Robert Tanitch reviews Jack London The Paths Men Take (Contrasto £16.95)
The photographs, journals and reportages cover the experiences of Jack London (1876-1916), the author of the best-selling The Call of the Wild, in London’s East End (1902), the Russian-Japanese War, (1904) the San Francisco earthquake (1906) and also the cruise of the Snark (1907).
London was an adventurer. “I would rather live,” he said. “Life that lives is successful.”
London was a photographer and a socialist. He gives a grim picture of the abyss, the human cess-pool, the drunken women swearing and fighting in the slums of London. The only beautiful thing is children dancing in the street to an organ-grinder.
London was a celebrated war correspondent. He gives an amusing and irritating account of the Japanese’s efforts to stop him photographing their war with Russia.
He did not initially want to report on the Earthquake which burned San Francisco to the ground, feeling that words would be inadequate to do it justice. His report is without histrionics, a flat, factual statement of the gutting, the devastation, and the dynamiting; and all the more effective for that.
London’s voyage takes him to the South Seas. He finds Nature Man refreshing. His compassion when he writes about leprosy in Molokai is in direct contrast to the lurid reports others had given.
London was no amateur photographer and his photographs, human documents, are an invaluable record. Between 1900 and 1916 he took more than twelve thousand photographs
“Why do I take pictures?” he asks and answers: “Because I want to. For my pleasure.”