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The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness Hardcover – May 25, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Heimo Korth was one of the many young men who set out for Alaska in the 1960s and '70s to recreate the life of early fur traders in the American West, a movement first observed in John McPhee's classic Coming into the Country. Journalist Campbell has written a worthy sequel to McPhee's book that is a powerful tale in its own right, focusing solely on Korth, who now "lives more remotely than any other person in Alaska" as one of only seven hunter-trappers with a permit to live in the 19.5-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Korth lives with his wife and two daughters 130 miles above the Arctic Circle, the only settlers for more than 500 miles (250 miles from the nearest road and another 300 miles to the nearest hospital in Fairbanks). Campbell artfully details a number of visits he makes to the Korth family in 2002, as he accompanies Korth on hunting and trapping expeditions that make himâ€"and the readerâ€"feel "transported straight back into the 19th century." He also sympathetically recounts Korth's flight from his abusive Wisconsin father and his reinvention of himself as an Alaskan "legend," a "gun-toting, park-hating antiâ€"animal rights trapper with a soft side"â€"but one who is well respected by managers of the ANWR. What makes this more than just a profile of a fascinating personality is Campbell's deft weaving of Alaskan history into Korth's tale, showing how the recent influx of developers and ecotourists is making the trapping life "more of an anachronism with each passing year."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

By the mid-1970s, countercultural attitudes had propelled so many wilderness seekers to Alaska that writer John McPhee gave an account of them in Coming into the Country (1976). Over several visits in 2002, Campbell absorbed the life story of one such emigrant from the lower 48, Heimo Korth, who happens to be his cousin. Korth traps fur-bearing animals to generate what little cash he makes, and hunts caribou, moose, and fowl for his food. Campbell's observation of the shooting and skinning this necessitates is objective, leaving nothing to imagination. Retrospectively, Campbell relates why Korth moved to Alaska (partly due to antagonism with his father), followed by incidents in his marriage to a native woman and their raising of three daughters (one of whom died in an awful canoeing accident) along a remote tributary of the Yukon River. Because the author perceptively describes how teenagers Rhonda and Krin feel about growing up in such isolation, the circle of interest for Campbell's well-organized work will encompass fans of coming-of-age stories in addition to those intrigued by unconventional lifestyles. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria; First Edition edition (May 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743453131
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743453134
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #227,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on April 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Heimo Korth has lived in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for nearly thirty years, eking out a subsistence living some 250 miles from the nearest road. He moved to Alaska at twenty, eager to escape an abusive father and unwilling to submit to the yoke of a nine-to-five job. For six years Heimo ("HI-mow") lived alone, trapping and hunting and flying out occasionally with bush pilots to sell his furs. But in 1982 Heimo married Edna, whom he met while walrus hunting on St. Lawrence Island, and she followed her husband to the wilderness. They have lived together since in this desolate place where the sun dips below the horizon in November and isn't seen again until January, where temperatures range from a balmy 80 degrees to 50 below. They and their daughters live a semi-nomadic life, moving each spring from one of their three cabins to another so as not to deplete the animal populations in any one area. Every summer they spend six weeks in Fort Yukon, population 750, stocking up on supplies and getting a small taste of civilization.

James Campbell, who happens to be Heimo's cousin, visited the Korths several times beginning in 2002. In telling Heimo's story Campbell juxtaposes descriptions of life in the Arctic--the logistics of carving up a dead moose, the efficient reuse of toilet paper as a firestarter--with stories of Heimo's boyhood in Wisconsin and discussion of the politics of land apportionment in Alaska. The result is a fascinating look at a lifestyle that is impossibly alien yet unexpectedly familiar: Heimo's teenagers tack Britney Spears posters to the walls of their cabin.
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55 of 59 people found the following review helpful By bensmomma on July 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
James Campbell reports the life of Heimo Korth and the family he has raised, the last family of trappers to remain in the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Although this book has one foot in the "wilderness adventure can you believe anyone can survive this" genre (Heimo regularly traps in -50 weather and even jogs in -20 weather), it is also a kind of domestic family saga, almost a "Little House on the Prairie" but the prairie is the Arctic.
Heimo, his wife Edna, and daughters Rhonda and Krin, face near tragedies and real tragedies lost in blizzards, or facing a broken-down snow machine miles from home, or jumping from ice flow to ice flow in desparate hope of making it back to shore, or falling through overflow ice on the river. Remarkably though, the main thing I'll remember about this book is the sense it conveys of Heimo's redemption (lost and alcoholic, he came to Alaska to trap in the 70s, but dried up and built a family there), and of the love and affection of a family who have no one but each other for months on end. This is a real testament to Campbell's skill as a journalist and author.
The adventure and drama of the Arctic keep the reader turning pages like a good mystery but the after-effect is one of love and integrity.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Lisa87 on August 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is so wonderfully written. James Campbell breathes so much life in every word and every paragraph, that it is one of those rare books that is hard to put down. My husband couldn't believe that I would be so taken in by a story about the wilderness.

Yet, the character development; the smooth writing style that describes the trials and hardships; all of the history that I learned made this such a three dimensional and rare treat. If only James Campbell had other books that I could purchase!

I read a ton of books and this is one of the few that I will definitely recommend to everyone that I know.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jess Hayes on December 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
After reading all the positive review in the New York Times, I was excited to read the story of Heimo Korth's family homestead in the Alaskan bush. Author James Campbell beautifully recounts why his cousin Heimo left Wisconsin at 20 and how he is able to sustain and entertain a family 200 miles away from the nearest road. In his first book, Campbell displays a gift for capturing the rhythms and details of a homesteader's life, while maintaining the reader's interest.

While there are now television shows and youtube videos that can show what their life looks like, I think to learn about the frontier you need to access information like they would - and read about it. At their home, they have a radio instead of a television and it only plays Eskimo music. A favorite moment: when Heimo's Eskimo wife dances: "Edna moves her arms in slow, beautiful arcs, as if she were a longtime follower of the Grateful Dead... in Eskimo dances, women imitate the movement of waves."

Great book; highly recommended for those interested in real life stories of the bitter cold in the likes of Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage and Peter Freuchen's Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Robert Daniels on June 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What would you do if it were 40 below and your snowmobile conked out 15 miles from your cabin?
After reading this book you will understand that the answer is simple. You'd die. End of story.
This is the tale of a real world tough guy who at a young age gave himself over to the pursuit of wilderness survival and is about the only one left out there with survival skills of this level.
The author is no wimp either, spending considerable time with Mr. Korth plus doing mega-research on the history of the Alaskan wilderness, which he weaves into the story in an informing, non-boring way.
When I read Into The Wild I somehow thought that the fellow that died just had a few unlucky breaks-like the river rising which trapped him out in that old bus. Wrong. That guy never stood a chance from day one, and this book shows you why.
Like a lot of guys I have always had two fantasies - living in the backwoods of Alaska or living on a remote tropical island. I heartily thank the author for paring my fantasy list down to one - the island.
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