In a supplement to his The American Language, H.L. Mencken encapsulated the early history of Kentucky: "What is now Kentucky was the first region beyond the mountains to be settled. Pioneers began to invade it before the Revolution, and by 1782 it had more than 30,000 population. It was originally a part of Virginia, and the effort to organize it as an independent state took a great deal of politicking."
Kentuckian and lawyer Harry M. Caudill grew up in the coal fields of Letcher County. His book Slender is the Thread reflects the history of a state whose citizens had to labor for their sustenance. Caudill's chapters reflect the mighty story of poor European immigrants struggling on primitive land and in wild mountains to survive, reproduce, and find sustenance for themselves and their households. Their frontier experience attuned the people to weak governments, self-help, quick wrath, and long memories, and revealed the influences that gave the state and its people their reputation for contented ignorance, colorful individualism, crankiness, self-reliance, contempt for court decisions, deadliness with gun and knife, and quirky and corrupt politics.
Spun from the experiences of his law office, Caudill was one of the great storytellers with a keen eye for the unexpected detail and ear for the unique turn of phrase. He denounced scoundrels, praised courage and justice wherever he found it, and celebrated the frailty of the human condition. Time goes on and stories of Kentucky and its people accumulate, and Caudill's stories help shape the thoughts and inspire the actions of the Kentuckians of tomorrow.
"Mellow, frequently funny, sometimes elegiac.... The gallery of country lawyers, their clients and memorable cases will charm and intrigue Caudill's readers." -- Publishers Weekly
"The descriptions of the dangers and hardships which form part of a Kentucky coal miner's life are moving and make an eloquent appeal for social justice." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Reading the tales spun out of Harry Caudill's Letcher County law office, I can close my eyes and see the man, even hear his rich mountain voice -- measured, distinctly accented, engaging, etched with wit and anger and compassion. He had all the tools: a partisan's commitment, a historian's detachment, a storyteller's fine sense of pace and timing. The highest compliment I can pay him is this: He wrote like he talked, and when you read him, you're listening to him. Harry may be gone, but his words and his wisdom hover like mist on the mountains. They are his lasting gift to Kentucky and the nation" -- John Egerton
"Storytellers are born, not made -- although the stories they weave may not be at least partially "made" from their knowledge of the human character, their fertile imaginations, and their reach for hearty, unstinting healthy laughter. Harry Caudill was a storyteller. One of the best. He had a keen eye for the unexpected detail, and ear for the unique turn of phrase, and a flowing oratorical delivery. He denounced scoundrels of high and low station, praised courage and justice wherever he found it, and celebrated the ridiculous frailty of the human condition. The next best thing to hearing Harry tell these tales from his 'country law office' is to have them collected here for our perpetual enjoyment in Slender Is The Thread." -- Wilma Dykeman