Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best of 2013

Top ten books of the year
As 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back at some of the best books that have appeared here at this blog over the past twelve months. These are books that I have read (or reread) and reviewed in the past calendar year. Of course, since this is Old Books by Dead Guys, many of these works were published decades or even centuries ago, but some of them were new to me and may be new to you. Click on the titles below to read the full reviews.

Discourses by Epictetus (AD 108)
Philosophy, Stoicism, Ancient Rome
The most important surviving text from the ancient Stoic school of thought instructs readers how to live happier and more meaningful lives by altering one’s attitudes, desires, and perceptions to conform to the natural order of the universe.

Wyandotté, or, The Hutted Knoll by James Fenimore Cooper (1843)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature
A British army officer retires to the remote wilderness of western New York, only to find the serenity of his retreat and the security of his family threatened by the onset of the American Revolution.

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville (1853)
Fiction (Novella), Classic Literature
The hilarious yet profound story of a luckless lawyer who hires a new clerk to work at his firm. This new employee, named Bartleby, turns out to be a pitifully passive and aggravatingly inactive man who shuns all work by uttering the statement “I would prefer not to.” 

Paris by Emile Zola (1898)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature
The final volume in Zola’s Three Cities trilogy. A Catholic priest in danger of losing his faith questions whether his deepest held religious ideals are still relevant in a city where the poor down-trodden masses, victimized by greed and corruption, are pushed to the breaking point and screaming for justice. 

The Riddle of the Universe by Ernst Haeckel (1901)
Science, Philosophy, Atheism
An evolutionary biologist summarizes the state of scientific knowledge at the close of the 19th century, and applies that knowledge to such philosophical puzzles as the origin of the universe, the existence of God, the nature of human consciousness, and the question of free will.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (1931)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature, Modern Literature
The epic saga of a poor Chinese farmer and his family as they struggle to survive and prosper amid China’s turbulent transformation from antiquity to modernity.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (2005)
History, Archaeology
A fascinating survey of the current state of archaeological research on pre-Columbian cultures that reveals that Native American civilizations were far more populous and advanced than previously thought.

Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier (2008)
Art, Comics, Biography
A gorgeously illustrated biography of Jack Kirby, the Da Vinci of superhero comics, who created some of the most inventive and memorable characters in the history of the art form.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine (2009)
Philosophy, Stoicism, Self-Help
An overview of Stoicism and a practical guide to how the wisdom of the ancient Greek and Roman Stoics can be applied to the problems of modern life.

Space: From Earth to the Edge of the Universe by Carole Stott, et al. (2010)
Science, Astronomy, Photography
A beautiful coffee-table book that combines the best photography from NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope with a thorough overview of the celestial bodies in the universe and the physical forces that drive them.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Monism as Connecting Religion and Science by Ernst Haeckel

The Riddle in a nutshell
This Kindle file consists of the text of a lecture delivered by German biologist Ernst Haeckel on October 9, 1892. In this speech, Haeckel asserts that the monumental scientific advances of the 19th century, in particular Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, prove that the most rationally accurate philosophical and religious view of the creation, composition, and fundamental workings of the universe is the monism and pantheism of the 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Haeckel would go on to develop the ideas of this lecture further in his excellent 1901 book The Riddle of the Universe, in which he outlines a monistic world view that can serve as a viable cosmology for modern freethinkers, skeptics, pantheists, and atheists.

Like many scientists of his day, Darwin included, Haeckel didn’t get everything right, as one would expect from a work written prior to a thorough understanding of DNA, relativity, or quantum mechanics. Nevertheless, his fundamental philosophical arguments remain valid. One antiquated idea that’s examined in-depth in both works is the concept of “ether”, a term used to describe the medium which exists between the particles of matter in the universe. In the post-Einstein world, this ether could be seen as the very fabric of space-time itself. Nowadays, ether might even be analogous to dark matter. The point is, even though all of Haeckel’s scientific conclusions may not have survived the scrutiny of the past century, it doesn’t change the fact that his application of empirical science to the philosophical questions of the nature of the universe, God, human consciousness, and free will still provides thought-provoking inspiration for rational thinkers looking for answers to such universal riddles.

