Book Review Essay

Topics: Kentucky, Appalachian Mountains, Coal mining Pages: 6 (2062 words) Published: February 24, 2013
Smith 01

Peter Smith
Professor Stone
HUM 202
26 JAN 2013
Night Comes to the Cumberlands-Book Review Essay

I recently read a book titled “Night Comes to the Cumberlands” written by a man named Harry M. Caudill. I chose this book for a couple of different reasons. The first is because after reviewing the book, I realized it was very thorough in how it covered the plight of the Appalachia people, it also goes into detail about how many different events from when his grandfather’s grandfather, James Caudill, built his cabin in 1792, to the current state of events when the book was written in 1962. At the time it was first published in 1962, it seemed to appeal to the American peoples’ conscience so much that it actually prompted the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission. This is an agency that has pumped millions of dollars into the Appalachia area. As I read further, I realized why there has been, and still continues to be, such economic hardship and sometimes hopeless despair for many of the people in this area. Harry M. Caudill (May 3, 1922 - November 29, 1990) was an American author, historian, lawyer, legislator, and environmentalist from Letcher County, in the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky. 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. ( Caudill's study begins in the violence of the Indian wars and ends in the Smith 02

economic despair of the 1950s and 1960s. Two hundred years ago, the Cumberland Plateau was an area of hope and great promise. Its deep, twisting valleys contained rich bottomlands. The surrounding mountains were full of a variety of game for hunting and covered with valuable timber. The people who came into this land survived mainly by farming the land, hunting, and making everything they might need themselves. The quality of life in Appalachia declined during the Civil War and Appalachia remained in decline for the next century. By the time WW2 had come and into the 1960’s, Appalachia had become an area stricken by poverty in a country where it seemed everyone else was doing well and prospering. Caudill's book alerted the mainstream world to Appalachia’s problems and their causes. Since then the Appalachian Regional Commission has provided millions of dollars to strengthen the infrastructure of Appalachia and to help them recover from a century of economic problems that had greatly undermined the quality of life. 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 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. He chronicles the area's history from the original settlement by the white man who came over the mountains from the coast, and advanced no further, settling in "for the duration. When the Civil War came, it 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." Caudill talks in his book about the feuds where in one county alone, Smith 03

between 1865 and 1915, a thousand murder indictments were made. Obviously, numerous killings never made it to the indictment stage. Around the beginning of the 1900's, the coal mining industry had begun to significantly take over in the area. Even today, based on repeated headlines, mining is a dangerous business. It was much more deadly then. Those who survived, according to Caudill, prospered. The prosperity ended with the Great...
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