100 books like Reformers to Radicals

By Thomas Kiffmeyer,

Here are 100 books that Reformers to Radicals fans have personally recommended if you like Reformers to Radicals. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Matthew Algeo Author Of All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia

From my list on Appalachia (for people who aren’t from Appalachia).

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in the suburbs of eastern Pennsylvania, not far from the Appalachian Mountains, but a world away from the place the rest of the country calls “Appalachia.” Researching All This Marvelous Potential, my book about Robert Kennedy’s 1968 tour of eastern Kentucky, was a revelation. Appalachia is rich in Black history, and queer history, and labor history, and a national leader in education. I am a journalist and author. All This Marvelous Potential is my sixth book.

Matthew's book list on Appalachia (for people who aren’t from Appalachia)

Matthew Algeo Why did Matthew love 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.

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 What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia

Matthew Algeo Author Of All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia

From my list on Appalachia (for people who aren’t from Appalachia).

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in the suburbs of eastern Pennsylvania, not far from the Appalachian Mountains, but a world away from the place the rest of the country calls “Appalachia.” Researching All This Marvelous Potential, my book about Robert Kennedy’s 1968 tour of eastern Kentucky, was a revelation. Appalachia is rich in Black history, and queer history, and labor history, and a national leader in education. I am a journalist and author. All This Marvelous Potential is my sixth book.

Matthew's book list on Appalachia (for people who aren’t from Appalachia)

Matthew Algeo Why did Matthew love 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.

By Elizabeth Catte,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2016, headlines declared Appalachia ground zero for America's "forgotten tribe" of white working class voters. Journalists flocked to the region to extract sympathetic profiles of families devastated by poverty, abandoned by establishment politics, and eager to consume cheap campaign promises. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is a frank assessment of America's recent fascination with the people and problems of the region. The book analyzes trends in contemporary writing on Appalachia, presents a brief history of Appalachia with an eye toward unpacking Appalachian stereotypes, and provides examples of writing, art, and policy created by Appalachians as opposed to…


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

Matthew Algeo Author Of All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia

From my list on Appalachia (for people who aren’t from Appalachia).

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in the suburbs of eastern Pennsylvania, not far from the Appalachian Mountains, but a world away from the place the rest of the country calls “Appalachia.” Researching All This Marvelous Potential, my book about Robert Kennedy’s 1968 tour of eastern Kentucky, was a revelation. Appalachia is rich in Black history, and queer history, and labor history, and a national leader in education. I am a journalist and author. All This Marvelous Potential is my sixth book.

Matthew's book list on Appalachia (for people who aren’t from Appalachia)

Matthew Algeo Why did Matthew love 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.

By Kiran Bhatraju,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2015 Kentucky Literary Award, 2014 Nautilus Silver Medal Award for Books on Social Justice, and Foreward Reviews nominee for Biography of the Year--- From deep in the mountains of Appalachia to the steps of Capitol Hill, Mud Creek Medicine chronicles the life of an iconoclastic woman with a resolute spirit to help her people.
Eula Hall, born into abject poverty in Greasy Creek, Kentucky, found herself -- through sheer determination and will -- at the center of a century-long struggle to lift up a part of America that is too often forgotten.

Through countless interviews and meticulous…


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

Jess Barber Author Of Reckoning 2

From my list on climate disaster.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a speculative fiction writer who often works within the genre of "climate fiction." I grew up in southern Appalachia; my hometown is a lovely place, surrounded by the beauty and wildness of the Smoky Mountains. It also happens to be centered around a chemical company where a large portion of the town works, including my father and, for a brief time, myself. I've been fascinated with the dichotomy of nature and industry for a long time, and have spent years exploring these themes in my own work.

Jess' book list on climate disaster

Jess Barber Why did Jess love this book?

I grew up in southern Appalachia. Every time I fly home to visit my family, I see the scars of mountaintop removal coal mining as the plane begins to descend over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lost Mountain chronicles the far-reaching effects of this devastating and unethical practice. I truly believe it ought to be required reading for anyone living in America today.

By Erik Reece,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lost Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new form of strip mining has caused a state of emergency for the Appalachian wilderness and the communities that depend on it-a crisis compounded by issues of government neglect, corporate hubris, and class conflict. In this powerful call to arms, Erik Reece chronicles the year he spent witnessing the systematic decimation of a single mountain and offers a landmark defense of a national treasure threatened with extinction.


Book cover of Hunter's Horn

Meredith Sue Willis Author Of Their Houses

From my list on great American stories from Appalachia.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in West Virginia and believed you had to leave the region to write. Only after I’d published my first novel did I discover books like these and many more. I have become a wide reader in our literature, with a special interest in novels that both tell the stories of individuals and families and explore the connection between resource extraction and poverty. It’s also a pleasure to read about regional successes as well as losses.  

Meredith's book list on great American stories from Appalachia

Meredith Sue Willis Why did Meredith love this book?

