Wolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L. Haley
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Holy shnikeys, did I ever underestimate Jack London! Growing up, I only knew him from his Alaskan adventure stories. Later on I discovered his semi-autobiographical stories of working both sides of the law in the San Francisco bay waters. However, only now did I learn of his strident socialism.
There's a reason for that. It's been downplayed. Even after his death he was investigated by the FBI and McCarthy for his socialist leanings. Since the public loved him so dang much for Call of the Wild and White Fang, the best the government could do was suppress his leftist history. So, schools cut that part of his life out of his history. It's a shame, because as it turns out, he wasn't a raving anarchist, but a moderate socialist who believed in a restrained capitalism. He felt an unleashed capitalism allowed for the excesses that created robber barons and labor abuses. He was absolutely right. Look at Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Hell, look at America at just about any dang time!
Politics weigh upon James L. Haley's marvelous biography of the writer, but it's done with balance. Politics were as much a part of London's life as was his writing and love life. These aspects of London intermingle and entwine perfectly throughout Wolf, while capturing the essence of a man and mind ever changing.
London's life was one of striving, of defeats and of victories. His life is a prime example of the American rags-to-riches dream. He is the ideal of the modern reader's fascination with the "troubled protagonist" in fiction. London was a highly nuanced man and this book paints all of that complexity perfectly.
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