We Don’t Know Jack!

…Jack London, that is. Or maybe you do, there are certainly a few among you polymaths who like literature as well as science. I just read Joyce Carol Oates’ novel “The Accursèd”, in which Jack London—and Woodrow Wilson , and Upton Sinclair! —are all characters! It’s a great read. But it was the stuff about London which really interested me.
He lived over the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and is best known for his short stories, i read on Wiki that his popularity ws due to the fact that this was when weekly magazines became popular. He went to the Klondike during the 1897 Gold Rush . He was an atheist,a socialist an animal rights proponent. He married his first wife only to procreate, and having had two daughters by her, he left for a second woman. (He called wife 1 “Mother-girl” and wife 2 “Mate-Woman”—reminds me of BAP!) he believed in passion but not love. Lotsa travel (with concomitant exotic diseases) lotsa drinking. A BIG life.
When London died in 1916, Ernest Hemingway was only 17, but it has to have occurred to people other than me that London was a proto-Hemingway!
Why is Hemingway now so much more famous?
Do you know Jack?


On Mark Steyn’s website, one of his many book readings is “Burning Daylight”, by Jack London. Very far from being a short story. Apparently, this was a very widely-read book back in happier times. It tells the tale of a rogue who makes a fortune in the very difficult conditions of the Klondike gold rush, almost loses that fortune in threatening run-ins with duplicitous New York financiers (some things never change!), makes another fortune building up Oakland, California across the bay from San Francisco, and then gives it all up for love. Quite a tale!

Apparently, there were even movies made of this Jack London story, back when Hollywood was not ashamed of America.


The only works of Jack London I’ve read are The Call of the Wild and White Fang, both of which were on a “summer reading” list when I was in junior high.

I didn’t know before reading the Wikipedia page on Jack London that he also wrote dystopian science fiction. The Iron Heel (1908), chronicles the establishment of an oligarchic dictatorship in the U.S. to crush an emerging socialist mass movement. Set in the period from 1912 through 1932, “[T]he Oligarchy (or “Iron Heel”) arises in the United States. Japan conquers East Asia and creates its own empire, India gains independence, and Europe becomes socialist. Canada, Mexico, and Cuba form their own Oligarchies and are aligned with the U.S.

London also wrote a short story, “The Unparalleled Invasion”, published in 1910, which describes the rise of China as a world power.

China breaks away from Japan and fights a brief war that culminates in the Chinese annexation of the Japanese possessions of Korea, Formosa, and Manchuria. Enraged over the loss of Indochina to Chinese migrants and invading armies, France attempts to blockade China, but is thwarted by China’s economic self-sufficiency. In a last-ditch attempt, France assembles a large military force to invade China, but the entire force is quickly defeated by China’s vast army. Over the next half century, China’s population steadily grows, and eventually migration overwhelms every other European colony in Asia.

By 1975, the population of China is double that of the Western world combined, and China’s government is confident that the nation’s high birth rate and population will result in Chinese world domination. The United States enlists the help of other Western powers and amasses an invasion force on China’s borders. America then launches a biological warfare campaign against China, resulting in the total destruction of China’s population, with the few survivors of the plague being killed out of hand by European and American troops.


Wait! No link to the Fourmilab Jack London Public Domain Reading Room?

Guess we have to settle for Google Books.

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No, but Project Gutenberg has a pretty good collection of Jack London works, including many in Finnish translation.

Almost everything on Project Gutenberg is now available as EPUB3 (Kindle compatible) as well as HTML and .mobi for older Kindles.


Based on the recommendation of this post, I read and recently finished Jack London’s 1908 novel The Iron Heel. This is a utopian/dystopian work which is told in the form of a diary kept by a woman who lived through the tumultuous events of 1912 through 1932 when a socialist revolution gripped the United States, only to be put down by an oligarchy called the Iron Heel which ruled for the next 300 years. The novel presents the fictional diary annotated by a scholar around A.D. 2600 (year 419 of the B.O.M [Brotherhood of Man]), after humans have come to their senses and put down the capitalist imperialist oppressors and finally built their socialist utopia.

The diarist is the daughter of a university professor at Berkeley which, in this timeline, is a bastion of conservatism, whose father is introduced to the iniquity (and inequity, in present-day Berkeley-speak) of capitalist society by revolutionary Ernest Everhard, with whom daughter Avis falls in love and joins in the revolutionary struggle.

This is a period piece which brings to life the era of utopian socialism, when the disciples of Marx believed the immutable laws of history would transform the ugly but necessary capitalist stage of human society into the broad, shining paradise of socialism, where the mass production of machines would not impoverish the workers who ran them but rather produce a cornucopia in which all could be wealthy in all the ways that mattered.

If you look closely, the story reveals the flaws in the dream which would turn socialism into a nightmare wherever it was tried. The workers, who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of the new order, are dismissed as denizens of “the abyss”, who must be led by the enlightened theorists conversant with the cold equations of Marxism. And what is to keep these theorists from setting up their own oligarchy, enforced by goon squads recruited from the abyss? Well, their intentions are good, so that could never happen. Right? Right?

Jack London knew how to craft a page-turner, and this novel does not disappoint. The battle scenes may be a bit too strong for sensitive readers, but then that’s socialism, which managed to put around a hundred million people in their graves in the century after this book was published. (“And we’re only getting started”), say today’s advocates of the proletarian revolution.

The Iron Heel is available for free in a variety of formats, including an HTML version you can read on-line in your browser and EPUB files compatible with Kindle and other electronic book readers from Project Gutenberg at the link above. There is a Kindle version at Amazon which is absolutely free and, other than funky monospace type’s being used for the footnotes from the editor in the future, is perfectly readable.