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Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area

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At the time it was written, Night Comes to the Cumberlands framed an urgent appeal to the American Conscience. Today it details Appalachia's difficult past, and at the same time, presents an accurate historical backdrop for a contemporary understanding of the Appalachian region.


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At the time it was written, Night Comes to the Cumberlands framed an urgent appeal to the American Conscience. Today it details Appalachia's difficult past, and at the same time, presents an accurate historical backdrop for a contemporary understanding of the Appalachian region.

30 review for Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area

  1. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. I trust you are having a good day. Therefore, I recommend that you do not read this book today. In fact, my advice is that you should never read this book for it is likely to ruin that day and several more afterwards. I predict that reading the book will make you angry, especially when you read about: • a region of “natural beauty and human heritage overwhelmed by mismanagement and shortsighted exploitation;” • exploitation that turned “the landscape into a wasteland and deva DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. I trust you are having a good day. Therefore, I recommend that you do not read this book today. In fact, my advice is that you should never read this book for it is likely to ruin that day and several more afterwards. I predict that reading the book will make you angry, especially when you read about: • a region of “natural beauty and human heritage overwhelmed by mismanagement and shortsighted exploitation;” • exploitation that turned “the landscape into a wasteland and devastated the people;” • an industry that “ravaged the land, stole its wealth of natural resources, and left the people to survive on government handouts;” • mineral rights purchased for pocket change by outsiders that gave them the right “to excavate the minerals, build roads and structures for any purpose,” the “right to use timber growing on the land in the construction of the mines,” and “to divert and pollute streams and to cover surface areas with toxic mining refuse;” • mineral rights that “absolved the mining company from all liability from such damages that might be incurred;” • contracts that did not include property rights for the mining companies which excused them from paying property taxes that therefore had to be paid by land owners; • and a helluva lot more. To save time, you could skip all that stuff above and go straight to chapter 19, “The Rape of the Appalachians,” which is an account of strip mining, the final indignity (so far) visited on the land, which was introduced to the region during the 1950s. But I don’t recommend it. Of course I don’t know much about coal mining, but I do live in a lead mining region and I know what that has done to the landscape. And I also know what coal mining has done to the landscape of the Cumberland Plateau, because I have seen it. I also trust Harry Caudill’s exhaustive study of the history, culture, politics, and economic exploitation of the region. Harry Caudill was no Johnny-come-lately to coal country who visited just long enough to gather information for his book, which he published in 1962. His grandfather’s grandfather settled in eastern Kentucky in 1792 and his father lost an arm in a mining accident. Caudill was born there, lived there all but a few years of his life, until he died at age sixty-eight from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1990. “He saw, and he said, in many ways as he could find, that we are involved in a disaster. On the one hand, he saw the hills, the streams, the trees and the people; he saw, on the other hand, the great moneyed interests that had not the power to see the hills, the streams, the trees and the people, but only the power to destroy them.” – Wendell Berry

