- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 6 hours and 49 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: HarperAudio
- Audible.com Release Date: June 28, 2016
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B01EM4ZJBO
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis Audiobook – Unabridged
|New from||Used from|
|Free with your Audible trial|
Customers who bought this item also bought
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
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.
The author is a third-generation transplanted "Hillbilly" whose family followed the old path from a rural life in Kentucky to industrial America. But while the author seems unaware of it, the story is a whole lot more universal in America than that. Its not just a hillbilly story. There same stories can be found Among people in the various places whose families transitioned from rural to industrial America in the 1950s. The stories can also quite similarly be told from rural peoples who came to the US from central america or mexico.
J.D. Vance follows a rather well-known trajectory in American life. There is a first generation with little education which gains a laboring foothold but which is plagued by alcoholism and family violence. Their children grow up within "consumer" American culture, get jobs which require slightly more education but then fall into living beyond their means, drug use and disfunctional family life. The children often end up being raised by the grandparents or end up raising themselves while the parents fall to pieces. The third generation is born with a sense of undeserved entitlement and no desire to work.
Vance's story is very sad and very typical. He tells is very honestly and very well. Its also a story that mainstream American culture, at least until now, has had zero interest in. I really can't fault anything in the book up to chapter ten. But the book transforms itself at that point and the author then begins to tell less than the full story. And the story he does choose to tell echos exactly the political narratives of the neoconservative movement in American politics.
It starts with him joining the marines after high school. There is nothing wrong in that. And like generations before him, he manages to find self-discipline and a work ethic through service in the military. The problem with his story is that there is as much good and bad in the US military as there is in civilian life. He doesn't tell one bit of the bad. There is just no honesty in any of it. His story about the recruitment process seems like idealized fiction. Real people drop out of the story and he tells it as if he had no friendships with anyone that period. He is a smart guy and must know the good and bad of military life, but says nothing about it.
In the marines, he is (without explanation) in "public affairs". He goes to Iraq, but he goes to Iraq to take pictures and hang out with civilians touring the country. For not the first time, he is totally oblivious to how different his life is than that of a normal person. He has an "epiphany" at a school in Iraq and discovers his social conscience. Then suddenly he is replacing a captain as media relations *officer* of an entire base in the US. Again, there is very little in the way of any explanation of whats going on. In general, his entire time in the marines is idealized as are his views of the war in Iraq. When he has a chance later in the book to talk about the war, he talks about the vast amount of cultural sensitivity training that soldiers going to Iraq received.
If he were honest, he would explained that military service isn't the universal way out of a lower class life and that service in the military is often a lottery. For everyone who becomes a public affairs marines, there are ten or twenty who are camped out in the rubble of an Iraqi police station or drive trucks or who do any number of more humble tasks. That there are all kinds of people who fall right back into bad habits right out of boot camp. The military is "a" path out of places such as where the author came from, but it can also lead nowhere or be extremely traumatic. The problem with the author's views on his service is that sound like the *war builds men* views of his neoconservative political friends.
Then suddenly he goes from enlisted marine to replacing a captain as media relations *officer* of an entire base. That part of his story doesn't make much sense, There has to be more to it than that but he doesn't say anything about it.
He leaves the marines and goes to Ohio State. What I can't ever remember him mentioning in the book was the degrees he went after at Ohio State: Political Science and Philosophy. The choices are interesting because getting those degrees from a state university has been a career death sentence for many first-generation people who go to college. He doesn't mention the choice or explain the choice (and I'm willing to be corrected on this If I missed it in the book). These are the sorts of degrees that lower-class people get and afterward find out that there is no job and no career path associated with them. Again, its a point on which I really wonder if the full story is being told or if he is being honest.
Then he is accepted to Yale Law with (as far I can tell) with no particular understanding of how difficult or extraordinary that was. He just won the life lottery and he doesn't even seem to understand it. Again, he seems to be telling a whole lot less than the full story. Political Science grads from public universities with high GPAs are literally a dime a dozen. He could really be the most lucky person in the world or there could be some connection that helped him. But either way, he isn't telling anything. At this point in the book, I really started to wonder if Vance is some sort of "big kid" who doesn't understand his own life or if he is cynically playing the reader.
