The best books about Appalachia 📚

Browse the best books on Appalachia as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

By Ronald D Eller

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books about Kentucky history

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Book cover of Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia

Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia

By Wayne Winkler

Why this book?

This is the most thorough compendium yet of the available information about Melungeons.  Winkler covers the little that is known about Melungeon history, as well as exploring the many origin myths and theories – of descent from shipwrecked Potuguese sailors, from deserters from DeSoto’s exploring expedition, from survivors of Juan Pardo’s torched wilderness forts, etc.  He also describes associated mixed race groups and relates some of the scientific efforts to pin down the genesis of the Melungeons.

From the list:

The best books on Melungeons and their history

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

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

By Harry M. Caudill

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.

From the list:

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

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

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

By Altina L. Waller

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books about the Hatfield–McCoy feud

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

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

By Kiran Bhatraju

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.

From the list:

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

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

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

By Erik Reece

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.

From the list:

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

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