No book about our region has had a bigger impact than NIGHT COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS by Harry M. Caudill (1922-1990), a 1963 book seeking to explain how Appalachia got to be how it has become. At a time when politicians actually read books, it has been credited with encouraging President Johnson to come to Eastern Kentucky to declare a national War on Poverty. Harry Caudill was a lawyer in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and a state legislator and a descendant of many generations of mountain people from whom he inherited the gifts of a storyteller. His grasp of history was great enough to land him a job, late in his career, as a history professor at the University of Kentucky, and his political acumen great enough to land him the faculty position on the Board of Trustees. This book is so comprehensive that it has been both praised and criticized by both those who subscribe to the "culture of poverty" explanation and those who see structures of exploitation as the cause of poverty. Speakers at his funeral included Wendell Berry and former Kentucky Governor, Bert T. Combs. Caudill was a big-picture person who was not detail oriented. When David Whisnant's Modernizing the Mountaineer came out, Caudill sent me a post card addressed simply to "George Brosi, Bookseller, Berea, Kentucky" requesting a copy of that new book, "Civilizing the Hillbilly" I have never met a more gentlemanly man. For example, when a woman would enter the room where he was, he would stand up and offer her a seat. When he got where he knew he was dying and could no longer contribute to society and simply became a burden upon his beloved wife, Anne, he committed suicide in his last act of chivalry.
Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1964, 393 pages. Trade paperback.