Review of Jack L. Haley’s new biography of Jack London, by Wendy Smith

James L. Haley’s “Wolf: The Lives of Jack London,” reviewed by Wendy Smith:

At the peak of his popularity in the first decade of the 20th century, Jack London was the very model of a modern major writer. A two-fisted exponent of naturalism in fiction, he drew on his experiences as a cannery worker, sailor, hobo and gold prospector to blast American literature out of genteel decorum with novels such as “The Sea-Wolf,” a 1904 bestseller.

Along with Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London really made an impression on me as a young reader. I think it’s because of their influences (and a general attraction to kinetic storytelling) that I’ve come to prefer stories in which action (in the classical sense) reveals character over those narratives that dwell primarily in internal landscapes. There are exceptions of course, but I’ve always tended to side with the notion that what we do defines who we are, that intention and motivation are less relevant or revealing than the deed itself. Reading Camus in college really crystallized this for me but the inclination towards action was seeded much earlier by books like Call of the Wild, Treasure Island, and White Fang.

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