This year is the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s famous rambling American epic, On The Road, but few people will have noticed that it is also the centenary of another book about the road, by another famous American Jack. Jack London’s The Road, published by Macmillan in 1907. The Nation is carrying an article by Jonah Raskin about London’s book, which picks up on the way American life changed in the 50 years between them:
In the years between 1907 and 1957 America changed radically–it became a world power and developed a full-blown mass culture–and those social and cultural changes are reflected in these two books. The Road depicts an industrial America in which hobos and tramps are an integral part of the system–“a reserve army of the unemployed,” as Marxists have called it–who help keep wages down. On the Road describes a postindustrial America in which cars are everywhere, almost everyone can afford a car, a radio and a television, and the mass media shape the lives of American citizens.