"The People of the Abyss was written at the beginning of this century, and yet, it speaks just as vividly of the conditions at end of the century. We are seeing the erosion and deterioration of all that was won through hard-fought labor battles: the end of the 8 hour work day; people working two jobs and still not being able to make ends meet; children left to their own devices as parents are stretched to the breaking point; the rise of infectious diseases, especially tuberculosis, as people are forced to live in more crowded, unsanitary conditions; the lack of healthcare; increasing numbers of people living on the street; and hunger. These were the conditions Jack London saw and described in East London at the turn of the century; but they could as easily have been New York City or any large American city; and they could be any large American city today." Jack London came to the East End of London in 1902, and The People of the Abyss is the result of his investigative journalism that paints a vivid and disturbing portrait. It is both a literary masterpiece and a major sociological study. London posed as a stranded American sailor, sleeping in doss houses and living with the destitute and starving - the record of what he saw there remains as powerful today as it was then. The new edition includes an introduction by Brigitte Koenig, giving a full contextual background to London's life and work.
No other book of mine took so much of my young heart and tears as that study of the economic degradation of the poor.
It is written with the smoldering anger of turn-of-the-century revolutionary socialism. There are no gray shadings in London's economic world. There is only the evil of capitalism and the saintly suffering of the poor. The rich had had their stories told in mass periodicals, and London felt it was time to let the ignored speak. He thus wrote the biographies of the people who have been exploited by imperialism and capitalism. This is the book that counters the Horatio Alger story. For every Alger, for every Rockefeller, there is a mass of sufferers whose plight enabled the speedy rise to wealth of a few. In its sociological and journalistic documentation of poverty is a call for direct action. Wealth blinds, and London makes us see. With this reprinting of London's incredibly important and readable book, Pluto Press and London remind us of how economic exploitation must always be fought, that we must always be educated in the lives of the unfortunate.