Jack London 18761916

Arnold Genthe (18691942)
Gelatin silver print, c. 1900

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

“The greatest story Jack London ever wrote was the story he lived,” wrote the literary critic Alfred Kazin. Destitute as a young man in San Francisco, London was forced to work a grueling factory job to make ends meet. He was jailed for vagrancy at age eighteen, an experience that compelled him to turn his life around.

London had long wanted to become a writer, but it was not until the publication of The Call of the Wild in 1903—based on his experience in Alaska during the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush—that he began to achieve wide acclaim. In this and other writings, he presented the wilderness as a cold, often savage place. A prolific author and one-time member of the Socialist Labor Party, London had become a self-made millionaire by the time of his death at age forty.