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The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code of Silence and the Biggest Marijuana Bust in American History

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  878 ratings  ·  99 reviews
In the summer of 1987, Johnny Boone set out to grow and harvest one of the greatest outdoor marijuana crops in modern times. By doing so, he set into motion a series of events that defined him and his associates as the largest homegrown marijuana syndicate in American history, also known as “The Cornbread Mafia.” 
Author James Higdon—whose relationship with Johnny Boone, cu
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published April 20th 2012 by Lyons Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  878 ratings  ·  99 reviews

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Gary F
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
What a disappointment. What is certainly a fascinating story is all but ruined by an author who did not have the skill set to pull it off. This book literally needed to have around 200 pages removed to make it coherent. Instead it is a repetitive and rambling attempt at telling a story. Incredibly if you read the very long prologue at the beginning of the book it is a summary of almost exactly what is in the next several hundred pages and gives every interesting aspect of the story say. Pretty m ...more
Apr 21, 2013 rated it liked it
The biggest problem with this book is that the writer is clearly biased. The second is the inclusion of extraneous detail and a complicated writing style that makes the story difficult to follow.

As a journalist I would have expected more from the author than the bias for a convicted drug grower that escalates in the final chapter to an all out defense of the man even though there is no doubt that he continually defied the government and raised huge amounts of marijuana, threatened others and put
Laura Hagan
Jan 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
Wanted to read about the Cornbread Mafia and their history, but should’ve picked a book by someone who can write. This book sucks.
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Saw the author speak and sat with him at a banquet dinner. He is from the area where the Cornbread Mafia ruled. He is a fascinating fellow and the story is hilarious, exciting, and hugely interesting from the early Catholic settlers in the late 1700s, thru Prohibition, to the marijuana growing magnates depicted in the book. Hugely recommended and I'm only 100 pages in ... .
And, it stayed fascinating to the very end.
Dec 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, history
First, this is an interesting book and I liked it. Second, I could never produce something on a par with it and I respect the effort and diligence that went into its creation. However, I do have a few criticisms. I found that I enjoyed the portions that were based on actual records better than the stuff that's reported from one-on-one interviews with the "hillbillies" who produced all that Kentucky grass. The author is perhaps a bit too credulous when relating some of the stories he was told by ...more
Sep 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2012
Two and a half stars, to be honest. The quality of the writing in this book can be summed up with a single sentence, and I'm quoting directly here: "He's like a marijuana Superman whose kryptonite is vagina." Seriously. Page 340.

There's no denying that Johnny Boone's story and the surrounding culture of Central Kentucky is particularly fascinating, especially for me as a born and bred Kentuckian with rural roots. But I wish that Higdon, who loves to remind the reader of his Ivy League education
Aug 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: criminology
What a story about growing pot in central KY. There were people I knew and names I recognized. Farmers resorted to growing marijuana when regular crops no longer supported their families. Apparently, Marion County is the perfect environment for fine pot. One family spent years developing the perfect strain with seeds from all over the world. One man would ultimately face life in prison for continuing to grow and sell pot.

On the day I finished the book, six people were killed by a gunman at a re
Jun 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
Very disappointed how this book turned out. I (like many others from Nelson/Marion County) was really looking forward to this book. It turned out to be poorly edited version of half-truths with many things totally excluded. Had high hopes for this book, but couldn't be more disappointed.

Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
The information in this book is really interesting, but I found the writing itself to be lacking. Every time the writer tries to turn a phrase, he ends up steering it off a cliff.

That said, it's a really interesting story about (mostly) non-violent "criminals" trying to make the best of the hands they've been dealt.
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
Interesting story (minus the final, self-aggrandizing chapter), but poorly written. The author bogs down the reader with a laundry list of extraneous facts on every page; the reader doesn't recognize any style or feel to the writing itself. As a Kentuckian I received this book from others in the Commonwealth and couldn't imagine recommending it to any non Kentuckians. ...more
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating read, mostly set in the county where my father's family is from. And let's just say, at least one of my uncles was very...familiar...with this organization. Well-written, though I found parts of it slow. ...more
Sandy Ladd-Russell
Aug 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wow. Loved this story with a location not far from my hometown. Lots of local names and places that I recognized. Very interesting!
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
actually I should say I tried to read it but way too tedious despite living in Kentucky and being familiar with the locations if not the people. and I hate the cover.
Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
A fascinating story of the marijuana cartel based in Marion County Ky. It was just not very well written especially for a journalist.
James Higdon
Dec 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book because it connects the history of cannabis cultivation in Kentucky to the broader history of cannabis in America. Through this story, a reader can understand what life in America was like before cannabis prohibition, why these Kentucky men sacrificed everything to cultivate cannabis during prohibition, and a glimmer of hope that things can change for the better as we emerge from prohibition.