Kentuckian Harriet Arnow married the child of Jewish immigrants and lived much of her life in Michigan.

Her great American novel, Hunter’s Horn, however, is set back in Kentucky. Rich in local color, the novel’s main storyline centers on the hunt for the great fox known as King Devil.

The men’s challenge of catching the fox, though, is just the warp thread for a tapestry of conflict and interplay among industrialization, old folkways, popular culture, and the aspiration to join the larger culture. The novel, which also proves to be strongly feminist, ends with the resounding close of a trap, which is a warning to all of us.

By Harriette Simpson Arnow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hunter's Horn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Hunter's Horn, Arnow has written the quintessential account of Kentucky hill people - the quintessential novel of Southern Appalachian farmers, foxhunters, foxhounds, women, and children. New York Times reviewer Hirschel Brickell declared that Arnow "writes...as effortlessly as a bird sings, and the warmth, beauty, the sadness and the ache of life itself are not even once absent from her pages".

Arnow writes about Kentucky in the way that William Faulkner writes about Mississippi, that Flannery O'Connor writes about Georgia, or that Willa Cather writes about Nebraska - with studied realism, with landscapes and characters that take on mythic proportions,…


Book cover of Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

Melanie Beals Goan Author Of A Simple Justice: Kentucky Women Fight for the Vote

From my list on Kentucky history.

Why am I passionate about this?

When students ask me if I am from Kentucky, I say “no, but I got here as quickly as I could.”  I chose to make the state my home and raise my family here, and I have studied its history for nearly three decades.  I am drawn to Kentucky’s story and the paradox it represents: on one hand, you have the Derby, rolling hills and pastures, and fine bourbon, but set against that polished, sophisticated image are the stereotypes of a lawless, illiterate, poor state.  As a borderland, not quite north or south, east or west, Kentucky offers a fascinating lens through which to view the nation’s history.    

Melanie's book list on Kentucky history

Melanie Beals Goan Why did Melanie love this book?

Uneven Ground is a book about Appalachia, but it is also a story of American economic development and a cautionary tale about the failures of capitalism. Eastern Kentucky lies in the heart of central Appalachia, an area rich in resources but home to some of the nation’s poorest people. Eller knows more about the region’s challenges than anyone and he provides a compelling indictment of development narratives that emphasize industrialization and false promises of “progress.” His book offers hope that out-of-the-box thinking and a new definition of “the good life” can lead to healthy and more equitable communities in the mountains. 

By Ronald D Eller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Appalachia has played a complex and often contradictory role in the unfolding of American history. Created by urban journalists in the years following the Civil War, the idea of Appalachia provided a counterpoint to emerging definitions of progress. Early-twentieth-century critics of modernity saw the region as a remnant of frontier life, a reflection of simpler times that should be preserved and protected. However, supporters of development and of the growth of material production, consumption, and technology decried what they perceived as the isolation and backwardness of the place and sought to "uplift" the mountain people through education and industrialization. Ronald…


Book cover of The Injustice of Place: Uncovering the Legacy of Poverty in America

Troy Tassier Author Of The Rich Flee and the Poor Take the Bus: How Our Unequal Society Fails Us During Outbreaks

From my list on connecting poor health and poverty.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in rural northern Michigan. My family lived in comfort, never lacking essentials. Yet, many of those living around me had difficulty making ends meet. Many lacked health insurance and year-round jobs. As a child, I viewed my community as normal and typical of the American experience. In many ways, it was–in part, that is the point of this list. At the time, I didn’t know that we could do better for those around me who worked so hard daily. Now I do. I selected these books to highlight the vast disparities between those with and without the comfort and luxury of good health.    

Troy's book list on connecting poor health and poverty

Troy Tassier Why did Troy love this book?

People often think of poverty as an urban phenomenon, but many of the most impoverished locations in the US are distinctly rural–and many of the families living in these places have faced poverty for decades.

This book took me on a tour through several of these towns in the hills of Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and other small towns dotted throughout the country. Along the way, I saw how perpetual poverty is derived from the deep and long-lasting history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the firm exploitation of the less fortunate. Each of these, and more, bring poverty to the present.

This book forced me to consider the many simultaneous and interrelated aspects of poverty and explained to me why poverty of place is so hard to change without concentrated and multifaceted effort.

By Kathryn J. Edin, H. Luke Shaefer, Timothy J. Nelson

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A sweeping and surprising new understanding of extreme poverty in America from the authors of the acclaimed $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. 

“This book forces you to see American poverty in a whole new light.” (Matthew Desmond, author of Poverty, by America and Evicted)

 Three of the nation’s top scholars ­– known for tackling key mysteries about poverty in America – turn their attention from the country’s poorest people to its poorest places. Based on a fresh, data-driven approach, they discover that America’s most disadvantaged communities are not the big cities that get the most notice.…


Book cover of Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel

Meredith Sue Willis Author Of Their Houses

From my list on great American stories from Appalachia.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in West Virginia and believed you had to leave the region to write. Only after I’d published my first novel did I discover books like these and many more. I have become a wide reader in our literature, with a special interest in novels that both tell the stories of individuals and families and explore the connection between resource extraction and poverty. It’s also a pleasure to read about regional successes as well as losses.  