While The Riddle of the Universe was directed at a general audience, Monism as Connecting Religion and Science is a lecture that was delivered to an organization of scientists. For that reason, the text of this speech is neither as accessible nor as engaging as that of the longer and better book it inspired. If you’ve already read The Riddle of the Universe, you will find little new here. The best purpose this 25-page speech can serve is as an outline or “cheat sheet” of that larger work. If you haven’t read The Riddle, this brief abstract might give you enough idea of the contents of that larger work to help you decide if it’s worth reading. On the other hand, I’d hate to think that the somewhat dry, scholarly prose of this lecture might dissuade readers from endeavoring to tackle the more elegant and eloquent book which followed. My recommendation, therefore, is that unless you’re just really a huge fan of Haeckel, this short work is skippable. By all means, read The Riddle of the Universe instead.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Best Short Stories of Jack London

Twenty-one five-star favorites
Jack London
I have been a fan of Jack London’s writing for over 25 years. During that time I have actively sought out his works and made an attempt to collect as many of his books in hardcover and paperback form as possible, but it wasn’t until the advent of the e-book that I was truly able to access all of his works, even the most obscure. Since getting my Kindle three years ago, I have read (or reread), rated, and reviewed London’s complete works. Though he wrote a few famous novels, most notably The Call of the WildWhite Fang, and The Sea-Wolf, London is primarily renowned as a master of the short story. There are 197 works of short fiction in the Jack London canon. Of these 197, only 21 merited my 5-star rating of ultimate excellence. I have listed them below, arranged in chronological order of initial publication. Of course, there were many other stories to which I gave a 4- or 4.5-star rating, and perhaps on a different day, in a different mood, they could just as easily achieved that top rating, but these are the stories that I consider to be his absolute best.

If you consider yourself a fan of Jack London, and you haven’t read all of these, seek them out and find them. If you are new to Jack London, and would like to sample some of his short stories, I would suggest starting with the collections The Faith of Men or Moon-Face.

A Thousand Deaths
Originally published May 1899 in The Black Cat
One of the Uncollected Stories
A sailor is rescued from drowning by a mystery man with a resuscitation machine, only to find that the mad scientist intends to use him as a guinea pig for his experiments. Great sci-fi pulp fiction.

An Odyssey of the North
Originally published January 1900 in The Atlantic Monthly
Reprinted in the collection The Son of the Wolf
A mysterious Indian shows up at the Malamute Kid’s cabin and tells the epic tale of how he traveled the world in search of his bride and the white man who stole her from him.

The Law of Life
Originally published March 1900 in McClure’s
Reprinted in the collection Children of the Frost
As an Indian tribe packs up their camp to move to their winter hunting grounds, one feeble elder is left behind to die. He meditates on life and death but harbors no fear or bitterness, for such is the law of life.

Grit of Women
Originally published August 1900 in McClure’s
Reprinted in the collection The God of His Fathers
Indian guide Sitka Charley tells the story of his wife Passuk, with whom he made a harrowing 700 mile journey across the Yukon Territory during a time of famine.

A Relic of the Pliocene
Originally published January 12, 1901 in Collier’s Magazine
Reprinted in the collection The Faith of Men
Thomas Stevens—legendary hunter, drifter, and teller of tall tales—relates his adventure of hunting a woolly mammoth.

The Minions of Midas
Originally published May 1901 in Pearson’s
Reprinted in the collection Moon-Face
A wealthy streetcar magnate is contacted by a secret society of proletariats who demand that he pay them twenty million dollars or they will start committing random murders.

