At the time it was first published in 1962, it framed such an urgent appeal to the American conscience that it actually prompted the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission, an agency that has pumped millions of dollars into Appalachia.
Caudill's study begins in the violence of the Indian wars and ends in the economic despair of the 1950s and 1960s. Two hundred years ago, the Cumberland Plateau was a land of great promise. Its deep, twisting valleys contained rich bottomlands. The surrounding mountains were teeming with game and covered with valuable timber. The people who came into this land scratched out a living by farming, hunting, and making all the things they need-including whiskey.
The quality of life in Appalachia declined during the Civil War and Appalachia remained "in a bad way" for the next century. By the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, Appalachia had become an island of poverty in a national sea of plenty and prosperity. Caudill's book alerted the mainstream world to our problems and their causes. Since then the ARC has provided millions of dollars to strengthen the brick and mortar infrastructure of Appalachia and to help us recover from a century of economic problems that had greatly undermined our quality of life.