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

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Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for more than forty years, has been reported 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 one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.'s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his 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.

264 pages, Hardcover

First published June 28, 2016

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About the author

J.D. Vance

5 books1,648 followers
J.D. Vance is an investor, a political and public policy commentator, and a bestselling author. Raised by his working class grandparents in Middletown, Ohio, J.D. graduated from Middletown High School in 2003 and then enlisted in the Marine Corps. He deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After graduating from Ohio State University where he studied Political Science and Philosophy, he studied at Yale Law School. Vance earned his law degree in 2013.

He serves as a principal at the leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm Mithril Capital. He is a partner at Revolution and works on Rise of the Rest, a nationwide effort to work closely with entrepreneurs. He returned to Ohio to found “Our Ohio Renewal,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the state’s opioid crisis.

Vance splits his time between Columbus, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. He is married to one of his former law school classmates, Usha, an Indian-American who is a law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. The couple has one son, Ewan, born on 4 June, 2017.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 32,890 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,013 reviews1,918 followers
November 29, 2020
I read this book as an advance galley, long before it became a Thing and I did not read this book because I wanted Vance to explain Trump, though he's somehow been chosen by liberal media as the person to do just that (though the handful of interviews I saw seemed more like Chris Matthews wanted to pat himself on the back for having a guest with hillbilly cred than actually listening to what Vance had to say). I didn't think this book would have mass appeal because no one outside of Appalachia seems to give a shit about Appalachia, and its success has surprised me. It's not a perfect book, but I do think it's an okay starting point as long as you remember that this is just one guy's perspective on his own experiences.

I picked this up because Vance is from the same part of the world as me and I wanted to read about something that I could relate to. That cover photo looks like it could have been taken on the road that I grew up on, in one of the poorest places in Ohio where Appalachia and the Midwest intersect. It was so poor that a girl who made me cry in first grade was featured on a CBS news story on American Poverty.

I always knew it was different from the cities and suburbia reflected in pop culture, but moving away and realizing just how different it is from other places was still a weird experience for me. It’s so rural that I struggle to describe it adequately to the people I’ve met since living in Philadelphia and the DC Metro area. It matches stereotypes to some extent, but the stereotypes also often miss the mark. People not from Appalachia really don’t get it, and they’re often way too quick to dismiss it. I never really fit in in Appalachia, for so many different reasons, but I’ll also fiercely defend it. Put me in a room of East-Coast natives making jokes about “uneducated rednecks” and I will probably grow a second head. Poor rural white people are the last group that you can make fun of without being considered un-PC, and I think that’s a huge problem that creates a lot of divisiveness. Books like this one show a culture that is underrepresented.

Vance grew up in a small town between Cincinnati and Dayton. His family experienced many of the same migration patterns, cultural touchstones, and poverty-related struggles that describe the lives of my extended family and the families of my high-school peers. His father was never a consistent presence in his life, his mother struggled with drug addiction. His grandparents were the greatest source of normalcy in his life, but they taught him to live by a hillbilly code of loyalty and self-sufficiency. Though they encouraged him to take his education seriously, wanted a better life for him than they’d had, he didn’t do well in school and didn’t seems to think he’d ever have a future outside of Appalachia.

But then he joined the Marines and it turned his life around. With a new sense of self-determination, a broader perspective of the larger world, and developed leadership skills, Vance enrolled at Ohio State University and, eventually, went on to Yale Law School—an unheard of achievement for someone from his family, his hometown, and his struggling public high school. A lot of the experiences he had in New Haven frustrated him, and that was definitely something I could relate to. However, I think those experiences caused Vance to dig into his conservative values in a way that I can not relate to.

