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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 405 pages
  • Publisher: Jesse Stuart Foundation (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931672008
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931672009
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It is well written and interesting to read.
Susan P. Havens
The people of the Cumberland Plateau are a polyglot mixture, which Mr Caudill takes great pains to unravel.
Jerald R Lovell
Read this book if you want to understand the real peopl of Appalachia.
George M. Fesak

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
In ordering a copy of this book, I found at Amazon both a negative and a positive review. I read this book over 20 years ago. Having grown up in West Virginia, I can evaluate this book as a native. I found it one of the most valuable and truthful books I have ever read. It answered so many questions that I had had during my life in West Virginia and solved so many puzzles for me about my heritage. I have not lived in West Virginia for over 30 years, and years of education and career pursuits elsewhere have taken me away from that culture. However, whenever anyone asks me about life there, I tell them to read this book. I was saddened to read of Caudill's suicide in one of the reviews, and I plan to learn more about him and about why his life came to such a tragic end. I think he did a great favor for all Appalachians in writing Night Comes to the Cumberlands. It is a masterpiece. Whatever the tragedy of his own life, Caudill left a legacy for which we are all indebted. I absolutely disagree with the negative review at this website. Caudill spoke truth.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Jerald R Lovell on October 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
Harry Caudill was a native of Eastern Kentucky. His narrative of life in what has become a monument to corporate greed is sensitive, feeling, and very much to the point. The people of the Cumberland Plateau are a polyglot mixture, which Mr Caudill takes great pains to unravel. This part of the book is truly exceptional, and is enriched, not cheapened by Mr Caudill's tracing of his own ancestry back to the times of the Spanish Armada.
Mr.Caudill shows how a wholly separate culture developed from the combination of escapee indentured servant, local Native Americans, and Eastern Europeans. He expertly portrays the religious fundamentalism, outsider domination, and cynical exploitation that have held these people back from self-achievement over the generations. Mr. Caudill tells you how the land, the rivers, and human lives have been repeatedly despoiled by King Coal. He feelingly describes the squalor, poverty, ill health, and tragedies suffered by the region's people. It is not a tale for the overly sensitive, certainly.
Mr. Caudill reflects the ethos of his generation by advocating large-scale government programs to allay the region's problems, a "solution' this writer views with some skepticism. Nothwithstanding this, Mr. Caudill is a genius at showing how particular regions evolve very differently from their neighbors and what happens to those who are left behind.
I recommend the book to anyone interested in regional sociology, the South, and the Appalachian country. It is well worth the read.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By "mensetmanus" on June 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Taking a quote from the book, it could well have been subtitled: From 'Root Hog or Die' to 'Can You Spare a Dollar, Please.' Although it traces the history primarily of the Eastern Kentucky Cumberland Plateau area, there are probably some similarities with the character of life in similar mountain country in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee. While it describes the history from the time of the first non-native settlers until about 1963, the book is essentially a plea for outside help for the area. The author suggests the formation of a Southern Mountain Authority to be much like the Tennessee Valley Authority. He states "The T.V.A. demonstrated the means by which many of the world's trouble spots can be rescued. It's example now offers solid assurance that, for low direct cost to the taxpayers, America can successfully attack the ills of the Southern highlands in a campaign that will eventually benefit every one of the fifty states." He does not let TVA off without criticism, though, because he blames TVA for much of the motivations that lead to increased strip mining rather than deep mining. He claims that in 1953 TVA began changing from a "benevolent government agency whose masters gave every evidence of a wise dedication to public service" into "a mammoth corporation which subordinated all other considerations to low costs and balanced budgets."
Other than the concluding plea for help, the book is depressing, and offers little hope. It traces the history from fiercely independent settlers, through company coal towns, to a severely depressed welfare state with poor schools, which threaten to perpetuate the problems indefinitely. Despite the depressing aspects, the history is well written and interesting.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 14, 1997
Format: Paperback
I read this book years ago and have never forgotten it. The author knows his subject well, both from research and experience. It is factually sound and insightful but also very personal. The people who settled the hill country of eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, West Virginia, and parts of Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas are often placed outside the mainstream of American society, by themselves and by others. Caudill explains very clearly their origins and history with sympathy and understanding. I didn't find the book necessarily depressing, although most people will feel at least some outrage, but I wasn't too surprised to learn that the author eventually committed suicide
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
Much as Upton Sinclair did, when he focused the nation's attention of the conditions in the meatpacking plants in Chicago, with the publication of The Jungle, so too did Harry M. Caudill, who focused the nation's attention (well, at least a couple key leaders) on the conditions in eastern Kentucky, when he published this book in the early `60's. Caudill is a "native son"; he was born, and died in Whitesburg, KY, not that far from the Virginia line, and not far from the more famous towns of Hazard and Harlan. He comes from an excellent pedigree in terms of being "qualified" to write about this region: his ancestors first settled the region in 1792. He says that he was inspired to write the book in 1960, when he served as a commencement speaker at an 8th grade coal camp school, and noted the bitter irony of the singing of "America the Beautiful" against the backdrop of utter poverty and desolation.

Caudill chronicles the area's history over a 170-year period, from the original settlement by the white man, mainly of British and Irish stock, who came over the mountains from the coast, and advanced no further, settling in "for the duration." In many ways it was a good area to live: fertile river bottoms for crops, hills that teamed with game, and all the timber you could ask for. Despite the lack of a slave-owning aristocracy, the Civil War literally pitted brother against brother, father against son, as the natives left these valleys to fight for their respective sides. After the war, the vendettas and the feuds continued, personified by the "Hatfields vs. McCoys.
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