With all of the hype surrounding this book I was excited to dive in, hoping for insight into a group, class, and region of America that's very foreign to me, being a West Coast native. Ultimately this book illustrates a picture of a part of America that's strikingly different than my childhood and young adulthood, full of heartbreak, triumph, and family dynamics that are familiar to all. J. D.'s family story is intense and he offers great understanding into how his (my, our) generation, the millennials and gen X, became and are disenfranchised within the current political landscape. Really they're pissed at the government: they blame the system for their woes yet, as Vance brilliantly points out, they are in control of their own reality and problems. Their struggle is powerful and they are not empowered. The system, the media, and the government are all feeding into the story they're telling themselves: that they're not able to achieve the American Dream and they're being left behind, overlooked, or dismissed. Vance's own determination to get out of his family's story and history is remarkable. His focus on the hard work and drive to do better meant that he could escape. It was this same gumption that ensured that his grandparents could succeed when they migrated from the holler to the suburbs. While this book didn't illuminate a ton about the "other" (in relation to the 2016 election cycle), it did build understanding and compassion for a group of incredibly resilient elders and the current generation's struggle to escape the trappings of materialistic aspirations and addictions that so easily befall them. I recommend it! Recommended By Kelly N., Powells.com
Drawing on his childhood spent in Appalachia and the Ohio Rust Belt, J. D. Vance explores and contends with the despair gripping America’s white working class. Both empathetic and alarmed, Hillbilly Elegy’s blend of family history and social criticism makes for an absorbing and timely read. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
#1 New York Times Bestseller
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.
"Vance compellingly describes the terrible toll that alcoholism, drug abuse, and an unrelenting code of honor took on his family, neither excusing the behavior nor condemning it…The portrait that emerges is a complex one…Unerringly forthright, remarkably insightful, and refreshingly focused, Hillbilly Elegy is the cry of a community in crisis." Booklist
"J.D. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, offers a starkly honest look at what that shattering of faith feels like for a family who lived through it. You will not read a more important book about America this year." The Economist
"[Hillbilly Elegy] couldn’t have been better timed...a harrowing portrait of much that has gone wrong in America over the past two generations...an honest look at the dysfunction that afflicts too many working-class Americans." National Review
"[Hillbilly Elegy] is a beautiful memoir but it is equally a work of cultural criticism about white working-class America….[Vance] offers a compelling explanation for why it’s so hard for someone who grew up the way he did to make it…a riveting book." Wall Street Journal
"[A] compassionate, discerning sociological analysis…Combining thoughtful inquiry with firsthand experience, Mr. Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election, and he’s done so in a vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans. Imagine that." Jennifer Senior, New York Times
About the Author
J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.
Rhianna Walton on PowellsBooks.Blog
I read widely for work, but when push comes to shove, the books I remember in December are the ones that have woven their narratives tightly to my mind and heart. This year, a bizarre one full of fracture and distress, hope, fear and introspection, the books I remember were all written by authors of uncommon empathy. After months...