There's been some sociocultural analysis of Appalachia, but I don't think anything's ever focused so specifically on Appalachia Ohio. I'm also unaware of any exploration of the region that's actually been done by a native and therefore possesses an insider understanding of what makes the people tick. There really are a lot of very specific personality traits that are unique to the people who settled in the Ohio River Valley, and these traits make no sense to outsiders. When people talk about how ridiculous it is that West Virginia tends to vote Republican even though it seems to be against their interests, they are fundamentally misunderstanding a lot of these traits that are so ingrained in the psychology of the state and that frustrates me to no end.

Vance focuses primarily on his own personal story. He does cite some research about the region in general—but this is mostly for context and is not meant to be exhaustive. I think it’s important to remember that Vance is conservative, though he doesn’t seem to be as far right-wing as the Tea Party, so his ideas may not appeal to the point of view of many liberals coming to this book trying to make sense of Trump. By giving this book three stars, that’s not to say I necessarily agree with his political point of view but I think it’s important to hear different voices and his I'd certainly one that I recognize from my time in Southeastern Ohio.

Vance makes an attempt to extrapolate from his own experience to explain why social welfare is not enough to help address the problems of Appalachia. The short answer is: there are no easy solutions, because so many of the problems are circular. People don't succeed because they don't see anything to be hopeful about, and they don't see any room for hope because so few have succeeded. Without hope, no one bothers to take baby steps towards the kind of changes that can move the region into a better economic reality. I think some people see that as blaming the poor for being poor but I do think there are some things that need to be changed from inside the house (I just think those things are different than Vance).

I do wish I'd come away from this book feeling a little more optimistic, that it offered up some more concrete solutions, but I suppose that wasn't really Vance's stated purpose. And it's not really something that falls squarely on his shoulders. He's still young—just 31, he likely only finished Yale two years before this book was written, if I've done the math correctly. Regardless, I do think it's important to listen to the voices of Appalachia. Change is never going to happen until we all start listening to each other and not just applying our own prejudices to each other's words.
Profile Image for Lauren Cecile.
Author 4 books318 followers
February 10, 2017
Very candid account of growing up disadvantaged and white. The parallels between his demographic and a historically, systematically marginalized Black America are evident. Both populations deserve understanding and empathy, but I tend to think the author thinks his people are somehow more noble. I would have like to seen an acknowledgment that the two groups should not be antagonistic but work together to achieve mutually beneficial economic goals.
Profile Image for Jon.
127 reviews34 followers
August 14, 2016
2016 is the year of Donald Trump, and J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy should be at the top of every politico and thought leader's reading list living in the Acela corridor. Vance is both an excellent writer and a thoughtful person—and when combined with a compelling story, he's able to shed some light on the lives of those living on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains.

Let's start with what this book isn't. It's not an explanation of why Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, or at least not directly. Nor is it a guide for how to alleviate Appalachian poverty. Vance is too smart to offer simplistic explanations or solutions. Rather, it is one man's experience living in the culture of Appalachia and placing his experience in the broader context of American society. It is the fact that he doesn't try to do too much that makes this book as compelling as it is.

Vance grew up in southeastern Ohio and eastern Kentucky, largely raised by his grandmother (Mamaw) and having a complicated relationship with his family members. Hillbilly Elegy is a story that demonstrates the full measure of the brokenness that wracks Appalachia, but it is also a story that exemplifies the depths of familial love and opportunity.

Vance's description of Yale Law School is interesting, because while he portrays it as an institution in which he feels out of place (very few people from poor backgrounds go to Yale Law School), he also was afforded the opportunity to go there. That tension—the fact that he managed to "beat the odds" while still acknowledging the deep cultural divide between elite institutions and wide swaths of middle America (the region of the United States sometimes derisively referred to as "flyover country")—pervades the book and ultimately makes it such an important book.

For that tension exists not merely in the people like Vance who have a foot in both worlds—one in southeastern Ohio with his hillbilly family and the other in downtown San Francisco working for an investment fund. It also exists in the United States writ large, as college-educated urbanites express confusion at the values of those outside of their spheres. There are, therefore, two Americas—one divided less by race or geography (though those certainly matter), but by class and values. In order to break down those barriers, we need books like Hillbilly Elegy and people like Vance to help us build bridges across those cultural barriers we have today.
Profile Image for Rebecca Robinson.
132 reviews9 followers
August 4, 2016
I'll be honest I didn't totally finish the book before giving up. I hear Vance on NPR and the story caught my attention. Yet, what I thought would be a better analysis of American economics and poverty proved to be very different.

It's one of those conservative love stories of " I got my shit together so everyone can". While I respect the struggle Vance had, I also believe it's a very naive picture of what is going on. It explains why people FEEL a way. It does not explain the systemic issues that are also at play.

Skip it if you want anything profound.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
870 reviews105 followers
July 28, 2022

Ma lives in the holler
way back yander thar.
she plays the fiddle and sings
just like Emmy Lou.

Mamaw chews tobacco
and spits the wad right
in her old Styrofoam cup.
even in front of company.

my pa was a coal miner
and beats us younguns
cus he meaner than a polecat
and a little touched
when he is drunker
than Cootey Brown.

We refused welfare
don't believe in eating
high on the hog,
so I picked my poor self up
and so can y'all.
just go out and git a job
cus it is y'alls falt
if y'all ain't a workin'

And if you read this far
I got your attention
so I want to say that
this here writer feller
plumb needs some more book larnin,
and a whole lotta more empathy.

He makes me fit to be tied;
I am madder than a wet hornet.
cus getting anywhere in life
takes luck and opportunity.
and that means it has to
come up and bite you
in the butt.

it isn't always their fault
if they are down and out,
but now you have written
a book for republicans
to use against your kinfolk.

written by Jessica Slade, 2017
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.2k followers
November 27, 2019

Have you ever wondered what became of the Scotch-Irish, who dug America’s coal, forged America’s steel and built America’s automobiles, who worked for the American Dream Monday through Friday. prayed to The Good Lord on Sunday, and revered F.D.R. and J.F.K. every day of the week? The last thing I heard, they elected Donald Trump. And I am still looking for explanations.

If you want somebody who knows Appalachian culture from inside to explain it all to you, I highly recommend Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Vance has his roots in Eastern Kentucky, a troubled childhood in the rustbelt city of Middletown, Ohio, and yet has succeeded in graduating from Ohio State and matriculating from The Yale Law School. He tells us about his family of “crazy hillbillies,” and, in the process of telling us the story of his family, he tells us the story of America too.

The hillbilly seeking the American Dream in industrial Ohio was always “a stranger in a strange land”, for he cleaved to his Appalachian identity—the church in the wildwood, the old folks in the hollers—and returned to the welcoming hills every chance he could get. But economic decline left its mark on both mountain culture and urban manufacturing. Opportunities shrunk, hard liquor was supplemented by painkillers and heroin, church attendance fell and so did belief in the American Dream.

J.D.’s were most powerful influences were his grandparents Mamaw and Papaw: fierce, hard-drinking battlers with a proud belief in individual honor and family solidarity. They might beat their kids, sure, only when they deserved it...but no outsider better say one harsh word to them, much less lay a finger on them. They probably did their own children little good—especially J.D.’s mother, addicted to heroin and a bewildering succession of men—but by the time J.D. needed them they had mellowed a little, and gave him the love and determination he needed to succeed.

The early chapters about family are compelling, but the last few chapters, touching on the cultural hurdles a hillbilly in a high class East Coast law school must overcome, are fascinating too. J.D. shows us how many things the upper middle class takes for granted—how to dress for an interview, how to schmooze a prospective employer, how to strive for what you really want not what you’re supposed to want—are difficult for a young man from a poor background.

J.D. Vance’s insights are noteworthy not only because of his family background but also because of his political philosophy. He is a conservative, one of those cautious, reflective conservatives who are growing increasingly rare these days. (Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is one of his heroes, David Frum is a former employer and mentor). He is critical of specific government practices (the high barriers grandparent’s face if they wish to be foster parents, for example), but he also realizes that government has a role—although limited—in raising the Appalachian people from poverty. The major responsibility, however, he puts squarely on the shoulders on the hillbilly himself:
There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.

Here is where the rhetoric of modern conservatives (and I say this as one of them) fails to meet the real challenges of their biggest constituents. Instead of encouraging engagement, conservatives increasingly foment the kind of detachment that has sapped the ambition of so many of my peers...What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,467 reviews282 followers
February 12, 2023
Update, 02/06/23
A Tale of Moral Degeneration:

...People talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown. You can walk through a town where 30 percent of the young men work fewer than twenty hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness.

Why is this guy the darling of the talk show circuit right now? He thinks his fellow hillbillies just need to work harder. Problem solved! He thinks because he made it everyone else should be able to do the same. He asserts social programs won't help his lazy people but then is short on solutions.

...There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.

True- so when he is asked in interviews and by the media about Trump's appeal he needs to be more honest. He indicates that it is because Trump is a political outsider & not part of the political elite, speaks to their issues, & sounds like one of them. He doesn't talk about the racism & xenophobia that is much a part of his people. That is also part of Trump's appeal & needs to be included in his narrative.
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews154k followers
December 10, 2020
This books had so much more depth than I expected and honestly, I am more than a little overwhelmed.
What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives.
J.D. Vance, an ex-marine, a Yale law school graduate and self-proclaimed hillbilly, provides an absolutely unique, heart-wrenching and poignant analysis of his culture - the poor white working class.
If you believe that hard work pays off, then you work hard; if you think it’s hard to get ahead even when you try, then why try at all?
J.D. Vance's family originated from the Appalachia region in Kentucky but he spent most of his childhood in Ohio. And while he felt the all-consuming love from his grandparents, he also suffered through a tumultuous childhood, unstable mother and unending poverty.
Psychologists call it “learned helplessness” when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life.
And yet, he managed to pull himself out of the dregs and live a relatively normal life. So, what made him unique? What events occurred to ensure that his life was different? What kept him from being a statistic?
I don't know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.
This book was enthralling - I was thoroughly hooked from start to finish. Definitely one to check out!

Audiobook Comments
Read by the author! I always love it when that happens. And J.D. Vance was a superb reader - an absolute delight to listen to!

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,735 followers
October 26, 2017
This is an incredibly fascinating and well done book. I think that the thoughts and opinions of the author might be controversial, but he lived through it and saw the good and the bad so I will give him the benefit of the doubt on how he sees things after the way he grew up!

When I saw the name, I figured this would be reading about a real life Deliverance-esque town. However, this is more about how a boy develops into a man when dealing with being raised by a family with a “Hillbilly” background. The setting is suburban Ohio where many Hillbillies have relocated for blue collar jobs. In fact, the town is Middletown, Ohio, which is not far from where I was growing up at the same time that the events of this book were taking place (Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati). Because of this, it hit home even more for me.

When I say that his opinions might come across as controversial, it is because he gives his opinions about his upbringing and the Hillbilly culture and how he had to struggle to overcome it. Some of what he says might get people riled up if it came from an outsider. But, again, since he lived with it – I feel like his input and opinion are a very important viewpoint.

I did a little background search on this book and the author online. It sounds like there are some people who scoff at this book because it isn’t about a Deliverance-esque town, the author is well spoken, and he does not necessarily paint the Hillbilly culture in the best light. I agree that all these things are true about the book, but I think that is what makes it even more fascinating and amazing to me. When you read this, you will probably be surprised that he made it away from abuse, drug use, poverty, and crime at all. Is he supposed to feel bad about that? I think that some people think that he should; kind of like he turned his back on his roots

If a thought provoking book about growing up in lower middle class suburbia over the past 30-40 years sounds interesting to you, this is your book. I can easily recommend this book to anyone who loves a good memoir.
Profile Image for Christy.
113 reviews273 followers
March 30, 2017
Hell hath no fury like a strong Protestant Work Ethic without work.

Okay – that was my original, but it should have been Vance’s! Instead, he mostly blamed the poor for being poor, lazy, and generally culpable for all (and few) choices. No wonder anger and angst filled their days and nights, and they needed drugs, alcohol, and violence to trigger some brief if dysfunctional relief. Vance was born right after the decades of American prosperity post WWII when if you wanted a job you simply got one. Vance sneering that people do not realize how lazy they are and presenting that human failure as a social problem indicates a lack of understanding both who the poor are and what they do in the US, as well as what has happened to the industrial Midwest. President Elect Trump negotiated last week with Carrier to keep 1000 jobs in the Rustbelt or “rustexit” (as Michael Moore correctly called it as a vote bloc) area of Indiana. Paul Krugman calculated that even “if Trump did a Carrier-style deal every week for the next 4 years, he could bring back 4% of the manufacturing jobs lost since 2000.” For the greater Middletown, Ohio area that Vance is from it’s not about shoring up an ailing, regional economy but rather to face the demise of an economy that has drastically changed what Max Weber called generational “life chances”, including the perception and reality of those.

Middletown, OH is only about 50 miles from where I was born in Muncie, IN and where I still have a large, extended family, so I relate quite strongly to his story, although my "hillbilly" family, also a mix of working- and middle-class, was quite the opposite of his often violent and abusive one. Indeed, while I’m fully aware of domestic violence and drug abuse statistics, I’m not sure we should take his family as generalizable although it’s a familiar rendition of the typical, “poor White trash” family (an ethos that stretches from the lowest rungs of socio-economic status through some parts of the middle-class, as with Vance’s family). Does his story warrants the blanket acceptance that this is what people in this area are like? The real story is the downward mobility of the US middle class back to the working class, not the lack of hard work or enough hard work by the poor who were and aspired to stay McWASPs, as is said (Middle-class, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and a smattering of upwardly-mobile Catholics. Vance’s family and mine share a geographically similar notch along the Bible Belt, a Kryptonite mix of mostly German, English, Irish, Scots, and French stock.

I wish Vance would have described our cultural geography more directly for what is it – the US South. The ethos of the South geographically sits like a triangle encompassing all “deep South” states then narrows while shooting up hari-kari-style right through to the Northern border with Canada, encompassing the ethos and ideology of Nixon’s racist “southern strategy” that includes part the Rustbelt states of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and those environs. Urban centers are different (but Indianapolis the “the South”, believe me…) but let no one forget that Indiana was the birthplace of the KKK, after all. Vance joins a large bloc of other lower- through middle-class Whites in the Rustbelt area of the "South" that deny the impact of race and nativism on their ideology, behavior, and vote.

Patriotism, military, and militarized police states seem normal and something to respect in my extended family, too, although my own set of parents were less so. Bitter resentment and multi-levels of “trigger happy” reactions (with actual guns and also their anger) physicality was similar – I was the size and strength of my linebacker dad so relished all the wrestling we regularly did with both children and adults involved. We played hard and rough, stopping only when somebody got hurt. Even then, men would tell crying children with a hurt arm, for example, to “wipe it off”, as if the pain would then stop. Even though many in my family were hunters, I didn’t know anybody who carried guns on their person, nor the similar ‘trigger happy” personalities, ready to grab their guns or spit the f-word with threats if somebody looked at them or their kin “wrong”.

My family also shared Vance’s fierce loyalty, but embraced the opposite of his family’s fear and suspicion of “outsiders” and strangers. There were some fights, but generally issues were talked out, sometimes loudly, then the modeled behavior was to laugh and move on. The laughing part was key, and I hope Vance got some of that. Vance’s family often had a violent or abusive element featuring how Mamaw was threatening to virtually all others outside her family. Several weeks after reading, Mamaw seems a bit less funny or lovable. Yes, she was clearly the main entertainment in the book, and she was Vance’s “rock”. While we can be grateful for that, but I don’t think that Appalachian women generally use the f-word in every sentence like she did, and I didn’t know anybody then who carried guns on their person, even though most all were hunters and my uncle owned a large gun shop. Some of Mamaw and his mom seems more like mental illness the further out I go from this reading, and I’m not sure we can take it as “hillbilly” common.

As girls of 7 and 9, and right before my own nuclear family of six schismed away from the “clan” out to Wyoming, we took a summer-long class at a local university called White Gloves and Party Manners. Here, aspirational working-to-middle class Whites in the late 60s learned etiquette, genteel politeness. My grandparents and parents were taught to be social, to engage people directly and fearlessly, but with civility and a laugh, if possible. I wonder if Vance was blaming culture or genes on the possible mental illness in his family? I remember some powerful fights – more with words but sometimes physical - in and out of my family in that Indiana small town, but it wasn’t typical or common. We all worked hard and played hard. Starting at age 16, even though I should have focused on academics (and getting out of high school and into college early) I worked at K-Mart merging full-time work, full-time school, and full-time social life (with youth exquisitely wasted on youth, surely). Working hard is what everybody did, although it was a generation before Vance’s when everybody was employed (including the Blacks on the other side of the tracks in the small city down the road from our small town.

My Grandma repeatedly said that there were two kind of people, the "here I am!" and the "there you are!" type, and reminded us grandkids that WE are the latter! Her ethics and manners were, as females are still socialized, of a selfless focus on the other. She also told my mother than a kindly Black woman they passed and chatted with on the street “couldn’t help that she was Black”, and was a nice woman. She told me we must be nice to Black people, but “we’d NEVER marry a Black, as that would be unfair to the children!” She had trained to teach elementary school, and I was in awe when she was “installed” as some Grand Queen of the Masonic Temple. This was back when social capital was strong and created and accumulated as most adults in the US were involved with some kind of community or social groups, whether Lion’s Club, Masons, or just a bowling league, as Robert Putnam uses as a metaphor in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. My Grandpa repeatedly said, "you're entitled to my opinion, even if it's wrong!" With his high school education before the Army, he'd figured out the need for a tolerant relativism in a pluralistic, civil society, yet also realized without studying moral development theory that judgment or some kind of stance always should come back into play, too.

Much of the strength of Vance’s descriptions lie in how vulnerable are our children in one of the wealthiest countries of the world with only thin policies and support for the family that struggles to take care of itself, by itself. I often ask undergraduates if they believe that we've set up our country to "do" family well - to support them staying intact. Virtually all of them disagree. Vance is right to ask what role culture played in his family’s plight, but it’s really the abuse, violence, and drug addiction for which I hold the culture accountable well over individual choice. An important study to me was one on the variable of resiliency for children – what creates it, enforces it, and erodes it. Resiliency here included perceptions of safety, well-being, and the potential for self-advocacy. I was taken that a “resiliency index” was strongest for children that believed that there exist two adults that would do anything for them - that essentially "had their backs". These adults did not have to be heterosexual parents, or even relatives, or even nearby, but the child was secure in the knowledge that one of "their" people, even if halfway around the world, would do whatever they could to get to the child if needed.

Ultimately, this is all that Vance describes – a memoir (as he correctly titles), an auto-biography, not social science (it’s a problem this is categorized as “sociology”) as the story is based on the perceptual arc of a single individual spinning through his own life. Even though Vance discusses and sometimes argues about recollections he discussed (especially with his sister, as I recall) this is basically a “sample size of one” (as social theorist Peggy McIntosh said she wished to rehabilitate). It is a biography. Why is this important? Because I suspect his family was not the typical “Appalachian Scot Irish” as he insisted they, and he, were throughout the work. There were just as many Germans and English as Scot-Irish, or even just Irish, in the tri-state area where Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana join and from where both our families hailed. Certainly, there was much mixing of White ethics during the approximately six-to-ten generations from the 17th- and 18th-century Scot-Irish migration until Vance’s birth in the late 20th century. To understand the ethnic enclaves that did survive into the 20th century and the mix of White Ethnics are make up our Midwest roots, I’d suggest (rise of the…) I am interested to get the Ancestry DNA test at some point, to see what percentages I am of German-English-Scot-Irish and French, and perhaps Vance should take the test, too, to see how strong or “pure” his Scot-Irish roots really are.

I was annoyed at how Vance inserted data to back up his view of his family and the community, and seemed to over-generalize with them. Still, the problem is more with what “sociology” has become, where anyone can quickly rake the coals of their particular foci through the research e-bases, and wrap theory around their anecdotes. I could not get a sense of the research tidbits he scattered through this, but do hope some younger sociologists are following up with better statistical data. I sensed he had considerable loathing for his family and other like types in his community, and, by extension, himself? I believe he was trying to be honest, and I appreciated his sardonic and deprecating humor. Surely he, like me, were taught to try to do good acts while trying not to take much of life too seriously. My parents constantly say, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, so perhaps that life stance may be a Midwestern defense mechanism, too.

The crime, truly, is that so many women in his family were pregnant much too early. Instead of casting that as part of a problem with either the “culture” or the “family”, he tends to shade his view of his mother as an object of pure disdain for low or missing morals, essentially a prostitute, with a rotating door of boyfriends and husbands and the threat of domestic violence almost often present. We know that, for example, teen mothers have greater risk, statistically, of lack of education, under- and unemployment, and domestic violence. In the US, close to a third of US teenagers are pregnant by age 19, and with just a third of those ending in abortions at this point – a number down considerably. The US teen pregnancy rate is 5-6 times higher than that in comparable European countries, with no less sexually active teens but with comprehensive sex education and access to birth control. As the AAUW noted several decades ago, sex education is “Civil Rights” for women, but in many Conservative, more rural areas of the US it is a joke. I did appreciate how Vance learned “never say never” and while enforcing strict boundaries against his mother for his own psychological well-being, he also decided he should help his mom. I fear Vance didn’t see that Mamaw viciously hating each of the men that came in and out of her daughter’s life was likely the projected pain of limited opportunity in Mamaw’s own life.

Remember that Late Capitalism started with its Golden Era post-WWII, when people like his Pawpaw got jobs just by going out and getting one. By the time Vance was born, it was almost a decade after the “falling rate of profit” for capitalism, and the “land of plenty” was in terms of good jobs. “Choice” enjoys a consistent reign as a central metaphor for hyper-individualism in capitalism. Vance is right that individual accountability matters, but “it’s the economy, stupid”, and he errs on the side of blaming the community and the individuals within it for their plight. As others have noted, and how advertising by FOX News confirms, the worst part of this book is how racism and race resentment among lower- to middle-class Whites, largely un- or under-educated in the Midwest, is hidden and denied. I assume this was Vance’s conscious decision, and he even said something to the effect of not focusing on race (can we say asserting White Privilege with impunity?)

I slowly went numb with the awareness that Trump would likely pull it off when I realized summer before last that every single member of my extended family in the Indiana was voting for him. This included a large number of Liberal- to Conservative-Methodists (the latter more devout), a good number of evangelist-fundamentalists, and even the younger, non-religious, and even apolitical ones. The hypocrisy of the White evangelicals voting for Trump was made possible by nativist-racist fear, the thing that Vance said makes little difference. Rust-belt, moderate Christianity has been on a trajectory to the right over the last couple generations, and that movement certainly quickened with this election. My cousins generally found the American Dream and are doing as well economically as our parents, but it looks considerably bleaker for the next generation, made more scared (and thus Conservative) as those that went to college face overwhelming student loans and few prospects for jobs that will keep them in the middle-class. I’m skeptical of how typical is Vance’s family of violence, abuse, and suspicion (and I share details of mine from the same ‘hood) and am taken on how other reviewers just assume Vance’s family is typical and generalizable. While I tried to parse out both similarities and differences between our families, I would add to the former the assumption that Vance’s family voted for Trump as did mine. One of the best summaries about what has happened to “our” people in the Midwest and how there are no easy answers was right after the election in The Atlantic here: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/a....

