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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
5,9113151,457 (3.75)379
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 379 mentions

English (308)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (311)
Showing 1-5 of 308 (next | show all)
If you want to know how people could actually vote Drumpf into the presidency, you should read this book. My sister recommended it to me, because her therapist recommended it to her. I have so much anger and resentment against these people--they took everything wrong with the U.S. and made it a hundred times worse--that I read this to try to get an idea of who these faceless people are.

Well, I learned plenty. Hillbillies aren't so very different than the class of people that I come from--we're both considered"working poor," but that's where similarity ends. I also learned about something called"social currency," and how, if you have multiple ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), that having access to social currency can mean making it or not in your adult life. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
TRUMPS New Puppet - Can not even begin to want to read this after he changed his stance and became a total jackass wanna be politician -
  booklovers2 | Oct 22, 2022 |
Not a review- a note for my library purposes. German Version - since I can not read German - it will stay in my library until I can share it with someone who can read it - Ordered from Amazon early release and received this copy.
  booklovers2 | Oct 22, 2022 |
Hillbilly Elegy purports to provide some special insight into the culture of hillbillies through the eyes of one of their own. The trouble is that the author was neither poor nor Appalachian, which most certainly makes him not a hillbilly. Let me repeat that for those who think they understand my culture better for having read this memoir– HE IS NOT AND NEVER WAS A HILLBILLY. He is not of us; he does not speak for us. He doesn’t even pronounce Appalachian correctly.

He tries to lay claim to the experience of poverty by using the word “we” when speaking of the lower economic classes and referencing, though not intimately knowing, a few unemployed neighbors. However, by his own account, his family consists of homeowners and business owners, with members in the 1970s making an hourly wage matching the current New York minimum and incomes exceeding $100,000 a year in the 1990s. His own mother was a nurse - a degreed profession. This comes into direct conflict with his claim to be the only person in his nuclear family to go to college. He himself states later in the book that an income of $30,000 a year is “not a lot of money but not poverty level either.” Yet somehow, he expects us to accept him as having grown up poor.

His claim of being a hillbilly is rooted in his grandparents being from Appalachia, though they left it at ages thirteen and sixteen. He implies that he grew up in a community of migrated hillbillies in Ohio; however, assuming that to be true, a second-generation immigrant community is not the same thing as the community of origin. He states that he often visited relatives in Appalachia, but visits, even lasting a matter of months, do not make you a member of a community. The closest he came to living in Appalachia was when he spent the two years between college and law school alternating between living in Rust-Belt Ohio and Appalachian Kentucky. He was in his mid-twenties by then, and none of the seminal events of his life happened in the region he tries to claim as his own.

He puts forth to have insider knowledge of poverty and Appalachian culture, but his relationship to these cultures is, at best, one of proximity not of personal experience. He lived near poor people but was not one of them. He had relatives from the Appalachia but he and his parents were born and raised an hour north of Cincinnati. To add insult to injury, he explains his family’s history of neglect, violence, and addiction as being hillbilly culture thereby perpetuating stereotypes of our people that predate the Civil War – stereotypes that in fact precede the word hillbilly itself. Those taking careful note will realize that we are stereotyped as being drunken, violent, and ignorant just as are the Scots-Irish from whom the whites of the region are said to be descended. (Drunk may, in these modern times, be exchanged readily with drug-addicted.)

He has extrapolated a concept of Appalachian culture wholesale from a collection of family legends and the behavior of his grandparents – in particular the worst behaviors of his family. Most certainly problems of ignorance, addiction, codependency, and violence exist in our communities – as they do in yours, as they do in everyone’s. This does not make them an identifying part of the culture of any community. Especially in light of the fact that these issues haunt impoverished communities around the world.

There is a history of exceptional poverty in the Appalachian Mountains. So much so that in 1965, Congress established an economic development agency whose purpose is to invest in activities that will help lift our people out of poverty. Despite this book’s contention that government can’t help this problem, the Appalachian Regional Commission has reduced the number of high poverty counties down to 91 from 295 since its founding. It has also doubled the amount of high school graduates and reduced the infant mortality rate by two-thirds. His family left the region before this even began. Who is he to deny its efficacy? A summer visitor. A tourist.

Despite his protests to the contrary, this memoir is his personal story. It is the story of his fight to overcome his upbringing by an addict. I am genuinely sorry that Mr. Vance had to face that. It is not an easy path to follow. It is chaotic and dangerous. As another child of an addict, I applaud his accomplishment and commend some of his insights into that experience. He should have written a book only about that experience. Instead he chose to slander a vibrant and beautiful culture that is fighting its way out of decades of financial despair. Instead he chose to subtly attack an agency that is actually helping in that battle. Instead he chose to gaslight the people he tries to claim as his own by early on stating that we are in denial about our real problems before proceeding to insist on his own version of reality.

I have focused my review on one specific issue. There are most definitely more. There is a glossing over and denial of the impact and influence of racism, both systemic and personal. There is a failure to recognize that Appalachian is a large, diverse area that includes urban and rural areas, rich and poor, genders and sexualities across the spectrum, and politics leaning in every direction. I’ve seen where residents of Middleton have put forth that he has exaggerated and cherry-picked the circumstances there, though I cannot personally speak to this. Many have said that he offers no solutions but only criticizes efforts that don’t align with his political stance. There is the constant conflating of the Rust Belt and the Appalachians (something which I suspect discomforts the denizens of both). The book is loaded with contradictory statements that directly refute his own claims within the book. It also contains far too many uncited “statistics” and “facts”. I would encourage you to both read some of the other negative reviews here on Goodreads as well as search around the Internet for criticism. You will find that others have addressed many of the numerous flaws in this book with far greater knowledge than I have. I would encourage you to read this book, if at all, with a careful eye. Most of all, I want you to know that his story is not the story of my Appalachia. No one story is the story of this vibrant region and its many cultures.

Addenda
I. I couldn’t find space to work this into my review nor could I ignore it. From this book:

"By almost any measure, American working-class families experience a level of instability unseen elsewhere in the world."

That is possibly the most asinine sentence I have ever seen in my life. Pure ignorance. Unsurprisingly, it has no citation.

II. A few links for your consideration:

“Author Too Removed from Culture He Criticizes”
http://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article96779312.html

“I Was Born in Poverty in Appalachia. ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Doesn’t Speak for Me.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/i-grew-up-in-poverty-in-appalachia-jd-va...

“The Self-Serving Hustle of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’”
https://tropicsofmeta.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/the-self-serving-hustle-of-hillbi...

Mr. Vance speaking with his “Southern twang”. You can hear him mispronounce Appalachian at 4:48 and Appalachia at 4:58. Nothing gives you away as an outsider as much as that pronunciation. For comparison, I have provided a second link to a native speaker, author Pepper Basham, pronouncing the word.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp5IbYOrdbU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGLbYv5izgc

III. Links regarding ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission)
https://www.arc.gov
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_Regional_Commission
https://www.arc.gov/assets/research_reports/AppalachiaThenAndNowCompiledReports....
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/03/why-the-appalachian-regiona... ( )
1 vote Zoes_Human | Sep 17, 2022 |
This book isn't worth anyone's time and neither is JD Vance. ( )
1 vote zomgpwnbbq | Aug 23, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 308 (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
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.
[Afterword] Many people, especially those who know me well, have asked me to describe my life since Hillbilly Elegy was published about two years ago.
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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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