Jack London (1876-1916) lived a life rather like one of his adventure stories. Originally named John Chaney, he was the son of a traveling Irish-American fortune-teller and Flora Wellman, the outcast of a rich family. By the time Jack was a year old, his mother had married a grocer called John London and settled into a life of poverty in Pennsylvania. As Jack grew up he managed to escape from his grim surroundings into books borrowed from the local library, where the librarian guided his reading.
At fifteen, Jack left home and began traveling around North America as a tramp. He was once sent to prison for thirty days on a charge of vagrancy and at nineteen he could drink and curse as well as any boatman in California! He never lost his love of reading, though, and eventually returned to education, even gaining entry into the University of California. He soon moved on and joined the gold rush in 1896 to the Klondyke in northwest Canada. He returned without gold but with a story in his head that became his huge best-seller The Call of the Wild. By 1913, he was the highest-paid and most widely read writer in the world. He spent all his money on friends, on drink, and on building himself a magnificent house, which was destroyed by fire before it was even finished. Financial difficulties led to more pressure than he could cope with and in 1916, at the age of forty, Jack London committed suicide.
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