Not often does a biography begin with a villain—a biographer no less. In a rousing opening, Iris Jamahl Dunkle has Irving Stone explode on the scene, romancing Jack London’s widow, Charmian Kittredge London, and dancing her into cooperating with his desire to write a biography, Sailor on Horseback (1938), which casts the woman as the femme fatale that, in effect, drives her husband Jack to suicide. Dunkle’s book might well be titled “Justice to Charmian.” Stone’s life of London is really a biographical novel. He went in search of an archive in the London home that served his sensationalistic purposes, even though the facts—such as London’s death by kidney failure—were amply established.

So well does Dunkle present her case for a revised biography of Charmian that she perhaps overlooks...


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