has produced. If you want proof, just read his short story 'To Build a Fire' and then read this terrific book."-John Steele Gordon, The Wall Street Journal"[A] first-rate literary biography . . . [an] authoritative new life of Jack London (1876-1916) . . . Earle Labor's Jack London: An American Life doesn't take away any of its subject's glamour or fascination. To the contrary. The book is not just definitive, as one would expect from the major London scholar of the past fifty years, it is also exceptionally entertaining . . . As Earle Labor makes clear in his fine biography, Jack London was a remarkable man and a writer of impressive variety, richness, and accomplishment."-Michael Dirda, Virginia Quarterly Review"Earle Labor's new book about London, subtitled 'An American Life,' is an obvious labor of love (no pun intended). As curator of the Jack London Museum and Research Center in Shreveport, La., and professor emeritus of American literature at Centenary College of Louisiana, Labor is the acknowledged national authority on the life and work of London. Labor's work was graced by personal friendships with London's two daughters, Joan and Becky, as well as his own discovery of Charmian London's personal diaries in a safe at the 'Cottage' in Sonoma, Arizona.-diaries that London's wife herself called 'disloyal' because of their intimate frankness. To these new sources were added a number of previously undiscovered London letters and discussions with the descendants of London's bohemian friends in the Bay Area . . . Labor sets out to 'neither maximize nor minimize' [London's faults] but only to accept London on his own terms as a natural-born seeker; a gifted artist of exceptional intelligence, sensitivity and personal charisma; a man driven by a Nietzschean outlook on life at a time when literature was stuck between Victorian romanticism and the modernism that wouldn't be born until after the First World War . . . Labor's book recalls the man himself with great charm of manner."-Gaylord Dold, The Wichita Eagle "What a life. What a man. What a book . . . Only superlatives can describe this definitive biography of the nation's most popular and successful novelist of the early twentieth century . . . Earle Labor has devoted much of a lifetime to the study of London and his works and has given us a book so meticulous in its fast-moving detail that the reader feels he is almost at London's side . . . Biographer Earle Labor summarizes Jack London succinctly: ' . . . few writers mirror so clearly the American Dream of success and the corollary idea of the 'Self-Made Man.'"-Peter Hannaford, The Washington Times "Far from being an academic tract, [Jack London] is written in a fresh engaging style revealing an author who loves good literature as much as he loves the subject of his biography . . . An ideal complement to London's fiction."-Tony Williams (author of Jack London: The Movies, An Historical Survey), Jack London Foundation, Inc., Quarterly Newsletter "Labor, co-editor of authoritative editions of London's letters and stories, matches his subject in industry . . . Labor definitively puts to rest the persistent rumour of London's suicide." -Marc Robinson, The Times Literary Supplement "I rarely read biographies such as this-accurate, gripping, written like an adventure book but always with an understated sense of reality that reminds the reader this really happened." -Davide Sapienza, Italian translator of Jack London's works "Quite a few books have been published recently about Jack London's fabulous life, but Earle Labor's Jack London: An American Life is undoubtedly the definitive biography Written by the internationally acknowledged maestro of Jack London studies, the book demonstrates both the detailed scholarly documentation and the intelligent empathy with London's complex mindset that one has missed in previous biographies." -Per Serritslev Petersen, University of Aarhus, Denmark "At long last, Jack London gets the authoritative biography he so richly deserves. Earle Labor is the true-blue dean of London studies. This portrait is brilliantly researched, elegantly written, and brimming with new facts about the brave author of The Call of the Wild. Highly recommended!" -Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite "There was a time-before the Great War and the frontier's closing drove the creative spark inward-when American novelists launched the reader off into unfettered narratives as raw, brawny, explosive, and drenched in gritty personal experience as the nation that inspired them. Jack London was among the last of the great ones. Now comes London's London, the biographer Earle Labor, to turn the light of truth-telling back upon this magnificent half-forgotten outlaw of our literature."-Ron Powers, author of Mark Twain: A Life "In this comprehensive account, more richly detailed than any prior biography of Jack London, Earle Labor debunks common myths. Labor's crisp prose quotes extensively, allowing the reader to interpret the full character of this noted writer, rancher, and traveler. In placing London within the context of the tumultuous Progressive Era, Labor further explains the contradictory choices and beliefs of this complex individual. The result limns a portrait of a brilliant, creative, sensitive yet self-assured man who died prematurely, on the cusp of still greater offerings."-Clarice Stasz, author of Jack London's Women "Not so long ago, Jack London was considered a literary titan and a great American hero akin to Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway-as famous for his wild adventures as for his bestselling books. Earle Labor's eloquent, deeply researched biography has brought London and his fascinating world back to life in all its vivid, colorful detail." -Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher "Labor's unceasingly vivid, often outright astonishing biography vibrantly chronicles London's exceptionally daring and wildly contradictory life and recovers and reassesses his complete oeuvre, including many powerful, long-neglected works of compassionate, eyewitness nonfiction. Let the Jack London revival begin."-Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review) 350c69d7ab


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