Jack London Followed his Muse into the Wild

Before his sudden death at age 40 in 1916, Jack London lived in perpetual motion, writing 50 books and traipsing across five continents. His odyssey, up from the poverty of the Oakland, California, slums to become the celebrated author of The Call of the Wild, is a saga as adventurous as the yarns he spun. By 1916, London was the highest-paid writer in the country and the most widely read American author in the world.

Writer Bruce Watson explores the London legend, from the novelist's passionate campaign to educate himself (he had to quit school at 13) to the Klondike adventures that resulted in his timeless tale of Buck, the lapdog turned proud beast. The Call of the Wild was an instant best-seller, critically acclaimed, and made his name a household word. Had he gotten royalties, he could have retired at 27, but he sold all rights for $2,000.

The remainder of his restless and questing life took him everywhere from the slums of London, where he wrote The People of the Abyss, a powerful documentary account of that city's underworld, to Korea, where he reported on the Russo-Japanese war in 1904.

Ultimately, as Watson explains, "London himself was an American classic.... So long as adventurers find themselves deskbound or housebound, his life will inspire them."

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