Originally published as “Diable, a Dog” June 1902 in Cosmopolitan
Reprinted in the collection The Faith of Men
Fate brings together a brutal dog and a brutal master. The two make each other’s lives a living hell, biding their time until the inevitable fatal showdown. One of London’s harshest and grittiest tales.

The Story of Jees Uck
Originally published September 1902 in The Smart Set
Reprinted in the collection The Faith of Men
A romance develops between Neil Bonner, a trading post operator, and Jees Uck, an Indian woman of mixed ancestry. A touching tale of love and loyalty, it is London’s most realistic portrayal of a native/white romance.

The One Thousand Dozen
Originally published March 1903 in National Magazine
Reprinted in the collection The Faith of Men
A man tries to make a small fortune by transporting eggs from San Francisco to Dawson, but the journey is hard and the precious cargo constantly in peril.

The Shadow and the Flash
Originally published June 1903 in The Bookman
Reprinted in the collection Moon-Face
Two rival scientists race to discover the secret of invisibility. A great sci-fi story, even if the science is a little sketchy.

All Gold Cañon
[a.k.a. All Gold Canyon]
Originally published November 1905 in The Century Magazine
Reprinted in the collection Moon-Face
A prospector discovers an idyllic canyon and begins a methodical search for gold. Beautiful nature writing combined with riveting suspense.

The Apostate
Originally published September 1906 in Women’s Home Companion
Reprinted in the collection When God Laughs
A young man, having been a wage slave at factory labor for most of his life, one day decides to stop working.

To Build a Fire (2nd version)
Originally published August 1908 in The Century Magazine
Reprinted in the collection Lost Face
The classic story of a man, alone but for his dog, who trudges along the Yukon Trail in a lethal cold of 75 degrees below zero, trying to make it to his friends’ camp before he freezes to death.

Originally published December 1908 in Red Magazine [London, England]
Reprinted in the collection Revolution and Other Essays
A sci-fi thriller about a seemingly omnipotent mystery man who demands that society reorganize itself in a rational manner.

Lost Face
Originally published December 13, 1908 in New York Herald
Reprinted in the collection Lost Face
A former Polish freedom fighter faces torture and death at the hands of an Alaskan Indian tribe. While he desperately tries to find a way out of his predicament, he recalls the epic story of his journey across Asia and his escape from the mines of Siberia.

The Chinago
Originally published June 26, 1909 in Illustrated London News
Reprinted in the collection When God Laughs
A Chinese laborer in Tahiti is tried under French law for a murder he did not commit. A vivid and moving tale of colonial abuse.

The Sheriff of Kona
Originally published August 1909 in American Magazine
Reprinted in the collection The House of Pride
The Sheriff of Kona, whose job it is to apprehend lepers and send them to the colony of Molokai, starts to show signs of having the disease himself.

A Piece of Steak
Originally published November 20, 1909 in Saturday Evening Post
Reprinted in the collection When God Laughs
An aging fighter in Australia, poor and underfed, must win a bout against a young up-and-comer in order to feed his family. A beautifully written depiction of the art and strategy of boxing.

Koolau the Leper
Originally published December 1909 in Pacific Monthly
Reprinted in the collection The House of Pride
In the secluded Kalalau Valley on the island of Kauai, Koolau leads a band of lepers in rebellion against the police and army that have come to capture his people and confine them to the leper colony of Molokai.

Originally published July 29, 1911 in The Nation
Reprinted in the collection The Night-Born
A cavalry scout in an unnamed war rides through the countryside, ever vigilant, for death may strike anywhere, anytime. Very short but very effective.

The Mexican
Originally published August 19, 1911 in Saturday Evening Post
Reprinted in the collection The Night-Born
A mysterious youth joins a group of Mexican revolutionaries in Los Angeles. His zeal for the cause is so intense it even frightens his own comrades. To raise money for guns, he must win a prize fight.

