Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis

Book - 2016
Average Rating:
Rate this:


"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

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Jul 13, 2018

Little slow to start. Good read for a new perspective on how others may be living around you. Could be a hundred pages shorter.

Jun 24, 2018

As a bewildered immigrant from Asia, I read this book trying to understand what “hillbilly" or "white trash" are all about, why billionaire Trump is embraced by some poor white Americans. I grab the book from library before a trip to California and completed the reading thru the six-hour long flight back home. It is easy to read, mesmerizing, and full of emotional impact. Strongly recommend it.
Although not yet having the full answer to my questions, after reading Hillbilly Elegy, through author’s vivid description about his chaotic childhood and ways to escape the impact of these trauma, I do have better understanding about the struggles and cultural backgrounds to entrap the “hillbilly" or “white trash” people from escaping the economic difficulties, and their cynicism and mistrust against social elites, mainstream media…etc.
The author fought against all odds of his childhood trauma and ended up a Yale Law School graduate. At the end of the book, he concludes that those problems present in his home towns may not be solved by government or policies, but more by the church or any other ways to open up the cultural enclosement and to encourage the community engagement & broad family support. A great reading!

Jun 14, 2018

I read Hillbilly Elegy for a few reasons. One, I had heard some of my friends talking about the book and it sounded interesting. Two, I usually enjoy reading memoirs, autobios, and bios. And three, I have often somewhat prided myself in that I am of Appalachian blood-my family is from West Virginia, a beautiful, mountainous area, and yes, I have many found memories of my great grandparents. I was aware of them being called hillbillies when I was very young, even though I was raised in central Ohio.

While reading Mr. Vance's descriptions of his family, I do not recall quite as colorful a language coming from my family (of course, maybe they toned it down a bit in my presence), but the family loyalty he described, yes, that was definitely present in my maternal grandparents and great grandparents.

I found quite a lot that I enjoyed about Hillbilly Elegy. I would recommend the book to others, although I would warn them, the language is on the rough side, especially for young adult readers.

I think Mr. Vance has done well for himself. He worked hard and is learning how to live a healthier inner life and a healthier family life. I hope he writes more in the future.

Jun 09, 2018

I'm not a connoisseur of memoirs so I don't know how they normally read but this was so difficult to get through, it felt like someone trying to introduce themselves for a political race. It was the typical "I came from a broken home but pulled myself up by my bootstraps" story sans nuance, struggle, or honesty. Sure his early life was difficult in some ways but it didn't feel like he really overcame much other than the loss of his family members.
I don't understand why this book was written, y'all.

May 17, 2018

This book is not Appalachia! It is the story of one family. There is so much more to be said about the thriving culture, history and perseverance of Appalachian communities. If you are looking for a book that explains the last election check out The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America... it is from 2013, but does a great job of depicting the struggles of poor and rural people over the past several decades

ehbooklover May 09, 2018

I wanted to attempt to understand what led to the results in the American election and I'd heard that this book would fit the bill. It had some interesting insights, however, it was not what I expected. Instead, it focused more on the author's own personal experiences and his life. A great read about the importance of family ties, whatever your circumstances.

May 07, 2018

This book is a must read for new readers wanting to be informed regarding the Appalachia region and socioeconomic turmoil. It is very easy to see through the author yes, he is a conservative and some people have commented to say the author is in someway justifying the
"Alt right" or neo-nazi/white supremacy. To think that, I say this is incorrect. If you read this book with an open mind and realize that not everything he says applies to all but is just a small example of the trials and troubles of people of this region and minority regions. To be honest, I find the author a bit pretentious, hypocritical but his story is still intriguing. It definitely has a survival bias theme to it; however to people that are not exposed to these problems or are far removed from it it is a must read because it's a start to understanding each other in an objective manner and not in an identity politics dog vs. dog world that we appear to living in. Overall read this and try to expand your knowledge I will look into the other books that were mentioned in the comments below mine.

May 05, 2018

Required reading.

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.

Apr 05, 2018

Originally from the Chicago suburbs, I attended college in southern Indiana. I was assigned to a suite of 4 girls, one of whom was from rural Kentucky, one from Dayton, OH, and one from the author's hometown, Middletown, OH. All three came from backgrounds with many similarities to the author's. They and their large, rowdy, families and those of the people I met who lived in the small towns near the university introduced me to the Hillbilly culture.

As the author relates, this was a culture with both great strengths and great weaknesses, and also one whom time is increasingly leaving behind as their traditional jobs disappear and leave those individuals remaining behind with a mix of government charity and semi- to fully illegal moneymaking options.

Vance points out that the divide between these people and those who are successful in the modern world continues to grow and that the gap separating them is becoming harder and harder to bridge.

While not a political book, per se, Vance does provide insight into the reason behind the political shift of working class southern whites from Democrat to Republican. It has not been so much an embracing of the conservative ideals as it has been a disgust with how the Democrats and big governments have failed them since the time of the New Deal when they perceived the Roosevelt administration as the ally of the working man.

This is an Interesting look at a group of people who are seldom analyzed in terms of anything beyond the country hick stereotype. Vance points out that well-meaning government programs meant to help them often miss the mark and even worsen the issues.

View All Comments


Add Notices

May 07, 2018

Other: Topics: Inequality, Race, Religion, Education, Mental Health (Substance Abuse)

May 05, 2018

Frightening or Intense Scenes: Frightening and intense scenes.

May 05, 2018

Sexual Content: Strong sexual content.

May 05, 2018

Violence: Strong violence.

May 05, 2018

Coarse Language: Strong language.


Add Age Suitability

May 04, 2018

LThomas_Library thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over

Mar 17, 2017

runningbeat thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


Add a Summary

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.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at LPL

To Top