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About the Author

J.D. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio, and Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served for four years in Iraq. He is a graduate of the Ohio State University (2007-2009) Political Science and Philosophy, Summa Cum Laude and Yale Law School, Doctor of Law (J.D.) show more (2010-2013). He has contributed to the National Review and is the author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. He is also a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by J. D. Vance

Associated Works


2016 (36) 2017 (90) 2018 (29) America (39) American (19) American history (34) Appalachia (220) audio (37) audiobook (62) autobiography (111) autobiography/memoir (19) biography (126) biography-memoir (33) book club (30) class (38) culture (76) ebook (41) family (77) goodreads (19) hillbillies (43) hillbilly (18) history (41) Kentucky (132) Kindle (65) memoir (545) non-fiction (537) Ohio (108) own (22) politics (101) poverty (207) read (63) read in 2017 (55) Rust Belt (36) social commentary (17) social science (22) sociology (177) to-read (441) unread (16) USA (64) working class (40)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Vance, J. D.
Legal name
Vance, James David
Other names
Hamel, J. D.
Bowman, J. D.
Bowman, James Donald (birth)
Middletown, Ohio, USA
Places of residence
Jackson, Kentucky, USA
San Francisco, California, USA
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Washington, DC, USA
Ohio State University (BA|2009)
Yale Law School (JD|2013
investment manager
United States Senator
Vance, Usha Chilukuri (wife)
United States Marines Corps
Mithril Capital
Revolution LLC
Narya Capital
United States Senate
Awards and honors
Audie Award for Nonfiction (2017)
Short biography
J. D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs. [from Hillbilly Elegy (2016)]



There's a good reason why Hillbilly Elegy recently rocketed to the top of amazon's bestseller list. Democrats eager for an explanation why their candidate lost to Donald Trump expect to find it in the tale of a broken family and even more broken society in the Rust Belt and hills of Kentucky.

I started reading Hillbilly Elegy a couple of days before the election of Donald Trump and finished it a few days after.

I read it on the advice of the eastern “elites” who suggested that Vance’s poignant autobiography would give some hint as to the popularity of Trump in the face of screaming evidence that he has neither temperament nor any decent ideas to bring to the Presidency.

Like others I desperately sought answers.

Instead I found humour, tragedy, pathos, and redemption. Standard fare in pretty good books, but no relief to my angst over the election results.

It has also left me with maybe a little fear that the White House is now in the hands of hillbillies (in this case, Hillbillies from the Hamptons), and now I know what that means.

As much as I enjoyed Vance’s tale, I can’t for a second believe the moral of the story: if hillbillies want to climb out of poverty, drug dependency, and broken families they shouldn't look for public support. The Gov’t ain’t got no answers.

Granted Vance comes from the part of the country which don’t trust no “ReveNOOers.” But facts are facts. Education works. Sometimes professional healthcare is needed, including mental health care.

It’s great if family members pitch in, but sometimes they don’t, or don’t know what works and what doesn’t.

No matter what you think, in fact often government can deliver the services faster and cheaper than higgledy-piggledy community services. And granted sometimes government doesn’t do it well.
But the government, especially municipal government are your neighbours for goodness sakes. And Vance made big strides with the help of outsiders himself.

He just doesn’t get by the distrust for government. He doesn’t make the connection between public servants like his teachers and the politicians and judges he worked for and government with the big ‘G’. A man who served loyally in the Marines, who knows what collective action must mean, even if he might have questioned his country’s ultimate role in iraq.

Vance talks in so many cliches, the biggest one being “working-class” Americans as if there was ever a clear divide between people who don’t work and people who do work. That might have made sense in Edwardian England but it was never true of America.

Those blue-collar jobs aren’t coming back. Something must replace them, and somehow the work ethic outside of the home must come back too. And replace the sense of victimisation.

Ultimately I don't think Vance's book answers some of the big questions about Trump's victory. Indeed in the hill country of Kentucky we see the same distrust of government that Trump played upon but that is nothing new and not unique to Trump. It's been going on for a long time and has been a staple of Republican rhetoric and talk radio for a very long time.

I'm more likely going to re-read Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter or maybe Arthur Miller's The Crucible to rediscover the society which is suspicious of everything, possibly because the frontier is so spooky, and possibly because Americans treat their own government as if it were filled with witches and warlocks.
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MylesKesten | 332 other reviews | Jan 23, 2024 |
I grew up in Southern Indiana, a stone's throw from these folks, and fully appreciate the struggles JD Vance endured. I remember going to the hollers of Kentucky as a child to visit distant relatives (?). They had a outhouse. To me, it was a different planet. While I was the first one in my family to go to college, there was never any doubt that I would rise with the tide and fulfill the dreams my parents had for me. Now, on the other side, I still visit those people and places in my love of Southern writing and stories about small rural towns and their community solidarity. But it's good to be on the outside looking in.… (more)
jemisonreads | 332 other reviews | Jan 22, 2024 |
It was ok but could have been much better. Not sure I read anything that particularly surprised me (well, his personal success story in the face of significant challenges was wonderful) but it would have made for a better narrative had the book been more carefully edited. For example, I didn't need to hear him repeat his mother's problems for the nth time. And much of the material was irrelevant. Between these two things (duplication and irrelevance), it was a chore to finish.
donwon | 332 other reviews | Jan 22, 2024 |
This is an interesting personal memoir, but not the fascinating insight into the Trump movement that NPR led me to expect. It’s a well-written, sometimes moving, always affectionate, look at the family and community of a man who was raised in a poor, working-class area, but who managed to graduate from law school at Yale. It seems honest, and he doesn’t shy away from the ugliness, but neither does he wallow in it. He has interesting things to say, but there’s no point in detailing it, as it’s already been well covered. The New Yorker and the National Review both did a good job from their respective ideologies.

I was most interested in his discussion of the barriers to success, both societal and self-imposed, faced by the poor white working-class. Not just barriers to becoming a rich Yale graduate, but even just the challenges to achieving middle class status with a decent, steady job.
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Doodlebug34 | 332 other reviews | Jan 1, 2024 |



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