Books: King Coal

THE WATCHES OF THE NIGHT

by HARRY M.CAUDILL

275 pages. Atlantic-Little, Brown. $8.95.

On April 24, 1964, a bright spring day, President Lyndon B. Johnson descended on the Kentucky hills in a helicopter, a deus ex Washington, vowing to wage war on poverty. As the air and the rhetoric swirled, one native bystander held onto his hat and declared: "Well, he'll sure as hell have a real bad fight on his hands!"

Just a year before L.B.J.'s advent in Appalachia, Harry Caudill, a lawyer from the University of Kentucky who is descended from the earliest...