  2. 5 out of 5

    Justin Tapp

    Night Comes to the Cumberlands is a must-read for anyone interested in Kentucky, whether you're working in public policy or a church planter (which Caudill provides specific insights into), a sociologist, or curious tourist. It ought to be a prerequisite for members of the Kentucky General Assembly to read before taking office. I am writing this review as an economist for the Commonwealth whose office often evaluates legislation and projects touted to bring jobs and growth to the mountains. I al Night Comes to the Cumberlands is a must-read for anyone interested in Kentucky, whether you're working in public policy or a church planter (which Caudill provides specific insights into), a sociologist, or curious tourist. It ought to be a prerequisite for members of the Kentucky General Assembly to read before taking office. I am writing this review as an economist for the Commonwealth whose office often evaluates legislation and projects touted to bring jobs and growth to the mountains. I also evaluate Medicaid and am aware of the challenges the Appalachian region bring to that program. I have also lived in the Caucasus mountains, the Smokies, and at the edge of the Ozarks, and note many of the similarities (world wide) of the "highlanders" described in Night Comes. It's incredible that Kentucky is putting millions of tax dollars into SOAR, an effort to find solutions to problems that Caudill pointed out 50 years ago-- and many of the solutions presented as "new" are identical to Caudill's prescriptions 50 years ago! That's why this book is a must-read. One prerequisite for any public policy maker, economist, or anyone interested in economic development before reading this book is Why Nations Fail by Acemoğlu and Robinson. Those economists' theory, developed while examining impoverished regions like Appalachia all over the world through the centuries, are that regions fail when extractive economic institutions set up exclusive political institutions to consolidate both political and economic power. That, in a nutshell, is the experience of so many counties in Appalachia who still struggle economically and are dependent upon the government and charity for so much. Reading that book will help you greater understand and critique Caudill's observations and policy prescriptions for Eastern Kentucky found in Night Comes. Harry M. Caudill was the son of miners who became a lawyer, was elected to the Kentucky General Assembly, and taught history courses at the University of Kentucky. He witnessed the difficulty and peculiarities of Appalachian life and the book is written more to educate than the advocate. I do not know how precisely accurate all of his history is, but he does quote at length of various letters, memoirs, and newspaper articles from the 1800s to the time of his writing (1962). Caudill gives an interesting history of the settling of the Appalachians. I consider John Mack Faragher's biography of Daniel Boone (my review) to also be recommended reading along with this book. The future mountaineers were initially brought over to the Colonies as indentured servants to work in the fields of Virginia and elsewhere, laborers from London, Scotland and elsewhere. Largely uneducated and seen as a burden to the British to be neatly exported, they escaped to the mountains or moved/squatted there as soon as their contracts were up. Caudill documents the superstitions and stories of witchcraft common into his boyhood, and prints some quotations of songs played on ancient fiddles that have been past down from Scotch-Irish forebears. These songs were transmitted despite an illiterate population that could not understand the meaning of some of the words in the old English. The various Hatfield-McCoy-like feuds came out of Civil War rivalries. Clans enlisted in opposing factions, and word of the death of one family member at the hand of the opposing army in battle would cause armed retribution on behalf of his kinfolk against opposing neighbors on the home front. When the soldiers returned, these rivalries continued and the land was difficult to govern. The author also chronicles the history of the churches, relatively few, in the area. I was aware of Old Regular and Primitive Baptists, who have sort of a hybrid Calvinism and odd beliefs (like meeting once a month, a tradition from when circuit riders did the preaching and traveled from church to church, and a belief that children are born in sin and unredeemable until an age of accountability). According to Caudill, John the Baptist was the hero of church attenders, and there was much emphasis on a church's "trail of blood," linking its heritage back to John the Baptist having been uncorrupted by Roman Catholicism (this might have been important to Scottish Presbyterians?). Since most of the people were illiterate, there were very few who could read the King James Bible and even fewer who could understand it. At the time of Caudill's writing, church attendance was waning and he gives quote of correspondence from various church planters who found it difficult to get churches started even in large towns. More main stream denominations are/were avoided with skepticism by the locals. No snake-handling churches are mentioned, however. There are detailed descriptions of coal mining, which would be quite tedious except for how Caudill illustrates the technological changes and their implication for wealth and the work force over the decades. Towns sprung up overnight, built by coal mining companies that owned the commerce and quickly bought up the fiscal courts and other constitutional offices. (Kentucky still struggles with administrative overburden with people getting paid large salaries to be jailer in over 40 counties with no jail.) The people were dependent on the mines and lived in the boom-and-bust cycles of the economy in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Support for FDR's New Deal shifted Eastern Kentucky from being mostly Republican to staunchly Democrat, a trend that held until the 2014 Senate race where the Democratic candidate was soundly trounced in all Appalachian counties (due in part to the perception that the Democrats had declared a "war on coal.") World War II enriched many miners who weren't drafted, returning veterans remarked at how fortunes had changed in their absence. Caudill chronicles the bare-knuckle political races of his day, including the tight Senate race between FDR's man, incumbent Alben Barkley, and Governor A.B. "Happy" Chandler. Chandler had gained support in the mountains and looked like he might win until Barkley spread false rumors of a mahogany-furnished bathroom in the Governor's mansion that Chandler built for himself and would not let his own wife use. Caudill both bemoans and encourages subsidization of the migration from of the hills. Veterans returning from WWII opted to use their GI Bill to get educated at universities, and most did not return. Entire graduating classes of some of the high schools reportedly moved away. Kentucky's low budget for infrastructure made highways and maintenance sparse, as engineers were drawn away into private sector jobs. Since the roads were not funded nor no longer maintained by the private coal companies, mine roads fell into disrepair. Caudill remarks that despite the mass migration of high school graduates, who at the time could automatically obtain enrollment at schools like the University of Kentucky, tey were largely "poorly educated" and unable to keep up with their peers. He cites a study by UK stating that high school students in Harlan County were three years behind their peers nationwide in reading, math, and science. He remarks as a teacher that few students had read any classics or seemed to have the capability, most of them having studied under teachers who were locally trained at teachers' colleges. Math courses were too often taught by coaches who devoted most of their efforts to athletics. Caudill detests the money put into athletics, coaches, and stadiums over education-- oh what he'd say today! The author is writing from a 1962 perspective, having recently witnessed the "transformation" of the Tennessee Valley by the TVA under FDR. He argues at the end of the book for a Southern Mountain Authority, another TVA-like federal project to transform the region into a tourist hub by creating lakes and trails for visitors from the increasingly-crowded East Coast. At the same time, he calls for subsidizing industrialization in some areas and revitalization of towns. Interestingly, he calls for the subsidization of migration away from Eastern Kentucky, arguing that the ex-miners would be better off if the government paid them to resettle in Ohio, California, Florida, and other places where industry might be booming and pay better, and to pay to retrain them for those jobs. His argument against against criticisms that such a federal program is socialist is interesting and could have been written in 2015: Firms in every U.S. industry get subsidized in some fashion by tax dollars. We also give foreign aid to prop up the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, where child slavery is legal and the monarchy rules like autocrats. Could some of those tax dollars not better be spent in creating a TVA for Kentucky? He is open to other ideas by "future students," but writes that the reader must understand the following when arguing for market solutions: - Miners are not self-sufficient. There is no present industry moving in to support them at any wage. - Miners are unskilled. The skills they had were dependent on mining, and that's gone. - The population is widely uneducated. UK study showed Harlan Co. grads were 3 years behind peers nationally in reading, math, science. - Most of the population is on welfare otherwise, so the government might as well give them work to help their pride, dignity, and health. - The women are idle and frustrated, also uneducated and largely unable to work. - The population is "too big for its needs." - Since we subsidize farmers to not even grow anything, why not subsidize miners to move to where wages are high? - The land needs to be left to grow naturally and will heal if we let it. - Every county needs better local governance. The county judge or magistrates have constitutional offices but little power in actual management. This book is monumental, helped inspire LBJ's War on Poverty which in turn inspired visits to the region by dignitaries from LBJ to Mother Theresa. I wonder if Caudill would have been supportive of all the pork that Rep. Hal Rogers (R) has brought to the region, or simply would have complained of the resulting greater dependence on government. He likely would have favored the federally-subsidized industrial parks that now sit empty, and would probably shake his head to know that President Obama and the current Governor were thinking of new spins on old programs. I suspect Caudill would be sympathetic to economist Paul Coomes' idea to combine counties, since Kentucky has so many for such a small population and many Constitutional offices require local taxes to support, discouraging commerce, and providing no benefit (see the jailers without jails above). Taxes are as hard to collect in some of the mountain counties as they were in 1962. All of the aid that goes into the region often subsidizes people just to live there. We're repeating history because we haven't learned from Caudill's. 4.5 stars out of 5. A real gem.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    Although it is dated (c. 1960), this book is filled with notes I want to remember from my reading. Among the best are: " ... the people who settled the Kentucky mountains were not inspired Europeans determined to cross the dangerous oceans and found a citadel of religious and economic freedom in the New World. They were native North Americans with deeply engrained mores, habits and social outlook." "Hospitality was the mountaineer's noblest virtue. Whatever his degree of wealth it was a point of Although it is dated (c. 1960), this book is filled with notes I want to remember from my reading. Among the best are: " ... the people who settled the Kentucky mountains were not inspired Europeans determined to cross the dangerous oceans and found a citadel of religious and economic freedom in the New World. They were native North Americans with deeply engrained mores, habits and social outlook." "Hospitality was the mountaineer's noblest virtue. Whatever his degree of wealth it was a point of honor and courtesy to offer food, drink and shelter to any callers." "... it should not be inferred that inbreeding, sharecropping, the feuds and the out-migration had destroyed the independence and virility of the Cumberlander. These were weakening influences, whose effects were then beginning to be discernible to the keen-eyed observer, but the mountaineer with all his shortcomings was still a remarkably strong human type. Though his land was thinning he was still well fed on simple but nutritious foods. His life had been spent in the outdoors and he was able to endure, without even a realization of discomfort, circumstances which our modern city dweller would consider grevious hardships." "The double standards of the Prohibition era had a profound impact on the mind and character of the mountaineer. Relizing that he was being pilloried by society for maufacturing a product which that same society demanded and highly prized, he developed an abiding distrust of officals at all levels. He became deeply suspicious of the motives of government, both state and Federal, and cynical of its purposes in every field. The notion sank into his mind that the men who preside over our public affairs are dishonest and hypocritical; that they may be too powerful to checkmate in a contest of strength between government and citizens, so that a man is justified in beating them by any trick, guile or deception."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ever

