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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis Hardcover – June 28, 2016
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“[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)
“[Vance’s] description of the culture he grew up in is essential reading for this moment in history.” (David Brooks, New York Times)
“[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)
"[A]n American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class, but also its strengths. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read… [T]he most important book of 2016. You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance." (Rod Dreher,The American Conservative)
“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)
“[A] frank, unsentimental, harrowing memoir...a superb book...” (New York Post)
“The troubles of the working poor are well known to policymakers, but Vance offers an insider’s view of the problem.” (Christianity Today)
“Vance movingly recounts the travails of his family.” (Washington Post)
“What explains the appeal of Donald Trump? Many pundits have tried to answer this question and fallen short. But J.D. Vance nails it...stunning...intimate...” (Globe and Mail (Toronto))
From the Back Cover
From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class through the author’s own story of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of poor, white Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for over forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. 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.
The Vance family story began with hope 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 one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his 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.
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780062300546
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062300546
- Dimensions : 1.2 x 6.3 x 9.1 inches
- Publisher : Harper; Reprint Ed. edition (June 28, 2016)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0062300547
- Best Sellers Rank: #615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Mr. Vance likes to cite sociological and demographic statistics to back up his personal narrative. But, why? Isn't one's subjective experience enough? This work will never be considered anything more than anecdotal, so why try? This is not the sort of personal narrative one finds in something like Knausgaard's "My Struggle," which, fiction or not, makes you feel like you've known the man all your life and could sit down and have a beer with him without feeling the least bit awkward. On the contrary, Vance's yarn is presented in something like the third person, a stance I don't understand. As a result, the prose is dry and choppy. I found myself slogging through just to get through. As an effort at self-awareness in the Socratic tradition (Know thyself), I'd give this work a D. One never feels like the author is revealing himself, at least not with the brutal honesty of Knausgaard. Instead, it reads like a Hallmark card of correct sentimentality. This is not an age of political correctness: it's an age of sentimental correctness; and, Vance assures us with Hallmark card certainty that his sentiments are correct. He adores his sister and Mamaw and Papaw. He's a devout family man with the best of intentions. He goes to church and believes in Jesus. He's a conservative who doubts the ability of government to make effective change. Fine and dandy. But I wouldn't want to sit next to this guy on an airplane. I think the conversation would always get steered to himself. He finished Ohio State in two years, with honors. And then went to Yale and became editor of the "prestigious" Yale Law Review. And to ice the cake, he served as a Marine in Iraq. I mean, this dude's a physical and mental mensch. Man is the measure of all things, said Protagoras. And Vance is the measure of all men.
I think Mr. Vance might be posturing himself for a shot at political office.
Anyway, read it if you like. But this ain't no Steinbeck.
While ostensibly about the particular culture of the West Virginia Scots-Irish underclass, anyone that has seen white poverty in America's flyover states will recognize much of what is written about here. It is a life on the very edge of plausibility, without the sense of extra-family community that serves as a stabilizing agent in many first-generation immigrant communities or communities of color. Drugs, crime, jail time, abusive interactions without any knowledge of other forms of interaction, children growing up in a wild mix of stoned mother care, foster care, and care by temporary "boyfriends," and in general, an image of life on the edge of survival where even the heroes are distinctly flawed for lack of knowledge and experience of any other way of living.
This is a story that many of the "upwardly mobile middle class" in the coastal areas, often so quick to judge the lifestyles and politics of "those people" in middle America, has no clue about. I speak from experience as someone that grew up in the heartland but has spent years in often elite circles on either coast.
Two things struck me most about this book.
First, the unflinching yet not judgmental portrayal of the circumstances and of the people involved. It is difficult to write on this subject without either glossing over the ugliness and making warm and fuzzy appeals to idealism and human nature, Hollywood style, or without on the other hand descending into attempts at political persuasion and calls to activism. This book manages to paint the picture, in deeply moving ways, without committing either sin, to my eye.
Second, the author's growing realization, fully present by the end of the work, that while individuals do not have total control over the shapes of their lives, their choices do in fact matter—that even if one can't direct one's life like a film, one does always have the at least the input into life that comes from being free to make choices, every day, and in every situation.
It is this latter point, combined with the general readability and writing skill in evidence here, that earns five stars from me. Despite appearances, I found this to be an inspiring book. I came away feeling empowered and edified, and almost wishing I'd become a Marine in my younger days as the author decided to do—something I've never thought or felt before.
I hate to fall into self-analysis and virtue-signaling behavior in a public review, but in this case I feel compelled to say that the author really did leave with me a renewed motivation to make more of my life every day, to respect and consider the choices that confront me much more carefully, and to seize moments of opportunity with aplomb when they present themselves. Given that a Hillbilly like the author can find his way and make good choices despite the obstacles he's encountered, many readers will find themselves stripped bare and exposed—undeniably ungrateful and just a bit self-absorbed for not making more of the hand we've been dealt every day.
I'm a big fan of edifying reads, and though given the subject matter one might imagine this book to be anything but, in fact this book left me significantly better than it found me in many ways. It also did much to renew my awareness of the differences that define us in this country, and of the many distinct kinds of suffering and heroism that exist.
Well worth your time.
Top reviews from other countries
The book wasn't quite what I expected and I was delighted. I expected a more formal study but I got a very personal account of being raised in white, working class America and making it good.
As the start of the book I was full of questions and many of them were answered as JD's story progressed.
Most of the book is very personal but I found the most fascinating parts when he discusses the view, within America, of the white working class and the disadvantages that they deal with. There is a lot of pondering in the narrative that could be reduced at times but, to my delight, little use of academic theories.
This book will be very interesting for many people to read.
Both the reviews I have read and praise found on the cover of the book itself tell potential readers that this book is key to unlocking the mystery of Trump's election and the Brexit result, but the text offered no clues of the sort. Certainly, it is an interesting insight into what it's like growing up in white, working-class poverty. It goes a fair way to explaining the 'what' of the situation, but not the 'why' or 'how.'
The overarching message is that people who lack familial stability, or role models who are 'like them' but 'better' (for example Barack Obama is quintessentially not one of these people) will continue the cycle of poverty, and there are few things that government and policy can do to change it. Change must come from within, but how?
Few answers can be found in the book, unfortunately.
His realisation that the norms of life passed him by when he attends a posh dinner and hasn't a clue about table manners or etiquette is almost funny if it weren't so poignant. Cutlery and the fancy food and his first encounter with sparkling water is nearly his downfall but he gets through it.
The four years he spends in the marines makes a man of him and taught him life coping skills like managing finances and living independently in college.
All in all I enjoyed the book although my book club friends thought it was a bit unbelievable that he was so ignorant of the world outside his neck of the woods. I wasn't as I have seen people living in other cultures who would find our Western cultural norms alien.
I sense JD Vance's politics would be very conservative Republican and despite that I found his honesty and desire to get on while not rejecting his past very laudable.