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John "Jack" Griffith London

Man wearing a white shirt and black tie, sitting outside..  He is writing, there are books on the table.
 Jack London in a pose writing outside, c. 1916.

No definitive or fully reliable biography of Jack London exists to date. Part of the reason is the literary estate has until recent years limited access to the private papers and manuscripts at the Huntington Library and Utah State University. As a result, some biographers used only secondary sources, such as newspaper articles and hearsay information. To date, we lack the hefty volume that is fully comprehensive.

Furthermore, London folded many of his experiences and adventures into his fiction. Consequently, some readers too quickly presume that characters such as Martin Eden are an accurate representation of London's early adulthood. Some biographers have even quoted characters from London's fiction as representing himself.

A variety of circumstances have resulted in a mythology developing around London, much created by Irving Stone's Sailor on Horseback. Some journalists and encyclopedia writers continue to promulgate a version of London that does not hold up to scholarly scrutiny, namely, the womanizing alcoholic whose repeated failures resulted in his commiting suicide. This caricaturing and projection of a Hemmingwayesque personality substitutes for a thoughtful examination of the evidence and subtle interpretation of this very complex man. He was not without faults, but this version oversimplifies.

Readers should be very demanding of evidence when examining these biographical studies, and check more than one source on any particular episode. Obviously, arguments based upon what historians call primary sources--letters, diaries, firsthand accounts written close to the event--are more credible than secondary sources--newspaper articles, memoirs written long after the event, or hearsay. The lists below are in chronological order of publication.

The best online biography of Jack London is on Wikipedia.

Comprehensive Biographies

Rose Wilder Lane, “Life and Jack London,” Sunset 39-40 (Oct. 1917-May 1918): 17-20, 72-73; 29-32, 64-66; 21-23, 60-68; 34-37, 62-64; 30-34, 67-68; 27-30, 64-65; 21-25, 60-62; and 28-32, 60-72. Serial biography

Charmian K. London, The Book of Jack London, 2 vols. (New York: Century Co., 1921)   .

Rose Wilder Lane, He Was a Man, (New York: Harper, 1925). Sunset articles recast as a biographical novel.                      

Irving Stone, Sailor on Horseback: The Biography of Jack London (Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1938).  Later editions subtitled "A Novel."

Joan London, Jack London and His Times: An Unconventional Biography (New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1939)            

Richard O’Connor, Jack London: A Biography (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1964)

Robert Barltrop, Jack London: The Man, the Writer, the Rebel (London: Pluto Press, 1976)

Andrew Sinclair, Jack: A Biography of Jack London (New York: Harper & Row, 1977)

Russ Kingman, A Pictorial Life of Jack London (New York: Crown, 1979)

John Perry, Jack London: An American Myth (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981)

Clarice Stasz, American Dreamers: Charmian and Jack London  (New York, St. Martin's, 1988)

 Alex Kershaw, Jack London: A Life (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997)

 James L. Haley, Wolf: The Lives of Jack London (New York: Basic Books, 2010)

 Earle Labor, Jack London: An American Life (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2013. The closest to a full biography based upon the research archives.

Biographies with Specialized Focus

Philip Foner, Jack London: American Rebel (New York: Citadel Press, 1947)

Franklin Walker, Jack London and the Klondike: The Genesis of an American Writer (San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1966)

 Joan Hedrick, Solitary Comrade: Jack London and His Work (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982)

 Carolyn Johnston, Jack London—An American Radical? (Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press, 1984)

Clarice Stasz, Jack London’s Women (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001)

 Jeanne Reesman, Jack London’s Racial Lives: A Critical Biography (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2009)

First-hand Accounts by Chronology of Composition

Ninetta Eames, "Jack London." Overland Monthly 35 (May 1900): 417-24. Eames was one of London's first editors.

Martin Johnson, Through the South Seas with Jack London (New York: Dodd Mead, 1913) Johnson was part of the Snark crew.

Jack London Special Edition, Overland Monthly 18 (May 1917). Includes accounts by George Wharton James, Mae Lucy Baggs, Bailey Millard, Berton Bailey, John D. Barry, and Edgar Lucien Larkin.

Frank Irving. Atherton, "Jack London in Boyhood Adventures," Jack London Journal 4 (1997): 14-172. Atherton was London's boyhood friend, and intended to publish this by the 1930s.

Georgia Loring Bamford. The Mystery of Jack London: Some of His Friends, A few of His Letters, A Reminiscence. (Oakland: Bamford, 1932) Bamford was a schoolmate.

Yoshimatsu Nakata, "A Hero to His Valet,"  Jack London Journal 7 (2000): 26-102. Actually composed in the 1930s. Includes a brief addendum by another valet, Sekine.

Armine von Tempski, Born in Paradise (New York: Literary Guild of America, 1940) Von Tempski was a close friend of London in Hawaii.

Joseph Noel, Footloose in Arcadia: A Personal Record of Jack London, George Sterling, and Ambrose Bierce (New York, Carrick & Evans, 1940) Noel had some business dealings with London.

Joan London, Jack London and His Daughters (Berkeley: Heyday, 1990) Joan was London's eldest daughter.

Critical Essays on the Biographies

Shivers, Alfred. "Jack London: Author in Search of a Biographer." American Book Collector 12 (March 1962): 25-27.

_______. "Jack London: Not a Suicide." The Dalhousie Review 49 (Spring 1969): 43-57.

Etulain, Richard. The Lives of Jack London, Western American Literature (Summer, 1976): 149-64.

Stasz, Clarice. The Social Construction of Biography: The Case of Jack London, Modern Fiction Studies (Spring, 1976): 51-71.

Williams, Jay. "The Controversies of Jack London: A Summary." The Call 30 (2019).