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There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.
What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It's not your fault that you're a loser; it's the government's fault.
It's about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.
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)
“[A] new memoir that should be read far and wide.” -- Institute of Family Studies
“[An] understated, engaging debut...An unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class whose health and economic problems are making headlines in this election year.” -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, this memoir is akin to investigative journalism. … A quick and engaging read, this book is well suited to anyone interested in a study of modern America, as Vance’s assertions about Appalachia are far more reaching.” -- Library Journal
“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
To understand the rage and disaffection of America’s working-class whites, look to Greater Appalachia. In HILLBILLY ELEGY, J.D. Vance confronts us with the economic and spiritual travails of this forgotten corner of our country. Here we find women and men who dearly love their country, yet who feel powerless as their way of life is devastated. Never before have I read a memoir so powerful, and so necessary. -- Reihan Salam, executive editor, National Review
“A beautifully and powerfully written memoir about the author’s journey from a troubled, addiction-torn Appalachian family to Yale Law School, Hillbilly Elegy is shocking, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and hysterically funny. It’s also a profoundly important book, one that opens a window on a part of America usually hidden from view and offers genuine hope in the form of hard-hitting honesty. Hillbilly Elegy announces the arrival of a gifted and utterly original new writer and should be required reading for everyone who cares about what’s really happening in America.” -- Amy Chua, New York Times bestselling author of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
“Elites tend to see our social crisis in terms of ‘stagnation’ or ‘inequality.’ J. D. Vance writes powerfully about the real people who are kept out of sight by academic abstractions.” -- Peter Thiel, entrepreneur, investor, and author of Zero to One
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.
- ASIN : 0062300547
- Publisher : Harper; Reprint Ed. edition (June 28, 2016)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780062300546
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062300546
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Dimensions : 1.2 x 6.3 x 9.1 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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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.
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.