Appalachia: Hillbillies and Haute Cuisine. (Seriously.)

Mention Appalachia and you'll often hear snickers about an area full of backward inbreds. Here to dispel such caricatures is the recently released Encyclopedia of Appalachia, a 1,800-page, 8-pound behemoth that compiles the insights of more than 1,000 scholars. A decade in the making, it's the first comprehensive reference book on the 13-state region, which stretches from central New York to Mississippi. "Somebody once said there's more known about Appalachia that's untrue than probably any other region in the country," says coeditor Jean Haskell, former director of the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University.

In 30 sections tackling subjects ranging from geology to folklore, the tome depicts Appalachia's rich diversity and its many influences on American culture. The book does devote an entry to the hillbilly, who was described for the first time in a 1900 New York Journal article as a "free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama who ... drinks whiskey when he gets it and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him." But other entries highlight loftier contributions: haute cuisine like smoked quail in black currant sauce and scientific advances like a propulsion system, developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, that put U.S. astronauts on the moon. Too often, children from the region "grow up with this stigmatized image of the place where they live," says coeditor Rudy Abramson, a former journalist. Perhaps with the help of this book, that won't be true for long.