National Review / Digital
A Strenuous Life
Jack London: An American Life, by Earle Labor (Farrar, Straus, 480 pp., $30)


The epigraph of Martin Eden, arguably Jack London’s most philosophical and autobiographical novel, proclaims, “Let me live out my years in heat of blood! / Let me lie drunken with the dreamer’s wine! / Let me not see this soul-house built of mud / Go toppling to the dust a vacant shrine!” If you wanted to write a biography of London in four lines of verse, that would be it.

London’s short life was as wild and adventurous as his fiction: Even his exploits as a teenager almost strain credulity. At 15, London quit a full-time factory job to become an oyster pirate in San Francisco Bay — stealing oysters from beds owned by the big railroad companies and selling them on the black market. At 16, he fell in with a gang of “road kids” from Sacramento who taught him how to beg and steal and hop trains without losing his legs (as one unlucky boy in the gang did). A week after his 17th birthday, he joined the crew of a sealing ship bound for the Bering Sea — a voyage in which he survived a typhoon off the coast of Japan that would be the subject of his first published story.

December 31, 2013    |     Volume LXV, No. 24

  • How I fell in love with the United States.
  • The ancient evil and the politics of distraction.
  • A new “godless” church makes you wonder.
Books, Arts & Manners
  • David Pryce-Jones reviews The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, by Yuval Levin.
  • Richard Brookhiser reviews The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735–1817, by Myron Magnet.
  • Florence King reviews The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son, by Pat Conroy.
  • Sarah Ruden reviews David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell.
  • John Daniel Davidson reviews Jack London: An American Life, by Earle Labor.
  • Ross Douthat reviews Nebraska.
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .