Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis

Book - 2016 | First edition.
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"You will not read a more important book about America this year."--The Economist

"A riveting book."--The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading."--David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful 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

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis--that of white working-class Americans. 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, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. 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. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Publisher: New York, NY : Harper, [2016]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780062300546
Branch Call Number: 305.562 VAN
Characteristics: 264 pages ;,24 cm


From Library Staff

Vance's memoir about growing up in poverty in Appalachia to eventually graduating from Yale Law School is less about working his way out of poverty and more about the realities of this group of people, often a scorned stereotype.

From the critics

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Aug 07, 2020

I Just heard from a quite learned, educated person - "You would think that if someone could get education, get a better job, better food, better living conditions etc. that they could work themselves out of poverty..." I insisted they read this book!

😡 It's interesting to see that, though Vance is from southwest Ohio, he's given many people here the impression that he's from Kentucky or West Virginia (Appalachia). But southwest Ohio is indeed a region populated by hillbillies. Certainly more insight into the area may be had by reading "Knockemstiff," a book of short stories by a fine writer, Donald Ray Pollock, from the same area, where they had a serious pill problem before it became fashionable to talk about opioids.

Jul 11, 2020

I am troubled not so much by the content of the book, but by the way it has been interpreted and used.

As a memoir speaking to the devastating consequences of ACEs, as well as the importance of mentors and role models (even imperfect ones!) this book is excellent. Vance shows remarkable honesty and vulnerability in his writing and really gives readers a glimpse of a portion of America that is far too often overlooked, if not openly despised, by many of the same people who claim to care for the poor and oppressed.

BUT. As a book explaining the many factors contributing to support for Trump in poor rural communities, look elsewhere. Please.

This book is a memoir. It does not address the many historical, political, and economic factors that have contributed to poverty in this region.

Even more troubling, Vance appears to downplay the role of race as a social and economic force on more than one occasion, seemingly misunderstanding that its recognition does not downplay his own experiences or his suffering. He also comes to some weird conclusions- at one point stating flatly, “there is no government that can fix these problems for us. We created them, and only we can fix them.” This, when, in fact, a combined history of government policies and corporate interests are precisely the entities and forces attributed to poverty in Appalachia.

Indeed, Vance seems to effectively blame a culture for the crises afflicting Appalachia, rather than seeing a culture reacting to crisis. Any discerning reader should be wary of these conclusions.

Jul 08, 2020

Recommended by Joyce. Explains Trump voters mentality.

May 17, 2020

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found Chapter 11 to be particularly useful in understanding the motivations of voters in the Rust Belt: “His wife (Obama) tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it - not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.”

May 06, 2020

A readable, interesting memoir told within a very particular sociological construct, with a very particular political agenda. More of a 2.0 rating for me, with rounding up because of the author's writing skills. But boy, some of his conclusions were maddening....

ArapahoeDax Apr 07, 2020

While this book is controversial especially from others who live in the Appalachian region I feel the main take away's are of a deeply personal nature and can transcend the sweeping commentary of the region.

J.D. Vance does a great job of showcasing how "escaping" the town and way you were brought up does not free you from the emotional scares that are left behind. We all must come to a point of growing and moving on from emotional trauma or fall victim to perpetuating those same crimes. The key is to never lose the idea/hope/belief that hard work and care will help see you through to a better future.

JCLBreAnnaB Mar 20, 2020

Fascinating look in to the Appalachian culture with its values, positives and negatives. It is a powerful blend of stories from his life and compelling thoughts on society. With knowledge of the foster care system, I appreciated his view of what helps kids in crisis ultimately succeed.

Mar 19, 2020

This book was very eye opening since it revealed the life style of families in Appalachian America. It describes the struggles that J.D. Vance had to go through to become a successful adult. The book also expands on how growing up in a broken household is like, it shows the effects of drug abuse in families and how much they negatively impact the children of the family. I think the most important idea that Hillbilly Elegy has is that no matter where you come from or how poor you are, you can work hard and achieve your goals.

cmlibrary_sally Feb 13, 2020

Interesting read. I learned a lot about this part of the population and hardships that are removed from where we live. It is not representative of everyone in that area, but it is an idea of what some people face day to day. Just the discussion about why paycheck cashing services are necessary made me open my eyes.

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May 07, 2018

Other: Topics: Inequality, Race, Religion, Education, Mental Health (Substance Abuse)

May 05, 2018

Frightening or Intense Scenes: Frightening and intense scenes.

May 05, 2018

Sexual Content: Strong sexual content.

May 05, 2018

Violence: Strong violence.

May 05, 2018

Coarse Language: Strong language.

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Jan 16, 2020

bell5133 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Oct 03, 2019

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May 04, 2018

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Mar 17, 2017

runningbeat thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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Jan 16, 2020

“No person’s childhood gives him or her a perpetual moral get-out-of-jail-free card.” (334)

“whenever people ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class, I say, “The feeling that our choices don’t matter.”
― J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis


Add a Summary
Jun 28, 2017

In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck. A deeply moving memoir, with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

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