Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis

Book - 2016
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Comments (71)

Dec 09, 2017

I think the only thing I'd add to others' excellent comments is that I wonder how much of Vance's profit from this book winds up back in Appalachia. The story is excellent, but not entirely his. He writes of a suspicion of outsiders' writing...feels a little too clever and advantageous for him to be able to claim, from New Haven and San Francisco, to be an "insider." Maybe it's because I was born in Kentucky that I'm suspicious. Maybe I feel some guilt that, like Vance, I left for the Ivy League and may never make it back. Does he feel that guilt? Does it motivate him to at least send checks back? I don't completely doubt his character...I'd bet Mamaw gets a check. I just wonder whether the region as a whole benefits much from his telling the region's story. I hope so.

Dec 05, 2017

It's interesting to see that, though Vance is from southwest Ohio, he's given many people here the impression that he's from Kentucky or West Virginia. But southwest Ohio is indeed a region populated by hillbillies. Perhaps more insight into the area may be had by reading "Knockemstiff," a book of short stories by Donald Ray Pollock, about an area that had a serious pill problem before it became fashionable to talk about opioids.

Dec 04, 2017

one of the best books I've read for years . The persistence of a culture of poverty

Nov 27, 2017

This story describes the mindset of the people of a part of Kentucky and many other coal-mining areas with surprising and revealing clarity. Why do these people persist in living in poverty and ignorance of the world around them in this day and age? They are shown to even sabotage a better job which is offered to them in order to return to their "roots" and live on food stamps and welfare. They appear to believe that the government should look after them and provide for them as they've always been looked after in the past - i.e. low-paying jobs in the coal-mining industry. They refuse to see that technology is progressing so fast that their way of life is doomed and yet still don't want to move on. They still want to live as their fathers and grand-fathers did. The poverty, violence and drunkenness is all taken for granted as the way life has always been and will always be. I quit reading the book about half way through as it was becoming too repetitive. The 3 star rating might have been lower if I'd finished the book.

Nov 27, 2017

This was a thought provoking , interesting book. I liked it a lot!

Nov 20, 2017


Nov 18, 2017

This book has gotten a lot of buzz, a memoir of the Ivy league educated hillbilly. It is ultimately unsatisfactory because he has no suggested solutions to the malaise gripping the Rust belt.

kkoenigc Oct 11, 2017

Mr. Vance shows us firsthand what it is like growing up in Appalachia and why it is so hard for someone who grew up as he did to succeeed.

Sep 25, 2017

My book club read this book, and we all liked it. I was suspicious of it, because it sounded like the stereotypical bashing of poor people as lazy and greedy. But it was poignant and heartwarming to see the author overcome obstacles. Here are some links that helped me understand the book:

1, Interview with the author, explains his present life https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/25/hillbilly-elegy-jd-vance-barack-obama-interview
2. Another point of view about poor people: http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/syndicated-columnists/article170871167.html
3. New Yorker review: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-lives-of-poor-white-people
4. A report on upward mobility in rural areas https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/es_20170905_ruralmobility.pdf
5. Another explanation for Trump's victory: https://www.thenation.com/article/economic-anxiety-didnt-make-people-vote-trump-racism-did/

Sep 24, 2017

It is amazing the author turned out to be a seemingly functional, apparently successful, human being, given the rough circumstances of his upbringing. Sadly, his upbringing is all too common in most of the US and creates real challenges for the children living this way to find a way out of the sad state of "normal" in which they find themselves. I read this because it was hyped so much, but it was really difficult to read because his reality seemed so dismal.

Sep 23, 2017

A friend in New Zealand who hosts the World's Best Book Club (it really is the world's best) recommended this book to me.

I write a blog for survivors of child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence. J.D. Vance shares remarkable wisdom and insight into why and how a few kids achieve the American Dream despite horrid childhood experiences of abuse, neglect, and poverty.

His insights aren't new. But, they are remarkably candid, direct, and credible. I've read hundreds of stories about people who survived, thrived, and found joy. But, this is the first book which reveals the common thread in the lives of people who have emerged successful: at every critical juncture in his life, he had someone who was enormously protective and helpful. He always knew he was loved unconditionally. It makes all the difference.

Alice Miller calls these people "enlightened witnesses." J.D. Vance uses the term "social network." They are people who tell kids like J.D. that they aren't responsible for their parent's failures. At the same time, these people teach a child how to have a different outcome in life. A child's ability to thrive and be successful in life turns directly on how many of these people are available to help the child navigate life. He might forever be a hillbilly at heart, but he's now also a polished and highly successful professional due to the guidance, protection, and unconditional love he's received along the way.

If this book interests you, you might also like The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years by Sadie and Bessie Delany, Alice Miller's books, and It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Sep 14, 2017


Sep 11, 2017

Uh....skip it. This is a book that doesn't know it's direction. It does have good parts, but those are too few and far between to make this overall worth while to read. I think the main problem is that it's divided into three separate parts:
1. Kid growing up as a hillbilly. This section is actually really well written. It's interesting and overall the most compelling part book. If the whole book was written with this same passion, I would have loved it. It's a hard look at a life that many of us don't experience first hand, thank god.
2. Oh my gosh, can you believe I am at Yale? This entire section is full of "x happened but I'm a hillbilly so how do I handle this? But oh well, I got the job/beautiful wife/interview/help from this professor anyways!" This section although obviously formative in his life (OMG, Yale!) there is not a lot of substance and seems like he basically had to add this section to up his page total
3. They need to help themselves (because I'm a Republican and did it on my own) but I have no suggestions! This section also seemed off and not cohesive. He does make interesting points about giving back and that college is not the path for everyone but offers zero suggestions how to improve people actually effected by opiod abuse and economic hard times. I by no means have the answers but I also didn't write a book about it either.

