Jack London was born in San Francisco. He was deserted by his father, "Professor" William Henry Chaney, an itinerant astrologer, and raised in Oakland by his mother Flora Wellman, a music teacher and spiritualist. London's stepfather John London, whose surname he took, was a failed storekeeper. London's youth was marked by poverty. At the age of ten he became an avid reader, and borrowed books from the Oakland Public Library, where Ina Coolbirth recommended him the works of Flaubert, Tolstoy and other major novelists.
After leaving school at the age of 14,