For the record, London’s 5-star novels are The Call of the WildThe Iron HeelMartin Eden, and Before Adam. The first three are masterpieces of American literature, while the fourth is simply a fun piece of sci-fi pulp fiction. As for his nonfictionJohn Barleycorn and The Road are two excellent memoirs.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Space: From Earth to the Edge of the Universe by Carole Stott, et al.

Much more than just pretty pictures
With so many awesome photographs coming from the Hubble Space Telescope, there is certainly no shortage of photography books on the subject of astronomy. I have browsed through many of them at my local bookstore, but this is by far the best one I’ve found. Space: From Earth to the Edge of the Universe was published in 2010 by Dorling Kindersley, a company that makes heavily illustrated coffee-table books on every conceivable subject. I don’t always agree with DK’s editorial and design choices, but this is one instance where they really did everything right.

As the subtitle indicates, the book is organized from the Earth outward, starting with the Moon, moving on through our solar system, to the Milky Way, other galaxies, and the universe in its entirety. The nearest objects are covered more extensively, since we have more information on them and more good photographs are available. Thus, our solar system takes up a good chunk of the book, with the Moon and Mars receiving the most attention, but the outer planets and their moons are also examined in detail. Beyond our solar system, the book features an impressive array of globular clusters, nebulae, and galaxies, captured in stunning images taken from ground-based observatories, space-based telescopes, and unmanned space probes. Often multiple shots are presented in varying wavelengths of light, highlighting different features of the same object.

This book is not just a field guide to planets, stars, and galaxies, however. It also explains the physical and chemical processes that govern these heavenly bodies. The life cycle of stars is covered in intricate detail. In addition to the gorgeous photos, there are plenty of well-executed diagrams and charts, on a par with what one might find in National Geographic or Scientific American. These help to clarify concepts for which photography is inadequate, like black holes, dark matter, or the Big Bang. There’s also a lot of information on man’s exploration of space and the technology of both spacecraft and telescopes, but the text doesn’t delve too deeply into the history of astronomy. Though Galileo or Kepler may be mentioned on occasion, it pretty much starts with Yuri Gagarin and moves forward from there.

The text is broken up into bite-sized chunks. A junior high school student might enjoy just reading the general introductory paragraphs of each spread, along with selected captions and charts, while an adult who reads all the fine print will get quite a thorough education, roughly equivalent to an undergrad-level intro to astronomy course. It really covers everything the non-professional astronomer would want to know about space. There’s even a useful appendix of charts summarizing the vital statistics of the planets and selected stars and galaxies.

Given the discoveries made in this field every day, any book on this topic runs the risk of being outdated in a decade, but in terms of where man’s body of astronomical knowledge stands today, this is an excellent overview. It touches on subjects that are very much in the news lately, like the discovery of exoplanets, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and Voyager 1’s exiting of the solar system. It provides details on space probes and observatories that have yet to be launched. If you want the most up-to-date information, obviously a book can’t compete with the internet, but for a comprehensive general reference that allows you to browse through the beautiful and fascinating wonders of the universe, this book is hard to beat.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Claude’s Confession by Emile Zola

An ambitious but depressing debut
Claude’s Confession, originally published in 1865, is the debut novel of author Émile Zola. Having previously read a few of Zola’s earlier works, I expected this to be another lightweight melodrama along the lines of The Mysteries of Marseilles. On the contrary, Zola’s first effort as a novelist was indeed a serious attempt at literature. Though this book does not exemplify the mature naturalistic style Zola would come to employ in his works from Thérèse Raquin onward, it does exhibit a prototypical stage in the development of the literary naturalism for which he is famous.

