Jack Griffith London was born in San Francisco in 1876 his mother was of a wealthy background, her name was Flora Wellman. His father may have been William Chaney, a journalist, lawyer, and major figure in the development of American astrology. Because Flora was ill, an ex-slave, Virginia Prentiss, who was a major mother like figure while he grew up, raised Jack through infancy. Late in 1876, Flora married John London, a partially disabled Civil War veteran. The family moved around the Bay area before settling in Oakland, where Jack completed grade school.
As a teen London worked at various hard labor jobs, pirated for oysters on San Francisco Bay, served on a fish patrol to capture poachers, sailed the Pacific on a sealing ship, joined Kelly's Army of unemployed working men, hoboed around the country, and returned to attend high school at age 19. In the process, he became acquainted with socialism and was known as the Boy Socialist of Oakland. He would run unsuccessfully several times on the socialist ticket as mayor. Always a big reader, he chose to become a writer to escape from the life of a factory worker. He studied other writers and began to submit stories, jokes, and poems to various publications, mostly without success.
He spent the winter of 1897 in the Yukon, This helped him Wright his first stories, which he began publishing in the Overland Monthly in 1899. From that point he was a highly disciplined writer, who would produce over fifty volumes of stories, novels, and political essays. It was The Call of the Wild that brought him fame, but many of his short stories were called classics.
London was among the most publicized figures of his day. He was among the first writers to work with the movie industry, and saw a number of his novels made into films. His book The Sea-Wolf became the basis for the first full-length American movie. He was also one of the first celebrities to use his endorsement for commercial products in advertising, including dress suits and grape juice.
London's great love became agriculture, and he often he wrote to support his Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen. He brought to California techniques observed in Japan, such as terracing and manure spreading. He was far ahead of his time in the making of the ranch. His Wolf House, for example, was built of rock and lumber from his property. He was much influenced by the Arts and Crafts philosophy in these regards.
London's first marriage in 1900 was to Bess Maddern, with whom he had two daughters, Joan and Bess. Following an affair with Charmian Kittredge, five years later, he divorced Bess. In 1905 he married Charmian Kittredge who became the person for many of his female characters and who joined him on his many travel adventures. He encouraged her own writing career, and she wrote three books concerning their life
Often troubled by physical problems, during his thirties London developed kidney disease of unknown origin. He died on November 22, 1916 on the ranch. His writings became translated in several dozen languages, and he remains more widely read in some countries outside of the United States today than in his home country. Study of his life and writings provide a case through which to examine the contradictions in the American character, and key movements and ideas prominent during the Progressive era.