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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  706 ratings  ·  89 reviews
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.
Paperback, 404 pages
Published January 1st 2001 by Jesse Stuart Foundation (first published January 1st 1963)
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Tough Little Sister My answer is specific to Harlan county region. Economic prospects worse than ever. Think: 'Welfare state'. They also have a major drug epidemic.…moreMy answer is specific to Harlan county region. Economic prospects worse than ever. Think: 'Welfare state'. They also have a major drug epidemic. (less)
Jane Brewer Apparently this is historical information which delineates the reasons that this culture has retained many aspects of the lives into which they were…moreApparently this is historical information which delineates the reasons that this culture has retained many aspects of the lives into which they were born. Even today there are pockets of people who recognize their ancestors and relate to tales from the past. These were strong people who survived despite limited knowledge and are still with us in their children’s lives. Their children search for things they have learned via the media which their parents can’t understand. Many rebel against their parents and leave home with little or no experience of how to survive in a world they have never known or even seen. For those trying to understand and try to help these kids to break the cycle, this historical cycle lends knowledge allowing the reader to see How the parents and grandparents learned and perpetuated the cultural way of living in isolation and attempting to raise their children in the same manner. I found empathy for the older generation by understanding that is how life has been for them for all their lives and their parents lives etc. I am more aware of what the kids believe that life is and the serious need for them to find new ways to survive in a healthier way in a vastly different world. Love and caring are called for here not claims of racism, etc. (less)

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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
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 ...more
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 26, 2009 rated it liked it
"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
Dennis Fischman
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 ...more
Cody Sexton
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Samantha Shepherd
Jan 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Appalachian fiction
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
Sep 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
John Roche
May 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Sep 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dianna Ott
Jun 13, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Written by my cousin Harry about the place where I grew up. This book is hard to read nowadays.
Jud Barry
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Andrew Figueiredo
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Giles Cox
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more

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
Jan Notzon
Nov 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Patrick Snell
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
Amelia Charles
Dec 04, 2017 rated it liked it
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.
Mar 27, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Bill Lively
Oct 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Lynne Premo
Jun 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: appalachia
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.
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: what-happened
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
Tough Little Sister
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 ...more
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
I was enthralled by the level of detail, the smooth prose, and the heart-wrenching historical revelations. Caudill is a passionate and engaging writer, and I have no doubt that a substantial part of this book is based somewhat on fact. The known history of this area is obvious. However, once I realized that this is NOT, I repeat vehemently, NOT a "scholarly work," everything changed. His account is wholly based on legend, storytelling handed down through generations, and the author's own ...more
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Caudill served in World War II as a private in the U.S. Army and was elected three times as to the Kentucky State House of Representatives. He taught in the History Department at the University of Kentucky from 1976 to 1984.

A common theme explored in many of Caudill's writings is the historic underdevelopment of the Appalachian region (particularly his own home area of southeastern Kentucky). In
“Kentucky as a whole has lagged behind the rest of the nation in almost every field of government and public service, primarily because the fiercely independent and uncooperative mentality of the frontier hunter-farmer has remained so deeply and tenaciously embedded in the mass psyche.” 2 likes
“What I have written is drawn from experience — from seeing, hearing and working with mountaineers. In a land with few books and pens many tales are transmitted from father and mother to son and daughter.” 1 likes
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