In a preface to the book, Zola explains that the novel is autobiographical and that the character of Claude represents himself. He dedicates the book to his childhood friends Paul Cezanne and Jean Baptiste Baille, to whom at times the text speaks directly, as if the chapters were a series of letters addressed to them. Like Zola, Claude is an idealistic youth from Provence who moves to Paris to pursue a career as a poet. He lives a life of poverty in a dismal garret, keeping to himself and focusing on his writing. One night, a neighbor in his building falls ill, and he is asked to watch over the sick woman, named Laurence, whom he discovers is a prostitute. He performs his duty with gentlemanly intentions, but in a moment of weakness he succumbs to her sexual advances. Not long after, she is evicted from her room and insists that she take up residence with him. At first Claude feels nothing but pity and disgust for this woman. He vows to reform her and elevate her to some shred of respectability. After a while, however, he falls madly in love with her. Much to his dismay, Laurence makes it painfully clear that the feeling is not mutual, and repays his love with torment and scorn.

Claude’s Confession reads more like the work of Balzac than Zola. In his day, Balzac was chastised for always concentrating on the evil and ugly in the world—a criticism that would also come to be levelled at Zola. Yet Balzac would often use loftily poetic language to express even the most squalid scenes. Such is also the case with this novel. While Zola presents a gritty and repugnant depiction of life in a lower-class tenement, he also loads each chapter with the grandiose, romantic soliloquies of his protagonist. The result is like a baroque opera performed in a bordello. Claude is exceedingly sensitive and overly emotional to the point of histrionics. Like a throwback to the romantic and idealistic literature of the past, he clashes with Zola’s naturalism. It’s as if the title character of Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther were to wander into the harsh reality of one of Zola’s brutally lifelike portraits of the dark underbelly of Paris.

It’s unclear how autobiographical this novel really is, and the more the reader contemplates that question the more unpleasant the thought becomes. Whether or not Zola really did have a relationship with a prostitute, who are we to judge? But if he did, then the entire novel was written as an excuse. On the one hand, he depicts himself as a victim to this evil harpy; on the other he portrays himself as a Pygmalian who strives to raise this unclean soul from the gutter. It all feels rather insincere and self-serving, and incongruous with the accepted image of Zola as the paragon of social consciousness, as exemplified by “J’Accuse!” I’m a huge fan of Zola’s writing and have always admired the humanitarian dimensions of his work, but after reading Claude’s Confession I must admit my estimation of him dropped a bit on both counts. Diehard fans will want to read this book because it offers an important glimpse into his literary development, but casual readers of Zola would do better to stick with the twenty novels of the Rougon-Macquart cycle.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Maigret in Exile by Georges Simenon

Maigret’s always good, but this is not his best
Maigret in Exile, originally published in 1942 under the French title of La Maison du Juge, is the 42nd installment in the adventures of Jules Maigret, the Parisian police detective created by Belgian writer Georges Simenon. As the novel opens, Maigret has been demoted from his job in the capital—for reasons unstated in this book—and transferred to the post of district superintendent in the town of Luçon on the west coast. He is contacted by a nosy woman from a nearby community who claims that her neighbor, the town judge, has a corpse in his house. She and her husband made this discovery while peering over their back fence. Eager to investigate, Maigret travels to the seaside village of l’Aiguillon, primarily known for its mussel gathering. He catches the judge attempting to dispose of the aforementioned body, but that still doesn’t answer the question of who the dead man is or who killed him. He appears to have been a visitor to the bedroom of the judge’s daughter, an attractive young woman with a history of promiscuity and an unspecified mental handicap. After weeks of playing cards in the local bar, Maigret is delighted to have a murder on his hands. As he begins to unravel the tangled web that connects the inhabitants of this small town, his banishment to the outer reaches of France doesn’t seem quite so unbearable.

The first few chapters of this mystery are quite riveting. Simenon immediately sucks the reader into the world of l’Aiguillon and the lives of the judge and his family. As the investigation progresses, however, the story becomes less engaging. Simenon has established an inviting setting, and he has a wonderful protagonist in Maigret, but the way he drops clues to the reader doesn’t inspire a lot of suspense. Maigret conducts a series of interrogations, fueled by alcohol and tobacco, in which the players in the case gradually reveal their secrets. It soon becomes apparent that the solution to the murder is going to go one of two ways, neither one of which is particularly surprising. A few discoveries toward the end of the book, intended to be major revelations, are not unexpected, and the conclusion comes off as anticlimactic.

