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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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/

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/

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Mar 17, 2017

runningbeat thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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