Meredith's book list on great American stories from Appalachia

Meredith Sue Willis Why did Meredith love this book?

Kentucky writer Robert Gipe’s graphic novel is about a teen-age girl growing up in Appalachia. 

Dawn tells the story of her drug-dealing junk-food-scarfing Kentucky family and their dilemmas. Like Maynard’s characters, Gipe’s border stereotypes, or would, if Gipe didn’t know and respect his people so well. These are the descendants of the hunters of Hunter’s Horn and the battling miners of Storming Heaven.

There is also a strong political thread about Dawn's grandmother who is an organizer against mountaintop removal. The novel has the bonus of Gipe’s wry little black and white illustrations.

By Robert Gipe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Dawn Jewell is fifteen. She is restless, curious, and wry. She listens to Black Flag, speaks her mind, and joins her grandmother's fight against mountaintop removal mining almost in spite of herself. "I write by ear," says Robert Gipe, and Dawn's voice is the essence of his debut novel, Trampoline. She lives in eastern Kentucky with her addict mother and her Mamaw, whose stance against the coal companies has earned her the community's ire. Jagged and honest, Trampoline is a powerful portrait of a place struggling with the economic and social forces that threaten and define it. Inspired by oral…


Book cover of All the Forgivenesses

Cynthia Ulmer Author Of Todd, the Cedar Cove Chronicles Book One

From my list on family drama and saga books for when you want to escape into the past.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in the south. I come from a large, talkative family. All my life, I listened to my family talk. Hearing them was more fun than television. I grew up with country music playing constantly in the background. It was on the radio when I woke up and still playing when I went to bed. My parents read to me, made up bedtime stories, and let me tell them my made-up stories. Let me follow them around with my childish tales, encouraging me. Being an author has always been my number one dream.

Cynthia's book list on family drama and saga books for when you want to escape into the past

Cynthia Ulmer Why did Cynthia love this book?

I was drawn to Bertie from the start. Her struggles to understand herself and why things happened as they did resonated with me in a very personal way.

I read this recently on Kindle and couldn’t wait to read more each time I had to put it down to do some mundane tasks in life, such as eating, taking my granddaughter to therapy, and stuff like that. Bertie stayed in my mind, calling me to finish her story.

Even now that I’ve finished, she still whispers in my mind, making me want to read the book all over again.

By Elizabeth Hardinger,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All the Forgivenesses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in Appalachia and the Midwest at the turn of the twentieth century, this exquisite debut novel paints an intimate portrait of one resilient farm family’s challenges and hard-won triumphs—helmed by an unforgettable heroine.
 
Growing up on their hardscrabble farm in rural Kentucky, fifteen-year-old Albertina “Bertie” Winslow has learned a lot from her mama, Polly. She knows how to lance a boil, make a pie crust, butcher a pig, and tend to every chore that needs doing. What she doesn’t know, but is forced to reckon with all too soon, is how to look after children as a mother should…


Book cover of Groundskeeping

Terry A. Repak Author Of Circling Home: What I Learned by Living Elsewhere

From my list on writers struggling to find their place in the world.

Why am I passionate about this?

My memoir, Circling Home: What I Learned by Living Elsewhere, details my own trajectory in trying to find my voice and métier as a writer. I’ve kept a journal since I was a teenager, trained to be a journalist in college, and worked as an investigative reporter on a newspaper column and a news show in my twenties. When my husband and I moved abroad, I got a book contract for my PhD thesis and also published my research in academic journals. I wrote travel articles and profiles of people I met while living in East and West Africa. Working with a writing group of friends, I finished two novels before embarking on my memoir.

Terry's book list on writers struggling to find their place in the world

Terry A. Repak Why did Terry love this book?

This is a quiet first novel that deals directly with writers’ struggles to find their voices and places in the world.

The main character, an aspiring writer who works as a laborer to pay for classes and for entrée into the literary world, falls in love with a poet who has already won acclaim and doesn’t have to take menial jobs that distract her from her real passion.

Both characters struggle to find their voices and make their ways as writers in a country that doesn’t offer public funding to aspiring artists and writers. Both opt to live modestly in order to pursue their chosen career paths, and ultimately find that they must consider their own career above the other’s.

By Lee Cole,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK • An indelible love story about two very different people navigating the entanglements of class and identity and coming of age in an America coming apart at the seams—this is "an extraordinary debut about the ties that bind families together and tear them apart across generations" (Ann Patchett, best-selling author of The Dutch House).

In the run-up to the 2016 election, Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer, moves back to Kentucky to live with his Trump-supporting uncle and grandfather. Eager to clean up his act after wasting time and potential in his early twenties,…


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