Born John Griffith Chaney January 12, 1876, Jack London grew up in San Francisco and Oakland, California.
His mother, Flora Wellman, was a music teacher and spiritualist. London was unsure of his father, as records pertaining to marriage and births were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, and the man believed to be his father claimed impotency. London did however find a record of his mother's attempted suicide, written in the San Francisco Chronicle of June 4, 1875. According to Flora when she told astrologer William Chaney, whom she was living with, that she was pregnant, he demanded she get an abortion. She then shot herself, and although she wasn't badly harmed she was mentally deranged, and after having her baby boy (Jack) she handed over his care to Virginia Prentiss, an African-American woman and former slave, until Flora remarried, John London, a partially disabled Civil War Veteran in 1876.
When London was just 13 he went to work in a cannery, working 12-18 hour days, and later became an oyster pirate and a hobo. In 1894 he spent 30 days in a penitentiary for vagrancy, and afterword resolved to get educated and returned to school. At 21 London sailed to Alaska to join the Klondike gold rush.
In early 1903, London sold The Call Of the Wild to The Saturday Evening Post for $750, and the book rights to Macmillan for $2,000. Macmillan's promotional campaign propelled it to swift success. First edition Call of the Wild today are listed at an upwards of $25,000.
London married Elizabeth "Bessie" Maddern on April 7, 1900, a marriage not for love but rather the belief that they would produce good children. The couple did have two daughters before they divorced in 1904. London married Charmian Kittredge in 1905 and the partnership seemed a match made in heaven, although they were unable to have any children - with one child dying at childbirth and another miscarrying.
In 1905 London purchased 1,000 acre ranch and began to build a 15,000 square foot house - the ranch was a failure and the house burned before it was completed, but today the remains are within the Jack London State Historic Park that is also a National Landmark.
In later life London indulged his wide-ranging interests by accumulating a personal library of 15,000 volumes. He referred to his books as "the tools of my trade."
London died when he was just 40 years old, on the sleeping porch of a cottage on his ranch, November 22, 1916. He had suffered various illnesses including scurvy in the Klondike, tropical diseases during his travels, and was reportedly suffering from dysentery, alcoholism, and was on morphine for pain at the time of his death.