If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a freight-hopping hobo, you need look no further than Jack London’s autobiographical account of the hobo life. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t know London had been a hobo, or anything about the man other than that he wrote a book called “The Call of the Wild” that you read in high school. When you read “The Road” you’ll learn skills like how to avoid getting kicked off a train, how to survive being jailed for vagrancy, and how to tell a story that will get one a free meal. The events of this book took place in the 1890’s, during the worst economic depression prior to the Great Depression, and London—like scads of others—was out of work. (However, London does admit that the appeal of this adventurous lifestyle was a major factor in his own movement in these circles.)
The early part of the book deals with London’s life as a free-wheeling hobo riding the rails, and the latter part delves into his time in Kelley’s Army—a.k.a. Coxey’s Army. This was a confederacy of out-of-work men who engaged in protests and lived off the charity of compassionate folk.
It’s a short book, only about 200 pages. In nine chapters it tells London’s story over this phase of his life. Sometimes it reads like a memoir, and sometimes it reads like a manual.
I’d highly recommend this book. It was readably written and fascinating. While it was written and published during first decade of the 20th century, it’s about the late 19th century—and, let’s face it, the 19th century got short shrift in our education because—except for the Civil War—it just wasn’t sexy. But London will intrigue you with stories of America’s dark underbelly.
[Oh yeah, and you can get it for free on Kindle. And, it’s one of the most interesting and readable public domain free reads that I’ve gotten.]
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