The whole "Aw Shucks" thing continues on at Yale. We are dealing with a person who was editor of the Yale Law Review and a legal aide to a US senator during his time at Yale. That is a specific kind of person and that person doesn't sound like the voice the author is using at that point in the book. Though he was an clerk to Senator John Cornyn (who is on the US Senate Judiciary Committee), he doesn't even mention it in the book.
There is also a point where he is going out for interviews in his final year at Yale and acting as if he is just some anonymous face in the crowd. At that point I literally was thinking "come on". He is editor of the law review at Yale, was a research assistant to a professor.at the law school and was an aid to a senator on the Judiciary Committee. To have those things, he would know what he is at that point. So drop the Forrest Gump act.
The book stops about the time he left Yale. His career path since then has been equally unusual. He spent less than a year at a real law firm in Washington D.C. Then he as much as left the law behind to join a venture capital investment fund. He effectively works for Peter Thiel whose name appears on the back cover. That transition somewhat shows the fluid nature of the new American elite. Sheryl Sandberg,goes to a party and is suddenly COO of facebook. She tells women to "lean in" to be successful. J.D. Vance is plucked out of the air into a huge venture capital fund with no particular qualifications or experience and he wants to tell everyone how to be successful.
The book has a mostly neoconservative opinion on political matters. The military is great for poor people. Wars are great. Our schools are mostly great. America is the land of opportunity. And if you don't end up like J.D. is because your lazy and don't work hard enough. But in spite of that, you should support *some* limited social programs to help the poor.
The book also touches on religion and presents the neoconservative view of that. Religion is presented as a useful tool for character building and community development, but actual belief is not something that is necessary or that should be taken seriously. Vance doesn't see at all is that religion provides to some of the people encountered is a way to separate themselves from a culture which has almost become toxic. That for some, engagement with mainstream culture amounts to a compromise with a culture where substance abuse, violence and selfishness in personal relationships is the norm. That following a religion can allow exactly the same seperation from a toxic culture that his service in the military allowed.
The whole neoconservative idea that religion can be hollowed out and transformed into a character-building institution in service to the state is beyond questionable. It simply isn't going to work. Beyond that, it misunderstands many of the real problems in the communities where the author comes from.
Sometimes the things he says are just strange. He brags about the money one can make starting out from Yale. But he seems to have no clue that while one makes more money, one spends far more money at the same time as a condition of the role. What seems like alot of money in industrial Ohio doesn't go all that far in Manhattan, in Washington DC or in San Francisco. There are also comments on Obama as self-made man which are kind of silly. Obama was the product of the most elite private school in Hawaii followed by Colombia and Harvard Law. You can kind of Vance's perspective though. Obama's life is now aligned with Vance's view of himself as the man who made it to the elite through hard work. In both cases, there is a lack of awareness as to how few people attend Harvard and Yale Law. And how often the admissions process is very arbitrary. A better person than Vance might question the fairness of a system where access to so many of the top positions in society funnel through a tiny number of schools.
Another basic dishonesty in the book is the naive idea the author presents that the members of the rich elite he is now a part of are just "better" than the rest of us. For the most part, that has not been what I've seen in life. The reality is that all the problems he saw in Ohio are exactly replicated at the top of American society. There are disfunctional families, massive substance abuse and out of control lifestyles. The difference between the people in Ohio he grew up with and the elite is that the elite can fall back on money and social networks to solve nearly any problem they have. Vance is still young and maybe he just has not seen it yet, but social disfunction in America isn't confined to Hillbillys or the bottom of society.
The good parts of this book are really exceptional. It really shows an insight into a way of life in America that many just don't want to know anything about. But by the end, the author sounds very much like someone being groomed for political office by the elite. Above all, that is what Vance at least in his book doesn't understand. The American elite (private schools, the Ivy League and so on) are inclusive in a sense. But they are inclusive on *their* terms. Your admission to the elite is conditional on what you can do for *them*.