The most amazing thing is that since this book was published in 2012, Congress made
Melissa C
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I grew up not far from where all these shenanigans happened. The legendary Club 68 in Lebanon, KY, and Raywick (where I still have family living just up the road across the county line) and the infamous Golden Horseshoe across from Club 68–places we drove past on our way from Taylor County up to Louisville to visit my grandmother on Sundays. And we never talked about what was really going on out in the cornfields or the back rooms of the bars in Marion County. This book filled me in on the under ...more
Craig Williams
While this book is sprinkled with interesting anecdotes, some of which about the more colorful characters involved and others a brief breakdown in the history of crime in Marion country (where the majority of the book is set), I mostly found this book to be a bit dull. It's well-written enough, but I just never felt engaged by the subject, and you think I would since I live in the state where it all happened! Maybe it's because I believe drug laws to be stupid wastes of time, money, and manpower ...more
Kim. E.
I met the author (and bought this book) at a reunion held in Kentucky of relatives connected to what is called the "Maryland to Kentucky" family, the ancestors who left Maryland in the late 1700s and traveled to Kentucky to find a better place to freely follow their Catholic faith. As a result my interest was already high to learn anything of Marion, Washington, and Nelson County. As I read this book I actually opened my map apps many times to get a better understanding of all the businesses, fa ...more
Feb 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This true story of the largest marijuana operation that was based in Lebanon, KY is amazing and yet when Author Higdon explains the culture, the hardships and the lack there of opportunities in rural KY, raising a cash crop takes on a different meaning.
This book covers so much information about Johnny Boone and the history of central KY, it’s fascinating. In the 50’s to the 70’s, because of the lawlessness, underage drinking, night clubs, live music and liberal attitudes of Lebanon and that area
Dan Zoeller
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Marti Knight
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's difficult not to respect the resilience of those who find their own way to survive despite adversity. The attitudes are much the same as those who ran moonshine in another age. Living in Kentucky during the later days of this era, I remember some of the headlines. The government does not cover itself with honor - methods of both sides are similar; one just has a bigger platform. ...more
David Flaugher
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wordy and redundant writing style complicates my review. Packed with infinite detail at times, the major character is largely unexplored. Nonetheless, I would recommend to anyone. The enduring loyalty of many central characters is enthralling.
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very entertaining. Interesting how Higdon himself is intricately woven into the story because of his research and writing. Crazy to think that nonviolent pot farmers get sentenced to prison for longer than violent offenders and other criminals.
Judah Merrill
Apr 21, 2019 rated it liked it
I did this one as an audio book so It didn’t take too long. I could definitely see it running on if I was reading a physical copy. Good story, that touches on some of the big issues when it comes to prosecution of nonviolent offenders.
Tim Wolz
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Very interesting topic. I know the area well so it was fascinating to me. But I can see where the book drags on and much of the idea is lost in long drawn out stories. I was lost many of the times with the bouncing around of the author.
Jun 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Great story, well-researched and with a nice little anti-authoritarian slant. Unfortunately, it's on the dry side. I'd say if you're interested in the subject matter it's worth go. ...more
Pamela Dae
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting story, really poorly written
A quick if chaotic read, interesting but could use a good edit.
Mar 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting concept, but would have benefited form more editing. If you are interested in the subject, you will likely love the book.
Mar 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-books
Interesting but a little long to tell the story
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James Higdon is a graduate of St. Augustine School, Marion County High School, Centre College, Brown University's MFA writing program, and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

His first book, The Cornbread Mafia, was published in hardcover in 2012, in paperback in 2013, and in revised paperback in 2019. His second book, The Nearly Forgotten History of Portland, Kentucky, was publ

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