Books by James Campbell

BRAVING IT by James Campbell
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 10, 2016

"Informative, humorous, and full of a love of nature."
A father and daughter's adventures in Alaska. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: May 15, 2012

"A fine account of a little-known milestone in the battle for civil rights."
In July 1944, hundreds of seaman, mostly black, died in an explosion while loading ammunition aboard ships at Port Chicago, in northern California, while mostly white American troops battled on Saipan across the Pacific. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Oct. 2, 2007

"Readers who tolerate the overheated cinematics will discover a gripping story."
Campbell (The Final Frontiersman, 2005, etc.) recreates the horror endured by Allied soldiers during the brutal New Guinea campaign of 1942-43. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 1, 2004

"A powerful evocation of a vanishing way of life."
A portrait of one of the last subsistence trapper/hunters in Alaska. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Feb. 6, 1995

Portraits of various postWW II Paris-based writers capture the idiosyncratic personalities of literary notables but fail to cohere into a panorama. Campbell, who has written a biography of James Baldwin (Talking at the Gates, 1991), eagerly introduces his readers to a large group of American, French, and British authors. He opens with Richard Wright, expatriated just after the war, and his 1946 encounter with Gertrude Stein, then moves into a discussion of the important intellectual exchanges between Wright and Jean-Paul Sartre. Wright's presence drew Baldwin to Paris; the two soon had a falling out, however, which Campbell details sensitively. The author meanwhile develops another narrative, beginning with his fellow Scot Alexander Trocchi and the literary journal Merlin. Campbell describes the crucial role that Trocchi and his confederates played in the dissemination of Samuel Beckett's work and their eventual alliance with the notorious literary pornographer Maurice Girodias and his Olympia Press. (Beckett himself is only a shadowy presence here.) How does Campbell connect Wright, Baldwin, and their associates, on the one hand, with Trocchi, Girodias, and their publishing ventures on the other? The short answer is, he doesn't. Campbell explores the figure of the Negro delineated by African-American expatriates, as well as the derivative phenomenon of the ``white Negro''—making a strong case for French existentialist Boris Vian as its prototype, while also treating its celebration by the early Beats. He sketches the atmosphere of Cold War persecution and paranoia that gradually destroyed Wright and his cohorts, while also causing troubles for Olympia, with its porn-heavy list, but these parallels remain underdeveloped. Nevertheless, Campbell's effort has value as a series of miniatures that brings together such strangely similar contemporaneous artifacts as the novels of Chester Himes and The Story of O. Campbell is onto something—perhaps a third try with this material is in order. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: May 1, 1991

Furious life of James Baldwin (1924-87), coolly retold by a Times Literary Supplement editor and friend. Campbell makes it clear that Baldwin's strength lay in the essay but that he used the novel ``to change the language''-at which he failed. Aside from The Fire Next Time, his startling essay on race relations, it's hard to come away from this life feeling that Baldwin truly succeeded as a writer in any large way following his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain. Baldwin never knew his father and was shocked in his teens when told that Harlem preacher David Baldwin was not his father. James himself became a Holy Roller preacher until he lost his faith at 17, then turned to novelist Richard Wright as his artistic father. The intellectual leader of any school he attended, he soon shot down Wright as a bumbler at prose but followed Wright's example by becoming an expatriate in Paris. At 20 or so, Baldwin was already writing for Partisan Review and the little mags. He early became what he called ``a drinking man''-which may account for the falling off and lack of focus in his work following his first novel. His second novel, Giovanni's Room, had no blacks in it but explored Baldwin's homosexuality. A world traveler, he tended, as Campbell shows, to swell later novels plotlessly, with pointless dialogue, purple patches. The Fire Next Time at midcareer was perhaps his last piece of work before abandoning careful writing for ``blues and jazz'' prose, a talky misfire that, coupled with demagogic hectoring picked up from the black revolution, did him in as an artist. Some bad jive from a soul brother could make him tearful; he was pursued by the FBI; he often went to pieces and had to rest up in hospitals. But many of his long, meandering works gathered power as they went along. Campbell tells all this with a friend's understanding. Even so. Baldwin snaps to life on the page only at times, as if standing at the bar and talking your ear off. Read full book review >