(James M. Campbell)
Born in WI. Education: Yale University, B.A.; University of Colorado, M.A.
Journalist and freelance writer for National Geographic Adventure, Men's Journal, Audubon, and other periodicals; made a documentary film while researching The Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea—The Forgotten War of the South Pacific in New Guinea.
Awarded two prizes for nonfiction by the Midwest Booksellers Choice, 2006, for The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness; Excellence in Class Award, Outdoor Writers of America, and Ellis/Henderson Outdoor Writing award, Council for Wisconsin Writers, both for Final Frontiersman; Best American Travel Writing, 2008, for "Chasing Ghosts"; RR Donnelley Literary Award, Wisconsin Library Association, 2008, for The Ghost Mountain Boys.
The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea—The Forgotten War of the South Pacific, Crown (New York, NY), 2007.
James Campbell's first book is an intimate portrait of his cousin, Heimo Korth, a citizen of Alaska who makes a living off the land. Korth fled his native Wisconsin in the 1970s like many a rugged romantic who dreamed of a solitary life in the Arctic wilderness. Unlike the vast majority of his fellow sojourners, however, Korth actually stayed in Alaska, learned survival skills from other hardy people living above the Arctic Circle, and supplied his wife and daughters with food and necessities by trapping desirable fur-bearing animals and shooting moose and caribou for food. Campbell, a journalist who writes for several outdoor magazines, convinced Korth to allow him to spend long periods of time watching his cousin work his trap lines and balance the needs of his teenaged daughters with a devotion to the harsh wilderness. The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness serves as a chronicle of Korth and his family, who spend most of the year 250 miles from the nearest road.
Korth is one of only seven non-Native Americans with a permit to live within the boundaries of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. When Campbell arrives at the family's primitive cabin, a life-altering decision looms. Korth's daughters, homeschooled by his Eskimo wife, want to attend high school in Fairbanks. Korth and his wife love the wilderness and are comfortable living in conditions that would be considered primitive even in a Third World country. "Anyone interested in a wilderness existence will enjoy this book," observed Coletta Ollerer in Reviewer's Bookwatch. According to Dennis McCann in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "That [Korth] is one of the very last white men to eke out a living in the harsh northern environment makes his dream, and his story, all the more remarkable." McCann felt that Campbell's account of this singular family "is ably told," adding that Campbell's "well-written first book is one way of honoring that difficult independence." A critic for Kirkus Reviews concluded: "Heimo's endurance and courage are admirable, and Campbell does his best to portray them in a way that even citified readers can appreciate."
In The Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea—The Forgotten War of the South Pacific, Campbell recounts the horrible conditions and the hardships experienced by the soldiers fighting in the South Pacific during World War II as they struggled to hold onto New Guinea at any cost. The jungles of Papua were dense and almost impenetrable, and yet a battalion of U.S. troops managed to fight their way through that jungle, facing insects and disease as well as the thick, overgrown trees and plant life, to fight the Japanese. In order to truly understand the ordeal, Campbell traveled to New Guinea and made the trek himself, the first person from outside of the country to attempt to trace the route that the U.S. soldiers took and essentially recreate their journey. The resultant book provides readers with a solid history and vivid descriptions of the trip, and Campbell also includes a number of stories of individual soldiers who fought in New Guinea. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the writing a distraction from the story, commenting that "despite a plethora of material including letters and diaries from both sides, Campbell recounts the fighting as Sunday supplement fiction, describing the action in purple prose." Roland Green, writing for Booklist, remarked that the book "brings to vivid life one of the more forgotten, grislier campaigns of World War II."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness, p. 1593; August 1, 2007, Roland Green, review of The Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea—The Forgotten War of the South Pacific, p. 27.
Chicago Tribune, December 26, 2004, Lew Freedman, "Rugged Lifestyle Fit for Top of the World," p. 13.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of The Final Frontiersman, p. 254; July 15, 2007, review of The Ghost Mountain Boys.
Library Journal, April 1, 2004, Joseph L. Carlson, review of The Final Frontiersman, p. 112.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 26, 2004, Dennis McCann, "‘The Final Frontiersman’ Tells of a Rugged Individual, an Unyielding Land."
New York Times Book Review, June 13, 2004, Tyler D. Johnson, review of The Final Frontiersman, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 2004, review of The Final Frontiersman, p. 60.
Reviewer's Bookwatch, November, 2004, Coletta Ollerer, review of The Final Frontiersman.
Ghost Mountain Boys Web site, http://www.ghostmountainboys.com (September 3, 2008).
James Campbell Home Page,http://www.jamesmcampbell.net (February 16, 2005).