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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis Audible – Unabridged

4.4 out of 5 stars 4,259 customer reviews

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is a lot to take in here, even for someone that's seen this life up close in many of its many guises.

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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I spent most of the last 2 days reading this book and I can't stop thinking about it. I never heard of the author until I saw him on Morning Joe a few days ago but I looked him up and read several articles he wrote for various publications so I bought his book. He grew up in a family of what he describes as "hillbillies" from Kentucky but spent most of his life in Ohio. His family identified as being strongly Christian even though their behavior was frequently not particularly Christian. He was mostly raised by his grandparents along with his half-sister because his mother was an addict who went from husband to husband and he barely knew his father. He did poorly in school and was only redeemed by the fact that a cousin pushed him into joining the Marines. From there he went to Ohio State and then to Yale Law School.

He writes very directly and honestly about the problems with white, working class America and why it is in decline. While part of the problem is societal, he believes there is an internal problem that government cannot do anything about. He suggests that tribalism, mistrust of outsiders and "elites," violence and irresponsibility among family members, parents without ethics and a sense of responsibility, terrible work ethics, and an us-against-them mentality is dooming the people who live that way to becoming poorer, more addicted, and more marginalized. Excellent book and very thought-provoking.
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Format: Hardcover
Well written and heartfelt. I escaped inner city Baltimore (see The Wire) due to luck, the ability to do well in school and a few good teachers.Instead of trying to describe my early life to my family and friends, I will give them this book. Should be required high school reading. It seems that these days, the U.S. forgets that not all who live in poverty in the country are of color. Thank you, J.D.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I also live in eastern Kentucky, not far from Jackson, but didn't grow up here. I've lived here for over 20 years and have witnessed first hand the people in Vances book. I've lived in Chicago, California and Arizona and have never seen such social hopelessness as in Kentucky. I agree with his conclusion that no government program will stop the continuing cycle of drugs, poverty, teen pregnancy, and the feeling of hopelessness these people have. The cycle repeats from generation to generation with no end in sight. Vance was the exception in finding a way out, largely through the love, guidance and encouragement of his grandmother. She also kept him away from the wrong kind of friends. Very few children in his situation are as lucky. But there also had to be something inside himself that helped him escape. I thought initially that there would be a lot of political bias in his story but there was remarkably little.

"People sometimes ask whether I think there’s anything we can do to “solve” the problems of my community. I know what they’re looking for: a magical public policy solution or an innovative government program. But these problems of family, faith, and culture aren’t like a Rubik’s Cube, and I don’t think that solutions (as most understand the term) really exist.....Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us....I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better."

That about sums it up.

The book was spot on and I highly recommend it.
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