- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 6 hours and 49 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Limited
- Audible.com Release Date: September 22, 2016
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English, English
- ASIN: B01LT8OWSC
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
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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.
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.
Last summer I read Coates' Between the World and Me. I was struck how the loves of Coates and Vance share such commonalities but ran along parallel tracks. I read this book because the anger in our political discourse truly frightens me. I was looking for some entry point into complicating my limited ideas and prejudices about white working class folks. This is a beautiful book and although I'm not sure I am his audience, I appreciate his sharing his world and his people with me. His willingness to be vulnerable, honest, and reflective has given me a lot to consider moving forward.
Not to take away from the authors achievements as they are significant and worth celebrating, the book lacks the detail to serve as a hand up to those back in Appalachia who may benefit from such information.
Most recent customer reviews
Rather insulting to those who know more
Basically, the book is the unbelievable ramblings of a 31 year-old Yale...Read more