Maigret mysteries are generally somewhat unconventional, and usually that’s what makes them so satisfying. Simenon doesn’t settle for the clichés that permeate so much of this genre. He’s more interested in the genuine twists and turns of human behavior than in the construction of an artificial labyrinthine puzzle. In Simenon’s works, a surprise ending—so common in the mystery genre—is just another expendable cliché. This story, however, could have used a few more good old-fashioned potboiler conventions. It’s a pretty good police procedural, but lacks in excitement. Simenon is an excellent writer, and the Maigret series consistently maintains a certain high level of literary quality that transcends the typical standards of detective fiction. That’s precisely why one approaches these books with higher expectations than most. A mediocre Maigret novel is still better than 90 percent of what’s published in the mystery genre, but when compared to other Maigret novels I’ve read, this one fails to stand out as impressive. It’s a good read, but not a great mystery.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Youth by Leo Tolstoy

An inconclusive conclusion
Leo Tolstoy
Youth, originally published in 1856, is the final novel in Leo Tolstoy’s autobiographical trilogy of Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth. It continues the life story of Nicolas Petrovitch Irtenieff, beginning about the age of 16 and covering roughly a year of his life. I was hoping that the finale of this trilogy would really bring the events of Nicolas’s life together into a cohesive narrative, but I found this volume to be, much like its predecessors, a series of observations that never really amounts to much of a story.

Youth shows some promise in the beginning, as Nicolas has reached an age where he begins to question the manner in which he will live his life as a man. He attempts to set down a code of ethics which will guide the future course of his behavior and his life. This leads the reader to believe that the novel will start to delve into the development of Tolstoy’s personal philosophy, which would make for a fascinating book, but unfortunately this thread is soon abandoned. The story then moves on to Nicolas’s college entrance exams, which is interesting for its historical insight into the Russian educational system, but not particularly moving. Next, the book moves to a series of social situations in which Nicolas interacts with various friends and family. These scenes are not really very engaging at all, and at times lapse into pointless description for description’s sake. Along the way, Nicolas starts to gain an awareness of class and to determine his position in the social hierarchy. He also begins to question that very hierarchy, but these inklings are merely faint stirrings that never add up to much. Tolstoy treats Nicolas’s social adventures with a fair degree of self-deprecating humor as he chronicles his surrogate’s foolish notions, shallow vanities, and awkward faux pas. Unfortunately, the book never reaches the point where Nicolas learns the errors of his youthful foibles and moves beyond them. The book doesn’t have so much an ending as it does a truncation. The entire trilogy feels like an introduction to some as yet unwritten work. It’s all a bit of tease, a promise of things to come.

The value of Tolstoy’s autobiographical trilogy lies mostly in its importance as an autobiographical document, not in its literary merits. The more you know about Tolstoy and the more you love his work, the more you will enjoy the trilogy for what it tells you about Tolstoy. In and of itself, however, it’s not a great work of literature and is in fact even a little frustrating for the reader. The most moving episode in the overall story is the death of Nicolas’s mother, which occurs back in the first book. Nothing in the two subsequent volumes even approaches the emotional power of that event. The rest of the trilogy reads like a series of skillfully told yet only mildly amusing anecdotes which would have faded into obscurity had their author not gone on to become one of the greatest writers of all time. Lucky for us he moved on to bigger and better things.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Uncollected Stories of Jack London

Some brilliant nuggets in this pan of gravel
Jack London
Though Jack London wrote a couple of famous novels, The Call of the Wild and White Fang, he is primarily known as a master of the short story. London wrote 197 works of short fiction which were published in a diverse array of periodicals. Most of them were reprinted in collections during his lifetime or shortly following his death. By my reckoning, however, 37 of these stories never made it between the covers of a book, which is why there now exist collections with the oxymoronic title of Uncollected Stories. Contents of such collections often vary as some editions omit stories or include nonfiction pieces. In all such “Uncollected” collections that I’ve seen, the stories are presented in alphabetical order rather than chronological order, which makes it difficult to tell which are the auspicious early efforts London wrote for his high school newspaper, and which are the polished products of the mature, successful author. Most of these stories take place in the gold mining country of the Klondike, but there is enough variety in the mix to give a good idea of the diverse settings and subject matter London covered in his career. The result is a hodgepodge of redundancies, failed experiments, just plain bad stories, and some great buried treasures.

