Born in San Francisco in 1876, Jack London was one of the first Americans to make a successful and famous living from writing. He spent the winter of 1897 in the Klondike region, where he was able to witness firsthand much of the Gold Rush that provided plot and background for his earliest and most enduring works. The Call of the Wild in 1903 is not London's first work-he had published short stories previously-but it remains his "most popular" and "is set during the Klondike gold rush and concerns the transformation of the domesticated ranch dog Buck from a dominating sled-dog to the leader of a wolf pack" (The Chronology of American Literature). White Fang, published three years later, was intended as a companion piece to The Call of the Wild, as it traces a dog's journey in the opposite direction: from wild to domesticated.
Travel and adventure would form the basis for much of London's other work, as well, and would become a permanent part of his public image. For instance, "London's long voyage (1907-09) across the Pacific in a small boat provided material for books and stories about Polynesian and Melanesian cultures. He was instrumental in breaking the taboo over leprosy and popularizing Hawaii as a tourist spot" (Dr. Clarice Stasz, "Jack [John Griffith] London," http:london.sonoma.edu/jackbio.html). Dr. Stasz goes on to outline further London's popularity and influence: "London was among the most publicized figures of his day, and he used this pulpit to endorse his support of socialism, women's suffrage, and eventually, prohibition. He was among the first writers to work with the movie industry, and saw a number of his novels made into films. His novel 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."
Sadly, physical and financial troubles, perhaps combined with drug problems, led to this adventuresome man's death in 1916 at the age of forty.
Donald Pizer, in The Reader's Companion to American History, offers this summation of London's lasting place in American letters: "His fiction, it is now realized, touches upon some of the central myths of Western experience. And his life epitomizes a distinctive moment in American cultural history (reflected as well in the career of Theodore Roosevelt) when the idea that it was necessary to engage all ranges of experience vigorously and with passion again became, as in the age of Emerson, a moral imperative."