    "History will never forgive this generation if it permits the fuel-coal industry in its terminal years to destroy past reclamation a large and potentially important part of the nation's land." (p. 375 of my copy) I wish Mr. Caudill was still around to write about the way things are going now, and not just in Kentucky. I don't care much for his study of "the mountaineer", who is always described as illiterate and constantly a-fussin' and a-feudin' with his neighbors, and always seems to need outsi "History will never forgive this generation if it permits the fuel-coal industry in its terminal years to destroy past reclamation a large and potentially important part of the nation's land." (p. 375 of my copy) I wish Mr. Caudill was still around to write about the way things are going now, and not just in Kentucky. I don't care much for his study of "the mountaineer", who is always described as illiterate and constantly a-fussin' and a-feudin' with his neighbors, and always seems to need outside help in order to help himself (as though the mountaineer lacks the capacity to instigate change). However, it's a powerful and unforgiving study of the coal industry and its effects on the land and its people (woe betide the present-day coal industry if this man was still around to see what they've been up to). I'd pair this with Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" - read them and weep over how much has and has not changed since their first appearances on bookshelves.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cody Sexton

    Appalachia has a history of serving as whatever the counterpoint is to our contemporary definitions of progress. The Cumberland Plateau has always been seen as an anchor dragging behind the rest of America. For example, right after the Civil War, when progress was built into ideas about modernization and the development of industry, Appalachia emerged as this backward place that could throw a wrench into the entire system by remaining primitive, even savage. This book has often been described as a Appalachia has a history of serving as whatever the counterpoint is to our contemporary definitions of progress. The Cumberland Plateau has always been seen as an anchor dragging behind the rest of America. For example, right after the Civil War, when progress was built into ideas about modernization and the development of industry, Appalachia emerged as this backward place that could throw a wrench into the entire system by remaining primitive, even savage. This book has often been described as a "definitive text on poverty in Appalachia among journalists, academics, and government bureaucrats concerned with economic inequality in America,” and yet despite the nearly endless research into the area and its many problems the area itself remains largely unchanged, even today. For a while, in the immediate wake of Night Comes to the Cumberlands, Harry Caudill thought his book would help him save Appalachia. He had credibility and the nation's attention. Surely he could use that to build something great, something permanent. But he became disappointed with the slow pace of change and disillusioned that the people did not themselves more actively seek reform. Caudill told reporters that "money alone" couldn't fix an ignorant rural culture that wouldn't bother itself to learn. Appalachia taken as a whole perfectly illustrates capitalism’s destructive force, while it simultaneously lifts people out of poverty it also keeps them dependent and ultimately only serves to exploit them. Journalist Chris Hedges labels areas like the Appalachians as “sacrifice zones.” In an interview with Moyers and Company he said, “It’s absolutely imperative that we begin to understand what unfettered, unregulated capitalism does,” Hedges emphasized. “These are sacrifice zones, areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. And we’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed. And because there are no impediments left, these sacrifice zones are just going to spread outward. There's no way to control corporate power. The system has broken down, whether it's Democrat or Republican. And because of that, we've all become commodities. Just as the natural world has become a commodity that is being exploited until it is exhausted, or it collapses.” One of the biggest problems facing the Appalachia's is a lack of quality leadership on a more local level. The type of leadership positions available at this level do not generally tend to attract the brightest candidates, as the more educated and intelligent members of the populace tend to move away, and as a result the people are burdened with leadership that is grossly incapable of making any real and lasting contributions to their communities. As a result of this intellectual and creative paucity the people under their guidance inevitably suffer. Harry Caudill exclaimed that, “The fiscal court, the archaic institution that it is, for the sake of efficiency should be abolished and its functions should be turned over to a three-man county commission. The commissioners should then be directed to hire a county manager to conduct the fiscal affairs of the county under their guidance.” He also said, “The most difficult and most important objective lies in the consolidation of counties. By this means the number of officials could be reduced to a third the present number, and the resulting economies would make available to the remaining courthouses funds for essential projects which now receive little or no support.” Whatever the solutions to the problems facing Appalachia may be, the answers are going to have to come from the people. No one is coming to save them and hope of a brighter tomorrow is only holding them back. Whenever people point out the problems facing the people of southeastern Kentucky the people living there inevitably begin to cry foul and exclaim that they aren’t being fairly represented and ask why must we only talk about the negatives? Harry Caudill had an answer to that very question, “I have dwelt purposely on the negative influences because they have given the region its character and have created its difficulties.” There was a point in time when I would meet people and they’d hear that I’m from Kentucky and they’d ask me about this book and they seemed really excited to talk to me about it. But the question was never, “What do you think about this book?” It was always accusatory as in, “What do you have to say about this?” As if the problems the author outlines was somehow my fault, and maybe it is, but blaming the poor for their poverty is a favorite pastime in a country where income inequality is its bread and butter. But what concerns the author of this book should concern all of us. We are embedded in a system of exploitation that we come to tolerate simply because we can’t even imagine life without it. If you’ve ever watched Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant adaptation of the P.D. James novel by the same name, Children of Men, you are inevitably reminded of the phrase attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, but actually originates with H. Bruce Franklin, “that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” This slogan captures precisely Appalachia’s predicament. Capitalism limits our dreams by claiming that it is the best possible system despite its imperfections. Culminating in a widespread belief that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative. Global capitalism is simply accepted as a fact that you cannot do anything about. The only question is, will you accommodate yourself to it, or will you be dismissed and excluded by it?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Fischman

