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

by J. D. Vance

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,1932901,575 (3.78)366
Vance, a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, provides an account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America's white working class. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck. The Vance family story begins hopefully 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 their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance's grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America.… (more)
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» See also 366 mentions

English (287)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (290)
Showing 1-5 of 287 (next | show all)
An interesting, and often times heart wrenching, look into a segment of society oft overlooked. I'd recommend this book to anyone who doesn't personally know someone who could have been featured or mentioned in this book. While I think the author is at times a little on the nose with his political leanings, the opening chapters really give you a good sense of what his life was like. I can understand why people would mention it in the same sentence at Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World in Me, as they are both stories of people's often fraught lives, but I don't totally feel comfortable conflating these two. A good read nonetheless and one that reminds me of the broader society we live in. ( )
  nosborm | Oct 10, 2021 |
I put this one off for a long time.

For context: I read this right after finishing Alienated America by Tim Carney, the same year I discovered Thomas Sowell, and the same year that I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates, Carol Swain's The New White Nationalism in America and the same calendar year that a mob stormed the capitol building in DC.

All of these books are still digesting in my head. I'm not sure that they will ever create a concrete opinion of a potential solution.

However, here are some things that I do believe.

Sharon McMahon posted once that there are too many "buts" in our speech/dialogues. I'm beginning to agree. This is DEFINITELY over-simplifying, and probably not quite correct, but it's like two women. One argues that she deserves sympathy because she has had miscarriage after miscarriage. The other says "but" and proceeds to divulge that she cannot even get pregnant so she deserves the sympathy. It is only when you change the word to "and" that both can mourn together. It's only when you change the word to "and" that the resources for sympathy and co-grieving are magnified and can be enough for both. The metaphor isn't perfect but I feel like she is right. No one has a monopoly on suffering.

It is beneficial to look at big pictures AND up-close-and-personal ones. After all, those numbers that people combine are really individuals. There is a benefit to studying both the individual and the culture.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not sure I am an unbiased reader. You see, some of the effects of emotional and physical abuse are present in my family tree and their diluted side-effects have not yet been eradicated. Similarly the shortage of nice things on one side of the family has led to a hoarding of the same. At one point in the book I recognized someone I knew so clearly that I cried. And they were not pretty tears. They were a complex combination of emotions that I still haven't dissected completely.

Finally, I won't be rating this. I am uncomfortable with rating memoirs. Particularly when the story is unfinished, as most stories are.

EDIT: A couple of events in the past few days have reminded me of this valuable fact. You can spend your life looking for poster-children that exemplify your theories, or you can take people as you find them and, if you ever get a break from getting to know(and preferably love) them, you can theorize at that point. Now to put it into practice. And, no. I won't be watching the show.
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
Fantastic book! Great suggestions on changes in neighborhoods and legislation that can better serve people. His meemaw sounds amazing and would be proud of him ( )
  Jinxii | Aug 10, 2021 |
I went back and forth on reading this book. Initially I was quite excited to read it but then as my resentment at the real life implications of the "economic anxiety" driven vote in the 2016 election built I thought "I just don't want to read about it." I'm glad I decided to read this, it is a compelling and often very surprising memoir. I think the most important message out of it is for people to stop blaming "the other," be that Government or elites or any other group, for their own failures. Obviously that is a simplification of his book and I would encourage everyone to read it, and of course that idea is fantastic in the abstract but it has to be applied on a case by case basis, but it is the best way for everyone to take control of their life and do something to make it better. There were moments where he clearly stops short because he doesn't want to admit that Government helps, such as when he writes about Payday Loans and manages to decide that the plural of anecdote is data, even though it is clearly not. He cites the perfectly appropriate place for Payday Loans then never checks to see what the reality of their use is. I really enjoyed reading this, even when I didn't entirely agree with him, and I think most everyone would benefit from reading it. ( )
  MarkMad | Jul 14, 2021 |
It works well enough as a memoir, and I won't argue with his depiction of his own life. Vance does have some good things to say about culture shock at Yale and the results of constant trauma, but I don't think Vance has the chops to make generalizations about cultures--especially since his own childhood experiences were of a specific branch of his culture, those who followed the jobs North. He tries too hard to argue too much from his own very specific life. It gets even looser when he tries to argue politics. There's something here, but it's not the revolutionary book some pundits have cast it as. ( )
  arosoff | Jul 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 287 (next | show all)
added by janw | editNew Yorker, Josh Rothman (Sep 12, 2016)
 

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vance, J. D.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carlson-Stanisic, LeahDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
HarperAudioPublishersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heuvelmans, TonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raynaud, VincentTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, JarrodCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, J. D.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Mamaw and Papaw, my very own hillbilly terminators
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My name is J. D. Vance, and I think I should start with a confession: I find the existence of the book you hold in your hands somewhat absurd.
Like most small children, I learned my home address so that if I got lost, I could tell a grown-up where to take me.
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Vance, a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, provides an account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America's white working class. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck. The Vance family story begins hopefully 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 their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance's grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America.

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