Joseph Henry Jackson was born 21 July 1894 in Madison, New Jersey to Herbert Hallet Jackson and Marion Agnes Brown. He had a younger brother named Gordon, born in 1898. At the time of the 1900 census, Herbert was an iron merchant. Later, Marion tutored music. In 1910, when he was about 16, Joseph was a stock runner. He attended Peddie, a private boarding school, and Lafayette College, in Easton Pennsylvania, from 1915 to 1917. His father died in 1914. He served in the U.S. ambulance corps during World War I, and afterwards moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where ehe lived with his younger brother and mother.
After a brief stint in advertising, Jackson was associated with Sunset magazine from 1920 to 1928, serving as editor for his last two years there—and so began his love affair with the West. On 20 June 1923, he married Charlotte Emanuella Cobden, in Berkeley; they had a daughter, Marion, name dafter his mother, in 1927. In 1924, while still with Sunset, he reviewed books—the program was “The Bookman’s Guide”—over Pacific Coast radio. He started in Oakland, before moving to San Francisco, then becoming syndicated. Jackson continued the radio work until 1943. He reviewed books of the San Francisco “Argonaut” from 1929 to 1930. In 1930, he went to work reviewing books for the San Francisco Chronicle (“A Bookman’s Notebook”), continuing until his death. His reviews were also carried by the Los Angeles Times starting in 1948.