The best books about the Hatfield–McCoy feud

Who am I?

My father’s favorite first cousin Ava married Homer McCoy, a direct descendant of the Fighting McCoys. Homer’s aunt married a Hatfield, so my family is distantly related by marriage to both the Hatfields and McCoys. As a girl, Ava witnessed the aftermath of the feud: The elders in her household froze whenever they heard pounding hoofbeats in the night. She assured me that the reasons for the feud were far more complicated than escaped hogs or the derring-do of sociopathic veterans nostalgic for the bloodbaths of the Civil War. I started reading whatever I could find and visiting feud sites, trying to understand what had really gone on and why.


I wrote...

Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance

By Lisa Alther,

Book cover of Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance

What is my book about?

America’s most notorious family feud began in 1865 when a Confederate relative of “Devil Anse” Hatfield allegedly murdered Harmon McCoy, a wounded Union soldier home on leave. Nearly three decades of violence and murder ensued. Attempts to arrest the perpetrators resulted in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The feud events were not isolated atrocities. Other feuds were erupting all over the Southern Appalachians during that time, and Blood Feud examines some of the many issues involved in this carnage. The image the feuds spawned of bloodthirsty mountaineers permeated American culture and set the stage for industrialists to invade those mountains and extract their coal and timber, guarding the profits for themselves and leaving behind a legacy of poverty, ill-health, and environmental devastation.

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The books I picked & why

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

Lisa Alther Why did I love this book?

Having grown up in an industrial town in East Tennessee, I read this 1962 classic by a Kentucky lawyer and legislator and first realized that my homeland was regarded as disadvantaged by the rest of the country. Caudill summarized the history of our Appalachian region, depicting the poverty and poor health of its inhabitants and the degradation of its natural environment. He described how extractive industries had removed the region’s coal and timber and funneled the profits into the pockets of distant shareholders. He also discussed the feuds at the end of the nineteenth century, as subsistence farmers fought to maintain their way of life against the encroaching forces of capitalism.

By Harry M. Caudill,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Night Comes to the Cumberlands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the start of the 1960s the USA was unquestionably the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world.

Yet despite its prosperity and influence there were areas of the country which seemed to have been forgotten.

In 1962 Harry Caudill, a lawyer and legislator, decided to shine a light upon the appalling conditions which he witnessed in Eastern Kentucky.

His introduction lays out the issues which he saw before him: A million Americans in the Southern Appalachians live in conditions of squalor, ignorance and ill health which could scarcely be equaled in Europe or Japan or, perhaps, in parts…


Book cover of Feud: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900

Lisa Alther Why did I love this book?

As a child, I always heard that the Hatfield-McCoy feud started because someone left a gate open and a hog escaped. Later, I read versions that portrayed the feud as a swashbuckling adventure story of murder and retribution, with a Romeo and Juliet romance thrown in. But Waller’s study treats the feud as a serious historical event with grave political and economic consequences. She outlines the genesis of the ugly and insulting stereotype of the Depraved Savages of the Southern Appalachians (popping up most recently in the bestselling Hillbilly Elegy) and the ways it was deployed to justify the region’s exploitation by timber and coal companies.

This well-researched book is the most authoritative account yet of the Hatfield-McCoy feud and its ramifications for the subsequent economic and environmental destruction of Appalachia.

By Altina L. Waller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Feud as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Hatfield-McCoy feud, the entertaining subject of comic strips, popular songs, movies, and television, has long been a part of American folklore and legend. Ironically, the extraordinary endurance of the myth that has grown up around the Hatfields and McCoys has obscured the consideration of the feud as a serious historical event. In this study, Altina Waller tells the real story of the Hatfields and McCoys and the Tug Valley of West Virginia and Kentucky, placing the feud in the context of community and regional change in the era of industrialization. Waller argues that the legendary feud was not an…


Book cover of A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War

Lisa Alther Why did I love this book?

