Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis

Book - 2016
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"You will not read a more important book about America this year."--The Economist

"A riveting book."--The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading."--David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America's white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis--that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.'s grandparents were "dirt poor and in love," and moved north from Kentucky's Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance's grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Publisher: New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2016]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780062300546
Branch Call Number: 305.562 VANCE J
Characteristics: 264 pages ; 24 cm


From the critics

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Apr 13, 2018

This author associates with and supports the cause of white supremacists, which is to exterminate people who are not white. As if that isn't bad enough, this work blames the very victims of poverty rather than the causes of it. As someone who has personally experienced a childhood of poverty in Appalachia, I know there are far better books to read like Ramp Hollow and What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia.

I found this story boring. I am sorry he had such a difficult childhood but this is not especially well written, nor does it provide social analysis, other than the obvious need for meaningful work and decent education systems in the state. It is sad that there are such communities of adults who cannot control their anger or take responsibility for their children and for their environment. Only the intellectually gifted escape... sometimes.

Intrigued because I knew of several people reading this, I did so myself. It's not bad. It's generally well edited and moves briskly, particularly the first half. I noticed that I lost sympathy with the author as he moved beyond junior high school. Once in the U.S. Marine Corps and then onto Ohio State and from there Yale Law he becomes like every other cocky salesman you have had the misfortune to be seated near at a restaurant during a lunchtime rush. I would like to think otherwise but HILLBILLY ELEGY is nothing more than RAGGED DICK for the present age. It's no wonder that an interview with Vance in The American Conservative magazine was key to popularizing the book.

Jan 12, 2018

Excellent, great writing and would read again

Jan 11, 2018

3 stars - This book garnered so much media buzz as a "must read to understand the lives of Appalachian poor white folk". Well, this story did some of that, but you have to understand that it's foremost an autobiography of the author's struggle to move beyond the rocky shores of his particular upbringing. On that level it's an impressive story, though told through unexceptional prose. In the end I felt let down that there was little attempt by the author to circle back on the larger story of how today's Appalachia might -- or might not -- be a different place than it used to be.

PimaLib_LaurenH Jan 04, 2018

I grew up in the deep south and I was really hopeful about this book. Unfortunately, I hated it. It was deeply condescending and hard to get through for that alone. I know this one's really popular, but if you're looking to gain a better understanding of the working class South/Appalachia, this book ain't it.

Jan 02, 2018

Good insight into issues plaguing the rust belt and Appalachia. Highly recommend for everyone.

Dec 29, 2017

For all of the buzz, I'm not really sure what epiphanies J.D. Vance's lackluster prose are supposed to elicit. His conclusions are fairly rudimentary: broken families lead to youth without support systems lead to bad decisions or coping behaviors that maintain the cycle of poverty. Nothing ground breaking here.

The primary tool is a first-person account of life inside the cycle, with anecdotal evidence providing a clear demonstration of the adverse effects of a childhood without stability. Of course, many of those stories (even the ones that in theory demonstrate the author's "damage" or "challenges") somehow reinforce the success of the hero—whether triumphing as a hillbilly or in his escape from the hillbilly community.

It's fine, but not the tour de force of insightful retrospective I was expecting.

Dec 26, 2017

would recommend to a friend

Dec 18, 2017

J. D. Vance grew up in Middletown Ohio, but his cultural roots were in Jackson, Kentucky. "Middletown Ohio!"- it sounds like a Billy Joel song. Even his name, which is unexceptional at first glance, tells his story. ‘Jay Dot Dee Dot’ is what he called himself, but the names which the letters abbreviated changed, as did his surname, as his mother churned through a series of marriages that ended in failure. The real anchor in his life was his grandmother, Mamaw (pronounced Ma’am-aw), who along with her husband Papaw, made the trek northwest to join the steel-manufacturing workforce in Ohio in the post WWII boom. His grandparents had had a rocky marriage but hostilities had ebbed, and of all their children, it was J.D.’s mother (Mom) who was probably the most troubled. She was a nurse, but fell in and out of addiction to prescription drugs, and bounced quickly from one marriage to another, dragging her children Lindsay and J.D. with her. It was only when J.D. finally settled with his grandmother Mamaw on a permanent basis that he had enough structure in his life to settle at school, eventually gaining entry to Yale Law School. It is from this vantage point – the kid who escaped – that he writes this book that makes sense of, but does not excuse, the hillbilly culture that is dying around him.
This book is, in effect, a survivor story and an ethnographic report from an insider/outsider.
It would be nice if one single book could offer a solution to the world's ills. That's not going to happen, and its not going to be this book. But in terms of setting out a coherent, if unfamiliar worldview held by important voting-blocs in America, this is an instructive and fascinating report from the other side.

For my complete review, go to https://residentjudge.wordpress.com/2017/12/18/hillbilly-elegy-a-memoir-of-a-family-and-culture-in-crisis-by-j-d-vance/

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Mar 17, 2017

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Jun 28, 2017

In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck. A deeply moving memoir, with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.


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