The best books about Appalachia (for people who aren’t from Appalachia)

The Books I Picked & Why

What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia

By Elizabeth Catte

What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia

Why this book?

A welcome and necessary antidote to J.D. Vance’s drivel, Elizabeth Catte shatters stereotypes about Appalachia with a sledgehammer then crushes the pieces to dust under her feet. Contrary to much of what you hear and read about the place, Catte’s Appalachia is diverse, creative, entrepreneurial, energetic, and smart. The problem isn’t in Appalachia. The problem is outside it.


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Mud Creek Medicine: The Life of Eula Hall and the Fight for Appalachia

By Kiran Bhatraju

Mud Creek Medicine: The Life of Eula Hall and the Fight for Appalachia

Why this book?

Eula Hall, who passed away at the age of 93 in May 2021, was a bona fide American hero. A self-described “hillbilly activist” who left school after the eighth grade, Hall founded the Mud Creek Clinic in Floyd County, Kentucky, to offer free health care to the region’s poor and uninsured. Her generosity was not always well received—the clinic was once destroyed by arson—but Eula Hall helped her neighbors in ways that few other Americans ever have. The next time they tear down a Confederate statue in Kentucky, they should replace it with one of Eula Hall.


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

By Harry M. Caudill

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

Why this book?

Few books have changed the course of history like Harry Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands. Exposing political corruption, environmental destruction, and endemic poverty in Appalachia, Night Comes put poverty squarely on the national agenda and inspired LBJ’s War on Poverty. Although not rigorously factual — Caudill never let the facts get in the way of a good story — Night Comes is a priceless document of its time and place, and required reading for anyone who wants to understand Appalachian culture and history in the middle of the 20th century.


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Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia

By Erik Reece

Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia

Why this book?

Lost Mountain documents mountain-top removal, an especially pernicious form of strip mining, which is, unfortunately, just what it sounds like: explosives and massive earth-moving equipment are used to lop the top off a mountain to scoop out the coal inside. Technologically, it’s a fascinating process. Environmentally, it’s a disaster. Reece writes lyrically about the loss of a single mountain in Kentucky, an almost incomprehensible vanishing, perfectly legal, and utterly devastating.


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Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty

By Thomas Kiffmeyer

Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty

Why this book?

The Appalachian Volunteers began in the early ’60s as a ragtag group of college kids who spent their summers fixing up one-room schoolhouses in rural Kentucky. With funding from government anti-poverty programs, it grew into a formidable organization dedicated to fighting strip mining and economic injustice. Then it was killed, like so many good things, by the Nixon administration. This superb history of the AVs is really a history of Appalachia—and America—in the 1960s.


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