Among the redundancies, “Even Unto Death” has the exact same plot as “Flush of Gold,” “Night’s Swim in Yeddo Bay” is a rough draft of the later “In Yeddo Bay,” and “Chased by the Trail” reads like scenes lifted from “At the Rainbow’s End” and London’s novel A Daughter of the Snows. There is also the 1902 version of “To Build A Fire,” a preliminary draft of the more famous 1908 story of the same title. The earlier version was watered-down for a younger audience and features a different ending, but it’s still considered a story in its own right within the London canon.

Under failed experiments can be filed “In the Time of Prince Charley,” a historical adventure set in 18th-century Scotland which shows the heavy influence of Sir Walter Scott. “Mahatma’s Little Joke” is a humorous bit on Eastern mysticism that involves a Freaky Friday-esque episode of soul switching. “A Lesson in Heraldry,” a bad joke starring a cute and precocious little girl, has all the literary merit of a Family Circus newspaper comic. Also included among the uncollected are quite a few romance and relationship stories—never London’s forte—which generally make up the worst of the bunch.

While it’s obvious why some of these stories were never reprinted, there are some buried treasures here which are truly undeserving of their obscurity. The obvious standout is “A Thousand Deaths,” an excellent sci-fi pulp fiction tale about a sailor who is rescued from drowning, only to find himself at the mercy of a mad scientist. “O Haru” is another great surprise. It’s a vivid and poignant portrait of a Japanese geisha at a time when Western influence was beginning to encroach upon the land of the rising sun. In “One More Unfortunate,” a down-on-his-luck musician looks back on his career, wondering where it all went wrong. “Plague Ship” is a seafaring tale of a passenger vessel that becomes a floating hell. “The Devil’s Dice Box” and “A Northland Miracle” are two very strong, gritty Klondike action stories, while “A Klondike Christmas,” a more light-hearted take on the mining life of the North, is also quite successful.

You’ve got to sift through a lot of dirt to find these gold nuggets. When you consider these 30-odd works as a whole, the Uncollected Stories, on average, are not very good. The few notable exceptions do make this bundle of writings a worthwhile read for London aficionados, but not for casual fans. I would not recommend this collection to those only mildly familiar with London’s writing. For such readers, seeking out “A Thousand Deaths” would probably be enough.

Stories in this collection:
And ’Frisco Kid Came Back
The Captain of the Susan Drew
Chased by the Trail
The Devil’s Dice Box
A Dream Image
The End of the Chapter
Even unto Death
“Frisco Kid’s” Story
The “Fuzziness” of Hoockla-Heen
The Grilling of Loren Ellery
The Handsome Cabin Boy
In the Time of Prince Charley
King of Mazy May
A Klondike Christmas
A Lesson in Heraldry
Mahatma’s Little Joke
Night’s Swim in Yeddo Bay
A Northland Miracle
O Haru
Old Baldy
An Old Soldier’s Story
One More Unfortunate
Plague Ship
Pluck and Pertinacity 
The Proper “Girlie”
The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone
Sakaicho, Hona Asi and Hakadaki
The Strange Experience of a Misogynist
The Test: A Clondyke Wooing
Thanksgiving on Slav Creek
Their Alcove
A Thousand Deaths
To Build a Fire (1902 version)
Two Gold Bricks
The Unmasking of a Cad
Up the Slide
Who Believes in Ghosts!

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