This was an explosive book of it’s day that many have likened to The Jungle. It was written back in the early 1960s and talks about remote parts of Kentucky where the poorest of our country lived. It was said to have spurred the president (Kennedy) to come visit the area and promise help to get it out of the extreme poverty…sadly in over 50 years, little has changed.
I wasn’t really sure how good this book would be, or if it’d truly hold my attention, but…the stories of personal struggles and even of the “good times” were gripping and just made me want to keep going. Toward the end it does get a little dry, but that’s mainly the subject matter and not the writing.
Caudill’s honesty and non-judgmental writing is truly a treat. Considering there are probably more jokes about Kentuckians than any other state in our union (with the possible exception of West Virginia- which it also touches on) I was worried about getting an honest, unbiased portrayal…this book was that and then some. It talks about the early days where the Kentuckians were feuding, it explains where the term “between a rock and a hard place” came from; I had no idea it was Kentucky or had to do with coal mining…kinda makes sense now that I think about it. It explains why incest was so very common, and to an extent encouraged. The whole book makes you grieve for these people.
Only about the last 1/4-1/3 of the book is about the environmental problems faced by the area which include strip mining and logging. My heart was truly breaking by the end of this book when Caudill is discussing the strip mining and how generations later would never forgive them and how unthinkable it is, how it needs to stop. All I could do is think, holy christ, this was more than 50 years ago and yet people like Larry Gibson, Nathan Joseph, Dave Cooper and so many others are donating their lives to stop this injustice. Why? Why have we not learned after 50 years?
And if that’s not bad enough, then I’m reading about how they are trying to fight to save the virgin forest that use to cover the eastern united states, ironic considering here in my own backyard we’re fighting to save Stadium Woods (located on Virginia Tech’s campus) from being bulldozed for an indoor athletic training facility. Mr. Caudill is probably turning over in his grave right now.
To say I recommend this book is a true understatement…it should be required reading for everyone.