He Lived Hard, Died Young, and Was a Writer of World Experiences

Jack London has some lessons for us, but not all are good

Jim Farina


“Snarklogof00londrich 0004 cropped Jack London” by Cbigorgne is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

I believe that when I am dead, I am dead. I think that with my death, I am just as much obliterated as the last mosquito you and I squashed.

Jack London (born John Griffith Chaney; January 12, 1876 — November 22, 1916). Though London died at 40, his cumulative life experiences far surpass those of most men who’ve lived twice as long, even at three times that span, most men could not pack in all the adventure and experience as Jack London had in those 40 years.

What comes to mind at the mention of Jack London? Most would say he was a great American fiction writer known for enduring works such as Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea Wolf. And they’d be correct, but Jack London was so much more.

These dog stories, based at the same time and location as that of the Klondike Gold Rush, are essentially works of fiction. In truth, London could write such vivid accounts of these people and places because he was there to live them. He experienced the frozen, dreary, brutal landscape firsthand.

These stories are based on his real-life experiences in the North while actually on the quest for gold at age 21. Did London strike any gold? Perhaps not in the literal sense. But as the most prolific and highest-paid author at the time, with so many life experiences to draw from, London struck his gold.

Besides those stories from the north, which most people are familiar with, he wrote dozens of short stories and essays based on those journeys north from the San Francisco Bay area where he was born and raised. Some of these more well-known stories are An Odyssey of the North, To Build a Fire, Love of Life, The White Man’s Way, and The White Silence.

London migrated north to the Yukon and Alaskan territories with thousands of other eager gold-seekers and sailed the Pacific south seas.

He learned to sail at an early age. Working as a sailor and owning several sailboats throughout his life, Jack London was more at home at sea than on land.