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Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area Paperback – October 1, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Paperback, October 1, 2001
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About the Author

Stewart L. Udall was elected to four terms as Congressman from Arizona before being appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be Secretary of the Interior, a position he held for eight years during the administrations of President Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson. He is the author of The Quiet Crisis and many other works. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 405 pages
  • Publisher: Jesse Stuart Foundation; Reprint Edition edition (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931672008
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931672009
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback
For anyone who wants to learn the history of Appalachia (i.e. Eastern Kentucky) as well as the history of coal mining in this part of the country, this book is a must. After reading this book I have spent a great deal of time reading other books on coal mining in this part of the country as well as visiting old coal towns and old coal mines. This experience, as well as discussions I have had with many locals who lived through this time, have convinced me that most of what is in this book is an accurate depiction.

There have been two criticisms of this book that I think one must respond too. Some in the academic community seem to dismiss the book because of the lack of documentation (foot notes etc.). They seem to feel that book was not well researched and that most of the book is simply the opinions of the author. I believe this is an unfair criticism. Caudill spent his entire life in this region. The book consists of his own life experiences, observations and conversations with those in this region. I don't think he needed to research the ideas in this book because he lived them. First hand experience is often times the best source for anything. Later generations intent on writing on this topic, folks who were not there and who did not live through this time in this region of the country, should probably be expected to do more research on their own before writing on these topics.

Others believe Caudill perpetuated the stereotypes of Appalachians. In defense of these critics, to some extent he does perpetuate the stereotypes of mountain folk by his harsh comments towards them, especially later in the book, and his primary focus on the negative attributes of people in this region, particularly in regards to their dependence on public assistance.
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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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