In researching Blood Feud, I discovered that some of my ancestors were Union guerrillas who operated near the future feud area. Devil Anse Hatfield led a unit of Confederate home guards in that same region. Hatfield’s uncle, who is widely believed to have murdered Harmon McCoy in the opening salvo of the feud, was said subsequently to have killed a cousin of my father’s uncle during a guerrilla skirmish. I had always understood the Civil War to entail vast battalions of uniformed soldiers mowing each other down as they marched toward enemy lines. A Savage Conflict made me realize that the brutal depredations of guerrillas played a major role in the war and left a legacy of bitter factional hatred that factored into the subsequent feuds.

By Daniel E. Sutherland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Savage Conflict as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

While the Civil War is famous for epic battles involving massive armies engaged in conventional warfare, A Savage Conflict is the first work to treat guerrilla warfare as critical to understanding the course and outcome of the Civil War. Daniel Sutherland argues that irregular warfare took a large toll on the Confederate war effort by weakening support for state and national governments and diminishing the trust citizens had in their officials to protect them.


Book cover of Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky

Lisa Alther Why did I love this book?

This book by a Kentucky journalist, based on the sparse court records and on interviews with descendants of the feudists, helped me understand that the Hatfield-McCoy feud was not an isolated occurrence. In addition to the Hatfield-McCoy feud, it describes five other feuds being conducted in Kentucky at the same time. There appear to be similar patterns governing the combustion and ferocity of all these feuds, having to do with a struggle for control over the shifting social, economic, and political hierarchies following the upheavals of the Civil War and the invasions launched by lumber and coal companies.

By John Ed Pearce,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Days of Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Among the darkest corners of Kentucky's past are the grisly feuds that tore apart the hills of eastern Kentucky from the late nineteenth century until well into the twentieth. Now, from the tangled threads of conflicting testimony, John Ed Pearce weaves engrossing accounts of six of the most notorious feuds -- those in Breathitt, Clay, Harlan, Perry, Pike, and Rowan counties. What caused the feuds that left Kentucky with its lingering reputation for violence? Who were the feudists, and what forces -- social, political, financial -- caused the conflicts? For years, Pearce has interviewed descendants of feuding families and examined…


Book cover of Culture Of Honor: The Psychology Of Violence In The South

Lisa Alther Why did I love this book?

Studying the Appalachian feuds, I started wondering if this level of violence were normal human behavior. This book assured me that the feud region during those years had a homicide rate more than ten times the national homicide rate today. A newspaper at the time labeled the area “The Corsica of America.” The authors explain that many Europeans who settled in the Appalachians were from the British borderlands. Both locations hosted herding economies and produced herders who prided themselves on possessing the strength, cunning, and violence to protect their livestock and fend off potential rustlers. Stolen hogs, horses, and cattle played key roles in several guerrilla raids during the Civil War and in the feuds afterward.

By Richard E. Nisbett, Dov Cohen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Culture Of Honor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book focuses on a singular cause of male violence-the perpetrator's sense of threat to one of his most valued possessions, namely, his reputation for strength and toughness. The theme of this book is that the Southern United States had-and has-a type of culture of honor.


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An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

By Clifford A. Wright,

Book cover of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

Clifford A. Wright Author Of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Philosopher Historian Researcher Gastronomer Bibliophile and reviewer

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What is my book about?

An Italian Feast celebrates the cuisines of the Italian provinces from Como to Palermo. A culinary guide and book of ready reference meant to be the most comprehensive book on Italian cuisine, and it includes over 800 recipes from the 109 provinces of Italy's 20 regions.

An Italian Feast is a gastronomy about Italian culinary history and consciousness, about how Italians cook, eat, and how their food is an intimate part of their culture. It is the first book in any language to comprehensively explore the gastronomy and cuisine not just of Italy, and not just the regions of Italy, but all 109 provinces of Italy, linking each with each other in terms of history, agriculture, economics, and the material culture of creative food illustrated with recipes.

An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

By Clifford A. Wright,


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