THREE HUNDRED MILES west of the national capital lies the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachians, a mountainous region of flat- topped ridges and steep-walled valleys, richly endowed by nature with dense forests, winding rivers, abundant game, loamy soils, and thick veins of coal.
This is Daniel Boone country, where Indians and then fiercely independent frontiersmen found in these isolated valleys the elements that sustained a vigorous life. Yet it is one of the ironies of our history that many of their descendants live there today in bleak and demoralizing poverty almost without parallel on this continent.
Harry Caudill, a young Kentucky ex-legislator with roots generations deep in the Cumberland coves, tells here the pathetic and disturbing story of these forgotten backcountry people -- a tragic tale of the abuse and mismanagement of a resource heritage, and the human erosion that is always the concomitant of shortsighted exploitation.
Caudill's book is a story of land failure and the failure of men. It is reminiscent of such earlier works as Sinclair The Jungle, Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and Agee Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Although one may differ with details of interpretation, in probing dark areas of American life such books as these and Night Comes to the Cumberlands speak eloquently to the American conscience.
Life on the Cumberland Plateau today is an anachronism, a remnant of an ugly chapter of our history. In the nineteenth century we