    This book's story ends just about the time I begin, and the closest I ever came to the coal mines of Kentucky was a couple of days working in Wheeling, West Virginia. You might think I would be unable to find a footing in it at all. But Caudill's writing sings of sadness and love for the region and its people. He is no romantic. In fact, I winced sometimes at his emphasis on the illiteracy, intemperateness, and cultural backwardness of the people he describes. It is clearly an educated man's dis This book's story ends just about the time I begin, and the closest I ever came to the coal mines of Kentucky was a couple of days working in Wheeling, West Virginia. You might think I would be unable to find a footing in it at all. But Caudill's writing sings of sadness and love for the region and its people. He is no romantic. In fact, I winced sometimes at his emphasis on the illiteracy, intemperateness, and cultural backwardness of the people he describes. It is clearly an educated man's dismay and horror--but it is a horror for his own tribe, not at them. (His tribe clearly does not include black people or American Indians, however, and he makes racist assumptions about both.) Some key things that I learned include: *Colonial settlers came over to this region already distrusting any kind of government deeply. *They learned a great deal from the Native Americans already living in the area. *During the Civil War, the residents were split between the Union and the Confederate cause, and people remembered which side you took and whose brother you killed during the war. The later "feuds" we hear of, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, were on a scale to be a war of their own. *Like the Native Americans, the Kentuckians were exploited. Big companies bought rights to the forests and the minerals for a fraction of what they were worth. *For a while, some woodsmen and miners made a good living from Big Coal, but that was before the Great Depression. When the market for coal dropped to practically nothing, whatever good wages there were, were cut, and paternalistic benefits became a thing of the past. *Around the same time, terrible flooding removed a lot of the topsoil that farmers counted upon. The trees had been clear-cut, and there was nothing to hold the soil in place. *The United Mine Workers had to fight, literally, by force of arms, to get the coal companies to recognize the union and sign a contract. *Without what the author calls "welfarism"--governmental aid and the UMW benefit fund--we would have seen starvation in Kentucky on the scale of Biafra in the 1970's or Haiti today. *Because people were ashamed of taking government benefits, they treated them as a corrupt system to be gamed rather than what was due to them for decades of hard work as individuals and colonial exploitation as a region. *In the 1960's, the county judge had more say in people's lives than the governor. Roads, schools, pensions, and benefits all really depended on who you knew and how you voted. Two people I respect both recommended this book. I'm glad I read it. But I vow not to mistake the map for the territory or reading about Appalachia for understanding it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Glennie

    A brilliant history of a section of Appalachia that has forever been the land of the dispossessed and the forgotten. Parts of it are dated now but still a very worthwhile read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    this is an amazing look at life in Appalachia/ Harry Caudill writes lyrically and heartbreakingly of the poverty in Eastern KY and the battered lives of the people. The culprit which keeps the region dependant on COAL.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Shepherd

