Novelist and short story writer Jack London was born on January 12, 1876, in San Francisco. His father, William Henry Chaney, deserted him, and by September, his mother, Flora Wellman, married John London, and the child took his surname. In London's early years, the family lived in Oakland, where London attended school. He left school after eighth grade, and worked briefly in a cannery before becoming deputy patrolman in the Fish Patrol of San Francisco Bay. Then he worked as a seaman on a seal-hunting expedition in Hawaii, Japan and the coast of Siberia. He also spent some time unemployed, and in 1894 was jailed for vagrancy.
London spent much time in public libraries educating himself, and in 1896 he was admitted to the University of California, where he attended for one semester. The following year he joined the Klondike Gold Rush, returning to Oakland in 1898, and dedicating himself to becoming a writer.
In 1900, London married Bessie Madden. They had two daughters, Joan, (b. 1901), and Bess (b. 1902). By this time, London's first two novels, The Son of the Wolf (1900) and The God of His Fathers (1901) had been published.
London separated from his wife in 1903, the year that The Call of the Wild, one of his most popular novels, was published. He had intended it to be a short story of only 4,000 words, but the story took hold of him and grew to 27,000 words. It was an immediate success and remains his most famous work. Another Alaskan dog story, White Fang (1906) was very popular.
London had long had an interest in political and social matters, and professed himself to be a socialist. In 1905, he went on a lecture tour on the east coast and in the Midwest, speaking about socialism. In November, he married Charmain Kittredge.
London was a man of prodigious energy who led a very active life. He built a sailing ship, the Snark, and sailed it with his wife to Hawaii and Tahiti in 1907, and the Fiji islands, the Solomon Islands and Sydney, Australia, in 1908. He also devoted much of his time to cultivating his Beauty Ranch, expanding it to nearly 1,000 acres in 1910 and then to 1,400 acres in 1912. He built his own home, named Wolf House, but it was burned to the ground in 1913, only two weeks before completion. Arson was suspected, and the fire left London heavily in debt. This was in spite of the fact that London was earning large sums of money from the commercial success of his writing. He wrote prolifically, trying to meet a target of 1,000 words early every morning. From 1901 to 1916, he wrote over fifty books, including both fiction and non-fiction, short stories, and numerous articles.
In his later years, London suffered from ill-health. He died on November 22, 1916, of gastro-intestinal uremia, complicated by a dose of morphine, which London administered to himself. Some have believed that his death was a suicide.