Overall, it would have been presented better in a collection of essays as opposed to trying to turn it into a "cohesive" narrative.

Sep 09, 2017

It's an OK book, but I read it because I heard it explains why so many working poors supported Trump. Honestly I didn't find the answer there.

Aug 29, 2017

I can't say I found this book to be as engaging as many others. In fact, I am kind of amazed it made it to the New York Times Best Seller list. I had sympathy for the author who had a difficult youth, but the book read as dryly as a sociology 101 textbook. To be honest, I didn't finish the book. I wanted to like it, but I just couldn't.

Aug 27, 2017

An elegant look at the trials and tribulations of the "Hillbillies" of the Appalachian mountains.Though ultimately successful in life the author describes the knife edge of circumstances and decisions that allowed him to succeed over others whom he grew up around. A very Human story that is quick to read and hard to put down. Well worth reading.

Aug 16, 2017

This book was hard to put down. JD's insights into the Appalachian people and culture were thoughtful and thought-provoking. I think about that part of the country a little differently now, thanks to his anecdotes and analysis. I'd love to read a memoir he writes 10 years from now, when he is further removed in age and distance, and perhaps has kids of his own. Overall, a great read.

Aug 11, 2017

What a poignant memoir by a person from what we perceive as a priviliged class - the white male. J.D Vance tells of a childhood spent amidst poverty, violence, and no sense of stability. He is one of the fortunate men from his class, the poor from Apalachia, who escaped the cycle of poverty largely due to the time he spent with his grandparents - Papaw and Mamaw. Lacking a male role model, as his mother flitted from one husband to another, J.D breaks out and tells the tale beautifully.
Mamaw may have been an unreformed simpleton but in her political astuteness lay great wisdom. It was only after he moved in with Mamaw that J.D started doing well in school. This was followed by a stint as a marine . It was this experience that taught him leadership and that to be a leader one had to earn the respect of followers. The experience as a marine prepared J.D. for college in a way nothing else could have. However, chaos begets chaos and forever J.D had to fight anger issues.
A well told tale which should be read by all.

Aug 06, 2017

A very timely read for me. My appreciation for this book increased steadily as I read further into the book and got to know J.D. Vance and his family. I found it to be very insightful and it made me take a second look at some of my opinions.

Aug 05, 2017

Loved the book. Was no sugar coating life growing up in lower class environment but author was able to entertain the reader with the various characters attics. Book gives a sense of never judge until you have walked in there shoes.

Jul 31, 2017

I actually enjoyed this memoir a lot more than I thought I would. As an African American I'm skeptical of anything that proposes to give me any kind of 'insight' into my country's current political slide into full-blown vitriol, hate, ignorance and demagoguery. Especially by an author who hails from some (now) deeply conservative voting territory. However I was off base as this turned out to be a vibrant, engaging and enlightening read. Although born of different sides of the spectrum, J.D.'s childhood mirrors those of plenty of people I knew growing up in an urban US city. It's well worth the read. If you do and enjoy it, I'd also recommend Postcards from the End of America, and Requiem for the American Dream. Both are intelligent, piercing and savage reads that are fantastic.

Jul 23, 2017

I love stories based in history and I have enjoyed many autobiographies; this is definitely autobiographical, but still not what I expected. The author has done an excellent job of his life experiences growing up in Appalachian America, but goes further in not only sharing his "demons" of self-concept but challenging readers to be a positive influence on both the lives of others and the processes and perceptions that make up our society. If you read to be socially enlightened, rather than entertained, you will eat this book up.

Jul 18, 2017

Thoughtful, provoking, interesting and funny. Vance does a good job of painting a picture of growing up in poverty and ignorance. He does not offer solutions to the problems facing "hillbilly" or "working class" Americans but he does show us the traps in our system that help them fail as well as a glimpse of their mindset given their everyday challenges. And he should know--he grew up as one! I liked his passion, candor, and vivid storytelling. Great for a bookclub discussion.

Jul 14, 2017

I agree with sigridmac's comments below: the author's opinions aren't factually correct.
The largest demographic which elected Trump was non-black women [white, Hispanic, Jewish, Arab, Near Eastern, et cetera], and the second largest group was well-to-do, high SES males of white, Hispanic, black, and other categories. Many sat out this election, and who can blame them, faced with the choice of Wall Street stooge Trump or Wall Street stooge Clinton?
Historically, the Scotch-Irish settled in Appalachia, and they were morally reviled by many Scots and Irish for predictable reasons: the Scotch-Irish were the Scots who, unlike the ancestors on my Scottish side, were kicked off their lands and presented with the option of taking lands from the Irish - - given to them by the Brits, so the British government could colonize and destabilize Ireland [my ancestors and others turned this down, naturally, and came to America after the Brits stole their land].

Jul 08, 2017

J.D. Vance uses his story to tell us frankly why the American dream is no longer being achieved by so many. Only someone who has been there can say so as frankly. What's happening to our middle class? Where is the work ethic? Where is the reasoning? Why is there no trust? J.D. Vance lived it, and tells us in his humble way. We could and should listen and learn.

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