    Henry Caudill is still a prominent figure in Whitesburg, KY, despite the fact that is he dead. The library on Main Street is named in his honor. Educated in Letcher Co., I'd always heard his name spoken is reverence. I finally decided to figure out why. This book is non-fiction. It is the complete history (up to the mid-60s anyway) of the Appalachias, told by an Appalachian. This book doesn't cut corners or pull-punches to make us look better. It tells the truth about how many people used to live Henry Caudill is still a prominent figure in Whitesburg, KY, despite the fact that is he dead. The library on Main Street is named in his honor. Educated in Letcher Co., I'd always heard his name spoken is reverence. I finally decided to figure out why. This book is non-fiction. It is the complete history (up to the mid-60s anyway) of the Appalachias, told by an Appalachian. This book doesn't cut corners or pull-punches to make us look better. It tells the truth about how many people used to live. It is also sympathetic to the lifestyle and the mentality of the early settlers, who came here to be LEFT ALONE. It is really informative and helped me understand many things I wandered about. However, this is a stain on this book. It's racist-- sometimes overtly so. Perhaps Mr. Caudill didn't intend it to be this way when he wrote it. The Civil Rights Movement hadn't really made it to our doorstep yet because we had, and still have, a low African American population. Still, some of his mid-60s language will make some passages difficult to read for our 21st century minds.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is an excellent book about the area of eastern Kentucky that was once so beautiful, and is today so devastated. Mountain tops torn off, water that smells like sulphur; exposed veins of played out coal, and ground that will never again support a forest or trees. All of Eastern Kentucky sent to fuel the steel mills of Hanna Mining up in Cleveland, Ohio. Trade Routes, Robber Barons and red-neck Bubbas getting wealthy with small coal mines and the people that work them. My sister used to work i This is an excellent book about the area of eastern Kentucky that was once so beautiful, and is today so devastated. Mountain tops torn off, water that smells like sulphur; exposed veins of played out coal, and ground that will never again support a forest or trees. All of Eastern Kentucky sent to fuel the steel mills of Hanna Mining up in Cleveland, Ohio. Trade Routes, Robber Barons and red-neck Bubbas getting wealthy with small coal mines and the people that work them. My sister used to work in a hospital near Painstville, Kentucky. Black Lung disease was the rule, not anything unusual. Mr. Caudill traces the history of this region very well.

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Roche

    The book is dated, and there are terms as assumptions that might make us blush today. For instance, his emphasis on some sort of inherited biological deficiency is a major stain in this book that can lead to one to some horribly untrue stereotypes. Nevertheless, parts of this book with its commentary on the welfare state, the rape of appalachia with strip mining, and the need for education reform are all still valid today. Yes there's been progress, but there is still so much that needs to be do The book is dated, and there are terms as assumptions that might make us blush today. For instance, his emphasis on some sort of inherited biological deficiency is a major stain in this book that can lead to one to some horribly untrue stereotypes. Nevertheless, parts of this book with its commentary on the welfare state, the rape of appalachia with strip mining, and the need for education reform are all still valid today. Yes there's been progress, but there is still so much that needs to be done.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    This should be required reading for Kentucky legislators, Eastern Kentucky elected officials and schoolchildren throughout the state. It is a remarkable book, though very upsetting and very easy to get bogged down in the details. If you know anyone with a "Friend of Coal" license plate, you should give them a copy of this book and see what they think after they've read it. I highly recommend the book to illuminate the coal industry's tactics and the tragic results.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dianna Ott

    Written by my cousin Harry about the place where I grew up. This book is hard to read nowadays.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jud Barry

