Review: Wolf: The Lives of Jack London

Wolf: The Lives of Jack London
Wolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L. Haley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Call of the Wild has long been one of my favorite books, and it’s the first novel we read together in my AP Literature class to illustrate The Hero’s Journey and introduce literary movements. I’d read London’s The Road memoir of his life as a tramp previously and liked it, so when I found this full biography at a Half-Price Books there was no leaving it behind.

To say London led an amazing life would be a gross understatement. From poverty-stricken child with a crazy mother to oyster pirate to offshore lawman to gold prospector to hobo to author, the man did more than any dozen men would do today. He spent a good deal of his life lecturing about the benefits of socialism, which always struck me as strange considering the naturalistic survival-of-the-fittest themes he often wrote about. He must have been an interesting man to know.

I couldn’t remember how London died. Haley goes into it and, basically, no one is really sure if he overdosed on morphine by accident or on purpose. Haley is of the opinion it was an accident because of the plans London had laid out for the future. He makes a good case, but shows how London knew he was hastening his own end with a lifestyle he refused to moderate.

I liked this book, but somehow it left me unfulfilled. I wanted to know more about particular pieces of fiction. One of my favorite London short stories is “A Piece of Steak” and that story didn’t even get a mention. Maybe I should give it four stars out of five instead of three, but I’m just not feeling it. Despite that, the book is very well written and engaging and likely more than enough for a more casual fan.

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