In the summer of 1987, Johnny Boone set out to grow and harvest one of the greatest outdoor marijuana crops in modern times. In doing so, he set into motion a series of events that defined him and his associatesas the largest homegrown marijuana syndicate in American history, also known as the Cornbread Mafia.
Author James Higdon - whose relationship with Johnny Boone, currently a federal fugitive, made him the first journalist subpoenaed underthe Obama administration - takes listeners back to the 1970s and ‘80s and the clash between federal and local law enforcement and a band of Kentucky farmers with moonshine and pride in their bloodlines. By 1989 the task force assigned to take down men like Johnny Boone had arrested 69 men and 1 woman from busts on 29 farms in 10 states, and seized 200 tons of pot.
Of the 70 individuals arrested, none talked. How it all went down is a tale of Mafia-style storylines emanating from the Bluegrass State, and populated by Vietnam veterans and weed-loving characters caught up in Tarantino-level violence and heart-breaking altruism. Accompanied by a backdrop of rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues, this work of dogged investigative journalism and history is told by Higdon in action-packed, colorful, and riveting detail.
©2012 James Higdon the Third (P)2012 Tantor
First, this is an interesting book and I liked it. Second, I could never produce something on a par with it and I respect the effort and diligence that went into its creation. However, I do have a few criticisms. I found that I enjoyed the portions that were based on actual records better than the stuff that's reported from one-on-one interviews with the "hillbillies" who produced all that Kentucky grass. The author is perhaps a bit too credulous when relating some of the stories he was told by these folks. OTOH, the solid straight reporting in much of the book balances those stories with enough facts that the stories are still fun to read, if not exactly "according to Hoyle" journalism.
My larger gripe is the author's insertion of his own book creation/subpeona to testify story near the end of the book. I found this part unnecessary and a little too self-satisfied for my taste (the Obama '08 stuff looks particularly naive in light of the way his presidency has, IMO predictably, played out). But again there is a shorter sort of coda that takes well-earned shots at a trigger happy US Marshall with some solid reporting to balance that excess. This shorter end portion, although also self-referential, works much better. It even includes a final sentence that provides a more level-headed assessment of the possibility that Obama's 2008 election would result in any positive developments in our absolutely insane war on drugs.
Finally, I listened to the audiobook version and the narration was clear and easy to follow. Unfortunately, the narrator was clearly unfamiliar with the regional pronunciations of central Kentucky while I am not. This didn't ruin anything about the book, but each appearance of, for instance, "Lebanon" or "Courier-Journal" produced a slight self-referential smirk from this Hardin County guy.
Good Old Boys
The story line was good overall. However, I was becoming highly annoyed by the "numbers & statistics". Instead of saying there were 1,313,107 bottles of booze, or $417,411.32 whatever, would have been better saying about 1.3 million or $417 thousand. Sounds petty, but there were SO many instances of numbers like this that it became annoying, overwhelming, and hard to follow when your driving along listening to the book.
I really did like the book, and am glad that Johny Boone is still out there growing pot somewhere. Hope they never catch him.
The real story
More than one
I wasn't much on his performance really. Being from the area the book is about i understand how the author ment the book to sound. The pronunciation of the words sounds nothing like how the character in the story really talk. It's so off that it changes the way one sees an understands the characters. I'm not just trying to find something to nit pick, it really aggravated me throughout the book. It just needed to be read by someone with an accent similar to the characters or people in this area. It would make more sense to the reader and get the authors point across.
The real facts about the cornbread mafia which wasn't at all a mafia
I really enjoyed how this book delved into the deep history of the state of KY, and how this culture has evolved over time. It really gets you wondering where Johnny Boone is, and exactly how he has used this culture to escape the law.
The most memorable moment for me is the part where the group had stolen GE products for the local Hospital because they thought that any good catholic should not have to pay for things when perfectly good products are just sitting in a warehouse. This made me laugh out loud.
All of these characters play an important role within the "Cornbread Mafia". Many were happy go lucky people who did not seem to think what they were doing was wrong on any level. I'm not sure who I liked the most, but I did enjoy parts of all personalities in each character. The support this group gave each other was remarkable, but there criminal activity and actions were astonishing.
I could not stop listening to this book. I was intrigued by the culture and activity of those portrayed within the story. Every free moment was spent listening to this book. It is one I could see myself reading over and over because it is so interesting.
I have talked about this book to anybody who would listen.
Where I grew up in Southwestern PA sounds a lot like the small KY towns mentioned in this book. I enjoyed that these simple, sometimes-uneducated people were able to build an empire (albeit illegal) to make a living.
The author explaining the drive up to Johnny Boone's house when they met was something that stuck with me.
Paul Boehmer was able to distinguish between characters subtly. He didn't attempt to do impersonations, but changed inflection slightly to depict the individuality of characters. I am adding him to my favorite narrators.
"Million Dollar Farming Between the Rows"
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