    Anyone who has dabbled in reading about Appalachia knows about this book, which is widely regarded as a definitive classic. I ordered a copy through interlibrary loan and dove into it with great anticipation. About halfway through, immersed in its rich story, I thought to myself, "It's as if eastern Kentucky were a person, and this is the biography." Then I noticed -- for the first time, at least consciously -- the book's subtitle. It is a biography. That Caudill was able to achieve this stylist Anyone who has dabbled in reading about Appalachia knows about this book, which is widely regarded as a definitive classic. I ordered a copy through interlibrary loan and dove into it with great anticipation. About halfway through, immersed in its rich story, I thought to myself, "It's as if eastern Kentucky were a person, and this is the biography." Then I noticed -- for the first time, at least consciously -- the book's subtitle. It is a biography. That Caudill was able to achieve this stylistic sensation so convincingly says a lot about the quality of his writing. He describes the historic stages in the life of the region: the way(s) of life of the remote subsistence farmer in a region long a frontier; the tenant farmer; the lumberjack; the miner living in the first, boom-time coal camps; the initial experience of "dole" dependence during the Depression; the return of the boom during WWII and the expansion of new and cheaper forms of truck and strip mining; the deepening of demoralizing dependence as the diminishing payoff of mining begins to compete with symptom-shopping for disability payments; and through it all a fertile wife producing a large family; and patterns of landownership and exploitation that gradually eliminate even the possibility to start over again as a subsistence farmer. It is the latter part of the story that tells how the pursuit of private, short-term profit has the power to build, shape, and destroy landscapes and societies. It is this story -- alongside the story of slavery -- that should be known as a cautionary tale to every student of economics and politics. The "profile" of the first-wave coal camp towns alone serves to show how private enterprise can organize an operation not just to extract a mineral, but also to exploit a captive workforce for every possible penny of profit from the feeding and housing of it. Finally, the situation seems to Caudill to be a degraded standstill: Federal and state taxpayers are already propping up the region with millions of dollars "not for the purpose of curing their ills but merely to sustain their existence," e.g. patched-up roads, substandard schools, and welfare. The "democratic" forces of localism--the good ol' boy network--will not change, because the source of its power (and wealth) is in keeping things the way they are. "Even if the necessary leadership existed in the state capitols the obstacles to reform are almost insuperable. The courthouses are too powerful and too conservative to permit significant changes. The status quo means numerous small counties, each with its swarm of intrenched, fee-paid officials. Public inertia at the local level (an affliction from which Democracy has ever suffered), absence of coordination between such community development programs as are initiated, and lack of regional planning and petty rivalries between counties and communities are potent additional factors which prevent the Cumberlanders from effectively helping themselves." The coal companies still control the region. "The business interests parrot endlessly the nonsense that if the coal market can be expanded the region's ills will evaporate." p. 369 This sounds amazingly like now (2018). While Caudill holds out some hope for a wiser use of coal for its "chemical and industrial byproducts" rather than its heating properties, he is not optimistic, believing that the mineral will be unavailable at current rates of wastage. "History will never forgive this generation if it permits the fuel-coal industry in its terminal years to destroy past reclamation a large and potentially important part of the nation's land." p. 375 The historic depth of Caudill's story serves him well as justification for an administrative, managed solution: "The creation of a Southern Mountain Authority patterned along the lines of its predecessor in the Valley of the Tennessee has been discussed informally for a good many years. Person and groups familiar with the problems and frustrations of the Southern mountains have realized that only such an authority, with ample funds, long-range planning and competent administration, can bring order out of the chaos created by sustained exploitation, a primitive agricultural system and the tenacious anti-intellectualism bequeathed by the frontier." p. 368 As to the criticism that such an approach would amount to socialism, Caudill has a clever response: it's exactly what US foreign policy does abroad in order to inoculate developing regions against communism. What follows has to do with topics of interest to me. The corruption of learning by athletics: During the first coal boom (early 20th c.), "when a school system in the modern sense was being organized and given its initial impetus, the overwhelming majority of the people possessed little concept of the role of learning in the building and nurturing of civilization. … In these circumstances such new schools as the bond issues provided fell prey to athletics to an extent that is difficult to overstate. The miner learned quickly to escape from the dreary routines of camp life and coal digging into the exhilaration of a basketball gymnasium or a football stadium, and was far more interested in the hoopla of school sports than in the riddle of grammar and mathematics." p. 131 Long-term, this meant that the schools failed in the basic job of education, as many of the children after 12 years of schooling were "scarcely literate," "the mathematics classrooms have long been the 'sideline' domain of the football and basketball coaches." p. 335 Unions: The only sector of the coal industry that "ever sought to return to the region any substantial part of the wealth it produced" was the UMW, whose "program of health, welfare and retirement benefits funneled back to the coal counties millions of dollars otherwise destined for the pockets of distant shareholders." p. 326 [Contrast the "coal camp" phenomenon, in which the smallest element seems to have been designed to squeeze ever-more pennies from the miners' already meager paycheck.] But the UMW was only successful in enforcing its contracts with the larger corporations, so the rise of union scofflaws--mostly small truck and strip mines--cut into union assets to the point that a sad, post-manuscript postscript reports the cancellation of UMW benefits to miners whose employers hadn't paid into the union's Welfare Fund. Strikes against truck mines set off another wave of violence in the region. "New hatreds gripped the hills as the hopeless antagonists grappled over the skinny carcass of what had once been a rich coal industry." p. 394 TVA and its role in stimulating environmental wastage: "Until circa 1953 the Tennessee Valley Authority was a benevolent government agency whose masters gave every evidence of a wise dedication to public service. Conceived as an immense experiment in human and resource conservation and rehabilitation, the TVA accomplished genuine miracles." But gradually its broad ameliorative charge was subsumed into the single goal of cheap power. With hydro power incapable of meeting demand, the goal was met by burning cheap coal from strip and auger mines, which turned TVA into the handmaiden of the continuing, short-sighted pillage of eastern Kentucky coal seams. "These circumstances are sustaining an industrial tiger which is devouring the Cumberland Plateau and the Southern coalfields in general." Contrary to industry claims through "slick advertisements" of the labor-saving benefits for the housewife, "the truth is that cheap and abundant electric power is being bought at a titanic hidden and deferred cost, a cost another generation will pay with compound interest." pp. 320-1 The Appalachian lap dulcimer: "The most widely loved instrument, however, was the 'dulcimer,' or dulcimer. This plaintive harp had a place in most houses and to its accompaniment were sung tales of love, war and death." p. 86

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Figueiredo

    A classic for good reason, "Night Comes to the Cumberlands" is an invaluable historical resource about Appalachia and the Cumberland Plateau in particular. There's just so much to take from it. Caudill elucidates the rapacious influence mining and logging corporations had over the region. They controlled the regulators, threatened workers, and essentially had free rein. In this sense, it's a good piece to see the very worst of unfettered capitalism and state capture. Caudill also delves into how A classic for good reason, "Night Comes to the Cumberlands" is an invaluable historical resource about Appalachia and the Cumberland Plateau in particular. There's just so much to take from it. Caudill elucidates the rapacious influence mining and logging corporations had over the region. They controlled the regulators, threatened workers, and essentially had free rein. In this sense, it's a good piece to see the very worst of unfettered capitalism and state capture. Caudill also delves into how the spirit and behavior of locals have changed over time, which adds an important personal element to this work, revealing the dehumanizing influence corporate abuses and dependency have. In this sense, it's a fantastic work of sociological inquiry. Interestingly, he also notes that the coal industry was damaging the environment (well before this became a top government issue) and that the industry was in the midst of decline. Those in our own time who still see a future in coal would do well to read this, which saw a decline over 50 years ago. In this sense, "Night Comes to the Cumberlands" reads like a story of mining and its impacts. A conservationist or economic angle can be taken from it too. Caudill ends with recommendations including the simplification of county government, massive investment in education, environmental conservation, and building lakes (among other things). In reality, it's easy to see how LBJ's war on poverty was influenced by this book, as a number of his legislative initiatives seem to be patterned after similar ideas. In this sense, finally, it's a visionary work developed from a deep passion to improve Appalachia. The impressive breadth of this book leads me to recommend it to anybody with even a passing interest in American history, Appalachia, mining, poverty, conservation, or politics. What a work!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Evangel

