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To Build a Fire: Biography: Jack London

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Jack (John) Griffith London was born in San Francisco in 1876. His biological father’s surname was Chaney, and the name London is taken from his step-father who married his mother in the year he was born. His upbringing was working-class and he was raised in Oakland. He took numerous manual jobs after leaving school in 1890 and this included working in a cannery. He borrowed money to buy a sloop and then earned money as an oyster pirate. He returned to study at high school aged 19 and then studied briefly at the University of California at Berkeley as a means of escaping what he saw as a life of manual work.
His interest in outdoor pursuits remained a constant in his life and was apparent in his youth when he taught himself to sail and later took to the open road. He travelled to the Klondike, for example, after leaving university and staked his claim there. While here, he continued to read widely and his writing at this time included the short story ‘To Build a Fire’.
London went on to be a prolific and highly-successful writer nationally and internationally and is thought to be the most financially successful writer of his day. Of his fifty published books, The Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea-Wolf (1904) and White Fang (1906) are just three of those that went on to be massively popular.
His engagement with politics is evident in his interests in socialism and the rights of women to vote. There are also marked contradictions in his outlook as he also had professed adherences to individualism and has been accused of racism. He died in 1916 aged 40. In the past, it has been argued that he committed suicide, but it is now widely accepted that he died of kidney failure (of the effects of uremia).




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