The best books about Kentucky

10 authors have picked their favorite books about Kentucky and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

By Kim Michele Richardson,

Why this book?

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson speaks to intense research and reveals unsung superheroes: librarians who carried enlightenment into dark hollers on a pack mule. Richardson’s rich characters are armed with the plucky determination required of our pioneers, but they reach beyond the necessary to survive and tap into the will to thrive thanks to the power of books. 

From the list:

The best southern books that transport us

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

Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky

By John Ed Pearce,

Why 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.
From the list:

The best books about the Hatfield–McCoy feud

Book cover of How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay

How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay

By Stephen Aron,

Why this book?

Ever since John Filson wrote the first history of the state in 1784, the Kentucky frontier has captured the public’s imagination. Aron goes beyond heroic accounts and stories of triumph to understand how egalitarian aims and the sense that the West could become a “good poor man’s country” failed to pan out for so many. The west did not become the land of opportunity for Native Americans or slaves, nor did it provide a fresh start for many poor white men and women. Two iconic figures, Boone and Clay, serve as familiar bookends, neatly framing Aron’s story and tying their…

From the list:

The best books about Kentucky history

Book cover of Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier

Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier

By Honor Sachs,

Why this book?

Following in the footsteps of scholars, such as Kristen Hoganson, who have put a new gender spin on well-chronicled events, Sachs takes a familiar story—the story of America’s first frontier—and tells it in a fresh and compelling way by emphasizing how manliness and mastery shaped public policy and household relationships. Life in the west was risky and chaotic. Settlers coped by celebrating domestic order and by demanding the right for men to rule their own households. This patriarchal ideal, however, often led to violence, both outside the home and within. The individuals Sachs spotlights like, widow and powerful businesswomen Annie…

From the list:

The best books about Kentucky history

Book cover of How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders

How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders

By Maryjean Wall,

Why this book?

As a journalist, Wall reported on horse racing in Kentucky for many years before becoming a serious student of history, which makes her writing really readable. Today, most people classify Kentucky as a southern state, but before and immediately following the Civil War it was considered the west. This book explains the switch, giving horsemen credit for rehabbing the Bluegrass State’s tarnished image, albeit to serve their own financial interests. Besides introducing readers to the post-war history of Kentucky, it provides a useful introduction to horse culture. After reading it, you will understand why the Kentucky Derby is so steeped…
From the list:

The best books about Kentucky history

Book cover of Kentucky Justice, Southern Honor, and American Manhood: Understanding the Life and Death of Richard Reid

Kentucky Justice, Southern Honor, and American Manhood: Understanding the Life and Death of Richard Reid

By James C. Klotter,

Why this book?

Jim Klotter, Kentucky’s preeminent historian, takes an obscure nineteenth-century Kentucky Superior Court Judge, Richard Reid, and uses his life and death to understand the tragic ways southern honor forced men to prove themselves. John Jay Cornelison attacked Reid at his law Mount Sterling law office in 1884, setting off an unexpected series of events. Reid’s story reveals the conflicts between old, traditional southern ways, and the new urban, industrial order, and Klotter tells it masterfully.  The book is filled with suspense and sharp analysis, but it is also a quick read.

From the list:

The best books about Kentucky history

Book cover of D Is for Derby: A Kentucky Derby Alphabet: A Kentucy Derby Alphabet

D Is for Derby: A Kentucky Derby Alphabet: A Kentucy Derby Alphabet

By Helen L. Wilbur, Jaime Corum (illustrator),

Why this book?

While learning letters youngsters can also learn about the most exciting two minutes in sports. Jaime Corum's illustrations are deeply moving and the action springs to life through them and the poetry that Helen Wilbur's words provide. Although a young reader wouldn't be able to read the book to themselves, that is actually a benefit. I love how the book demands that an adult sit down, slow time, and enjoy it with the youngster they are reading to. There is no more beautiful ride than that.

From the list:

The best children's books about horse racing

Book cover of Shiloh and Other Stories

Shiloh and Other Stories

By Bobbie Ann Mason,

Why this book?

This short story collection was a very influential book for me because it gave me permission to write about the people I know best. Bobbie Ann Mason’s Western Kentucky characters live just beyond the river from my native Illinois. In fact, my family came from Kentucky by way of Ohio. The characters in Shiloh are just as complicated as characters from urban areas. This book taught me how to write about my own small-town and rural folks.

From the list:

The best books from small-town America

Book cover of My Father, Daniel Boone: The Draper Interviews with Nathan Boone

My Father, Daniel Boone: The Draper Interviews with Nathan Boone

By Nathan Boone,

Why this book?

From the extensive Draper Collection of interviews with Boone’s son Nathan, and daughter-in-law Olive, Hammon has put together one of the most valuable portraits of Boone and the Boone family that exists, in the authentic words and voice of the younger son. When I was writing the biography I found it invaluable, both for the information it contains, and for a sense of the family connections.

From the list:

The best books on the world of Daniel Boone

Book cover of The Hunters of Kentucky

The Hunters of Kentucky

By Ted Franklin Belue,

Why this book?

In this study Belue creates a sense of the world of Kentucky before settlement, as Long Hunters began to explore the Bluegrass and send reports back east of the streams and savannas, the game, and beauty of the land. While writing Boone, I found this volume especially useful for visualizing the places where Boone hunted in his first and second forays into Kanta-kee.

From the list:

The best books on the world of Daniel Boone

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