    In my quest to learn more about my new home state, I took this recommendation from a native Kentuckian. After finishing, I am left with a sense of sadness for the many trials of this beautiful land and her people. From the humble beginnings of former European indentured servants just trying to survive in their new rugged homeland, all the way to the people of today recovering from decades of land mismanagement, corporate greed and waste, and overall lack of good schools, roads, and government in In my quest to learn more about my new home state, I took this recommendation from a native Kentuckian. After finishing, I am left with a sense of sadness for the many trials of this beautiful land and her people. From the humble beginnings of former European indentured servants just trying to survive in their new rugged homeland, all the way to the people of today recovering from decades of land mismanagement, corporate greed and waste, and overall lack of good schools, roads, and government integrity, this state has certainly endured more than her fair share of hardship it seems. The author, a former politician, chronicles the events that he felt (when published back in the early 60's) led to a low standard of living for Kentucky's residents in almost all areas including local government, infrastructure, medicine, education, and technology - implying that Kentucky was decades behind in regard to progress of all kinds when compared even to her neighboring states. I think Mr. Caudill would be proud of the improvements made over the past 50 years, and though many issues still need focused attention, the friendly people here seem to be desirous of improving and making good use of their vast and beautiful land, while holding on to the traditions and ways of life that have been familiar for centuries. I enjoyed the prodigious detail, especially in relating how the timber and coal industries and their far-reaching effects have shaped the culture of Kentucky.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Giles Cox

    Excellent book and a must read for anyone wishing to understand the development or actual "under development" of Southern Appalachia. Caudill's book details the character of the rugged, and often misunderstood denizens and inhabitants of these once beautiful mountains. The region has seen its culture and its people misrepresented in American popular lore. The Hatfield & McCoy feud was used at the time to paint Appalachians as vicious, uncivilized people who had to be brought to the proverbial ci Excellent book and a must read for anyone wishing to understand the development or actual "under development" of Southern Appalachia. Caudill's book details the character of the rugged, and often misunderstood denizens and inhabitants of these once beautiful mountains. The region has seen its culture and its people misrepresented in American popular lore. The Hatfield & McCoy feud was used at the time to paint Appalachians as vicious, uncivilized people who had to be brought to the proverbial civilized table, and it gave a viable excuse for American Capitalists to extract the wealth of the land from its rightful owners, and to give Appalachia the 'Third World Treatment.' Caudill foresaw the economic destruction wrought upon the people of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee by practices of the mining companies and the displacement of the only jobs and income afforded to these people by mechanization and eventually mountaintop removal. If you want to understand the insidious nature of Capitalism, then take a field trip to Southern West Virginia today. Once you see the destroyed lives and the destroyed environment, maybe then it will occur to you just how destructive and rapacious this system actually is.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Sometime maybe 200 or 250 years ago, my ancestors came through the Cumberland Gap, probably from Ireland, although the records of people such as them didn't exist -- they had most likely been pawns in the imperial desire to maintain a firm hold over the outer areas of the British Isles, and then became the foot soldiers of colonization. They quite likely gunned down a few indigenous Americans, and possibly interbred with a few indigenous Americans. For some reason -- maybe it was a recent visit t Sometime maybe 200 or 250 years ago, my ancestors came through the Cumberland Gap, probably from Ireland, although the records of people such as them didn't exist -- they had most likely been pawns in the imperial desire to maintain a firm hold over the outer areas of the British Isles, and then became the foot soldiers of colonization. They quite likely gunned down a few indigenous Americans, and possibly interbred with a few indigenous Americans. For some reason -- maybe it was a recent visit to some ancestral graves -- these Scots-Irish who settled Greater Appalachia, from Western Maryland on through to Oklahoma and North Texas -- have interested me a lot lately. Caudill is a sympathetic observer, a native Eastern Kentuckian, and keenly aware of how the people of the mountains have been both ruthlessly exploited and have developed patterns of behavior based on a relentless gaming of the system. Not that this is an unethical thing -- they know, more than anyone else, how the system is rigged against them. And he examines the way in which they throw their lot in with anyone who promises to represent their side, and then how promptly they turn on them whenever they feel the contract is broken (see the flip of the West Virginia legislature). This is the sort of social and environmental history that isn't written anymore, but was once common, back in the age of Great Society reforms and when it was believed that America could be saved through planning and research. It's a shame that we've lost writers like this.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    I read this as one of those books that's supposed to help me understand what's happening to my country politically. It was published when I was one year old and it was written about a place I've never been, the Appalachian area of Kentucky. It seeks to explain how this area came to be in extreme poverty. It cites coal as one of the main reasons. I live in an extremely gerrymandered congressional district that puts me together with people who want to maintain and expand the coal industry, and who I read this as one of those books that's supposed to help me understand what's happening to my country politically. It was published when I was one year old and it was written about a place I've never been, the Appalachian area of Kentucky. It seeks to explain how this area came to be in extreme poverty. It cites coal as one of the main reasons. I live in an extremely gerrymandered congressional district that puts me together with people who want to maintain and expand the coal industry, and who vote that way, which is not the way I would have them vote. My state is currently under a state supreme court mandate to redistrict, so today I don't know if coal country will stay with me legislatively. I don't know if their representatives will continue to be mine. So I don't know if I'll continue to need to know so much about their history, their lives, and their mindset. I know that is a shame, that I should continue to know and to care and to try to learn about them. The book is obviously written from a place of privilege, and in that way it contains all the short comings books like "Hillbilly Elegy" contain. And I'm sure I'm not able to see all the ways that it gets the poor folks wrong, but I hope I see some of them. I'm aware I should look, anyway. Last night I went to a candidates forum where four people who want to take my congressman's seat were questioned by the audience. They were asked how they would help the depressed areas of our district attract industry and jobs. They had several answers, and one thing that one of them brought up was FDR and his work relief program that saved people from starving during the depression. The book holds that up as a model. The book laments that industry can't thrive in a place where the education is sub-standard, and that educated people won't stay in a place that pays them well below what they can make elsewhere. I recently read an article that said programs that will retrain coal miners for other jobs and very underused. People said they don't want to retrain because they jobs they could then get wouldn't be local, and they don't want to leave their town. So, the book made me consider all of this, which must be a good thing. I brought a more educated and intelligent ear to the candidate's forum. I have more gratitude for the environment I was raised in that valued education and gave me an excellent one. I have a better understanding of how coal only takes from the environment, poisons it, and leaves it devastated. I'm sure I do understand the mindset of the people who vote in opposition to the way I vote a tiny little bit better. What to do with my understanding must be the secret of a different book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jan Notzon

