Book Reviews -- Appalachia's Path to Dependency: Rethinking a Region's Economic History, 1730-1940 by Paul Salstrom
Wolfe, Margaret Ripley, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Appalachia's Path to Dependency: Rethinking a Region's Economic History, 1730-1940. By PAVL SALSTROM. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994. xxxvi, 204 pp. $0.00.
PAUL SALSTROM, who is affiliated with the Mountaineer Policy Institute and who teaches West Virginia state history at West Virginia University, has attempted what he terms a reinterpretation of Appalachian history across two centuries. He has in reality produced an extended essay from his doctoral dissertation that focuses on the economic dependency of the region. With only 138 pages of actual text preceded by a long, involved introduction, this effort is inordinately superficial and all the more so because of the complexity of the issue that is being addressed. Furthermore, as Salstrom acknowledges, his work was inspired by Harry M. Caudill's Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area (1963); Salstrom's thesis likewise is reminiscent of Caudill's. As important as the first and the best of Caudill's books proved to be in bringing attention, both positive and negative, to the region, it was highly polemical. In his day, Caudill at his best represented a voice crying in the wilderness for redress of injuries done to the mountains and the mountaineers rather than that of a systematic analyst or exhaustive researcher.
As important as economic history is, it rarely lends itself to scintillating reading. Still, Salstrom's style is more burdensome than necessary. Although it is true that he attempts to compare Appalachia and the Midwest and place the status of Appalachia in a global context, which is laudable, he only injects snippets of information about Japan and the Third World, which renders the effort shallow. Appalachia's Path to Dependency consequently displays far greater breadth than depth. Furthermore, just as Caudill's diatribe was based on eastern Kentucky rather than Appalachia in its entirety, Salstrom's book, too, is highly selective. …