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Reviewed by:
David Mike Hamilton. "The Tools of My Trade": Annotated Books in Jack London's Library. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1987. 340 pp. $25.00.
James Lundquist. Jack London: Adventures, Ideas, and Fiction. New York: Ungar, 1987. 213 pp. $15.95.

It is both appropriate and illuminating to consider these two studies together: they are evidence of the continuing popular and increasing scholarly interest in Jack London some seven decades after his death; each contributes to a fuller understanding of London; and, most significantly, they tend to "correct" each other—or, to put it differently, they present somewhat contradictory facets of London's life and work.

David Mike Hamilton's bibliography is mainly for the London specialist, although it does offer some information about the reading habits of his era. The focus is on London, the omnivorous reader and frequent annotator. His life, as the convincing introduction makes clear, was, like the Snark on the voyage to the South Seas, "ballasted by books." James Lundquist's study, one of the titles [End Page 665] in a series of introductions to American writers published by Ungar, is an insightful, fast-paced overview of London designed to interest as well as inform and is more for the general reader, although it helped me frequently to refine my own views. Its focus is on London as man of adventure always "ready to travel to the 'raw' edges of the world": "much of the power in his writing derives directly from the risks he took." Yet Lundquist also pays tribute to London's intellectual range, taking issue with the typical assessment as expressed by H. L. Mencken, who, even as he recognized London's "inborn mastery," thought his art corrupted by "ignorance." Quite the contrary, Lundquist asserts: "London was one of the least ignorant of writers, and his best stuff is always as much dependent on his extensive reading and his powerful scholar's curiosity as it is on his instinctive artistry and his action-packed life."

"The Tools Of My Trade": Annotated Books in Jack London's Library is the result of Hamilton's ten-year study of London's 15,000 books, 400 of which he annotated. London's writing has almost always been viewed through the mythic haze of his romantic adventures, often as London himself had spun out the story. He did have an active, unusual, and widely publicized life; and the composite portrait of London as the unschooled vagrant, drunken sailor, Klondike survivor, wide-ranging reporter, Socialist lecturer signing himself "Yours for the Revolution," navigator of the Snark among cannibals in the South Seas, landed gentleman on an almost feudal scale—all made better copy during his life, and even down to the present, than London, the serious writer, author of over fifty volumes. And such iconoclastic remarks as "I would rather win a water-fight in the swimming pool . . . than write the great American novel" helped confirm the stereotype.

Hamilton clearly establishes that London wrote out of more than his "raw," unexamined experience. Certainly, London, the reader, took much into his province: biology, economics, travel, navigation, sociology, philosophy, psychology, political economy—and poetry, fiction, drama. If London called himself a "brain merchant" and referred to his library as "the tools of my trade," he nonetheless set up an impressive intellectual/artistic shop. A world apart from Henry Adams (two volumes by Brooks Adams are among those annotated), London yet bears pondering, as he, with far less resources of background and training but with a great deal more vitality, set out to effect his own education. It would seem, then, that Hamilton has provided a major contribution toward seeing London in a broader context than that of his popular image, as, in fact, to some extent he has. But the annotations, apart from those on Jung, Bergson, and a very few others, are disappointingly "casual, ephemeral jottings." They are significant, however, in suggesting not only the breadth of London's interests but also aspects of his work that subsequent scholars will undoubtedly wish to explore.

In a relatively long first chapter, nearly half of his book, Lundquist sketches London's action-filled life, successfully...


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