    A very well-written book--now a bit dated since it was published in 1962--but a very, very interesting history of the Cumberland Plateau and the people who inhabit it. It's got me curious to know what progress has been made since Caudill wrote it. In my estimation he does a fine job of laying out the problems of exploitative industries, welfarism, inbreeding and a patent cynicism concerning government and the vote. However, it strikes me that he makes an effort to be impartial or to at least tem A very well-written book--now a bit dated since it was published in 1962--but a very, very interesting history of the Cumberland Plateau and the people who inhabit it. It's got me curious to know what progress has been made since Caudill wrote it. In my estimation he does a fine job of laying out the problems of exploitative industries, welfarism, inbreeding and a patent cynicism concerning government and the vote. However, it strikes me that he makes an effort to be impartial or to at least temper his partiality. But the book is quite readable and descriptions are vivid without being self-indulgent. And some of his suggestions for improving the situation make considerable sense.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    It's hard to come up with something new to say about a classic, but I liked this book so I'll put down a few words for other goodreads community members. The lack of footnoting that has been decried by some academics actually made this a better read than some books that are so painstakingly attributed that they lack flow. I liked the way that Caudill writes with authority, and given his family's history in the area and own experiences, I believed what he had to say. Overall, a solid read and not It's hard to come up with something new to say about a classic, but I liked this book so I'll put down a few words for other goodreads community members. The lack of footnoting that has been decried by some academics actually made this a better read than some books that are so painstakingly attributed that they lack flow. I liked the way that Caudill writes with authority, and given his family's history in the area and own experiences, I believed what he had to say. Overall, a solid read and not dull at all.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Snell

    A fantastic read, incredibly well-researched. Devastating in its conclusions. While it's outdated (the book finishes in 1962-'63) it's still an incredible resource for the history of the area as well as a grim prediction for the future/present. Sadly Appalachia is still impoverished, still overly dependent on a dying industry(coal mining), still too stubborn to change and still ignored by the Nation as a whole.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Groan. I feel like it is only worth reading this book if you already have a pretty good handle on the social history of Appalachia and sort of the way that Appalachians have been the target of pop cultural and media fascination. Instead of reading Night Comes to the Cumberlands I would suggest reading Power and Powerlessness by John Gaventa.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Amelia Charles

    The value that this work holds to the field of Appalachian Studies and the impact that it has had on the region cannot be debated. However, the book has outdated moral paradigms and wrong-headed (even for their time) views of the same Appalachian phenomonon. Overall, read it for its value to our people but not for a complete understanding of our history or present.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    My roots are in Eastern Kentucky, in one of the counties discussed in this book (Pike). Caudill does an amazing job of explaining how and why this area became (and stayed) so depressed. Worthwhile for anyone wanting to understand more about Appalachia.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I had the privilege of taking a folklore class with Mr. Caudill at the University of Kentucky many years ago. This is an excellent history of eastern Kentucky - I only wish there was a comparable recounting of the history of western Kentucky.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bill Lively

    An interesting yes sad read. This is a history of the peoples of the Cumberlands and, sadly, the destruction of the mountains by the coal companies and the sinking into poverty of the once proud mountaineers of that region.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lynne Nunyabidness

    A classic work of nonfiction about how the Appalachian coalfields became the way they are. Unfortunately, not much has changed since the publication of this work in the 1960s.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brit

    Harry M. Caudill wrote a very important work which could serve as a cornerstone for a great revitalization of depressed areas. The areas and suffering he writes about are real and continue to present day. This is a region with many unskilled and uneducated workers who were brutally taken advantage of and too dependent upon the coal operators who ravaged their native lands and put profit above community good-will. Once the coal mines left, the despondent communities were left with complete depend Harry M. Caudill wrote a very important work which could serve as a cornerstone for a great revitalization of depressed areas. The areas and suffering he writes about are real and continue to present day. This is a region with many unskilled and uneducated workers who were brutally taken advantage of and too dependent upon the coal operators who ravaged their native lands and put profit above community good-will. Once the coal mines left, the despondent communities were left with complete dependence upon the welfare state. Being very familiar with the region, Caudill makes proposals which are very engaging and well worth reading. In my humble opinion, many of them could be enacted to transform depressed communities (such as Harlan county) into a conservation role model that would only enrich and enhance America as a nation. Let's enact Caudill's ideas and give the local residents who have suffered far too long their dignity back.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

    If you watched the Murray Energy circus, the Energy Depts' proposal to force utilities to pay more for coal-generated power, and the cynical manipulation of coal miners over the past couple of years, this book, written in 1963, will remind you how little Appalachian politics have changed over the past 55 years. The forces that made the area ripe for current exploitation by pill mills were in place before President Kennedy's visit to the region and surprisingly little has changed. I am pleased to If you watched the Murray Energy circus, the Energy Depts' proposal to force utilities to pay more for coal-generated power, and the cynical manipulation of coal miners over the past couple of years, this book, written in 1963, will remind you how little Appalachian politics have changed over the past 55 years. The forces that made the area ripe for current exploitation by pill mills were in place before President Kennedy's visit to the region and surprisingly little has changed. I am pleased to report that even in 1963, the author recognized that it would be cheaper to relocate residents of the region to areas where employment opportunities exist than to support them with some of our highest per capita levels of federal largess in situ.

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