For my money, there are many better reads to understand Midwest poverty, including Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City that I briefly reviewed. In the US, blaming the poor for being poor is an art form. We're socialized to blame it on individual "choices" and lack of "responsibility" rather than the social structural causes of poverty. Most in the US don't know who the poor are, so they accept Vance’s characterization of masses of lazy people not working at all. Census data from 2010 shows us that 80% of US homes are of are "working poor" (in which at least one adult works at least part-time – often seasonal or piecemeal) and not the benefit-collecting "welfare poor". Many don’t realize that a family of four does not meet the technical definition of poor if it makes over about $25K/year in income. Michael Higgins' Somos Tocayos on views of poverty argues that we tend to have two answers to the question of "why poverty?": either the social-structural or individual causes. Both views, however, rest of the notion of fate: the mistaken notion and validation of middle-class ideology that poverty is a hopeless, insurmountable social condition.

This was only my second “book on tape”, but I’m looking forward to my next one. With six CDs, it took about 9 hours and was a relaxing way to pass the commuting time over several weeks. If anybody would like it, I’d be happy to drop it in the mail if you’d PM me with your address.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,911 reviews35.3k followers
November 30, 2020
Update.... Paul and I watched only about 30 minutes of the movie on Netflix. We both felt it was way too dark. It didn’t feel as authentic as the book. The cinematography was gorgeous in many parts of the movie... but with an award winning director, and two award-winning actresses… All is who I totally respect and admire their talents—-
We both felt it was way too depressing and the acting was uneven and the directing was uneven.

We just had to turn it off and are not going to finish it.

Thoughts from others?

Audiobook..... read by the author.
My local book club will be discussing this book this month. I’ll be attending- I almost took a ‘pass’. I’m really glad I didn't.

THE CONTROVERSY and DISCUSSIONS from reviews on Goodreads is already ENGAGING!!!! Seriously, I spent more time reading through every review - and all the comments on THIS BOOK - more than any book in all my years on Goodreads.
My interest elevated - and my emotions were entangled. The passion of expression from people about this book - positive and negative - both - shook me up in a way that's hard to explain. Julie's review had me in tears. April's review deepen my compassion for pure courage. Diane first brought awareness to me that this is a "timely" book, Rae express Mamaw and Papaw sooo lovely - ( I melted again reading about them especially after having my own experience too)... and Melora brought up points that I spent time thinking about. My entire review could be about my inspiration from something everyone else has said.

So.... I'm going to express random notes:

I WAS engaged while listening to Vance's Appalachian roots in Eastern Kentucky and the rust-belt city of Middletown, Ohio. Although he grew up in an unstable family --(abuse, abandonment, and poverty)-- his grandparents ( Mamaw and Papaw), were strong positive influences. It was hard NOT to give Vance my full attention with the type of stories he was sharing.
Vance has a VERY PLEASANT AUTHENTIC SOUNDING speaking voice by the way. He is very 'easy-on-the-ears'.
Half way through this audiobook---I started to notice a problem beginning with the title of the book. If the title were "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir".. that would have been. Enough!!!!
Once he added family -Culture - and Crisis into the title.....my expectations as a reader was different than and ordinary memoir'.
So, the intentions of this book - memoir - purpose - cautionary tale - all get a little blurry. What we 'mostly' get is a straight memoir.
BUT.... at some point I started having so much fun--- ( fun not being the best word for all this tragedy)...but yes I started enjoying listening to Vance so much I no longer cared what the name of this book was--or even his purpose. My first belly laugh came when he wanted to stick a golf club in a guys ear. I actually liked when Vance used profanity, because it seemed against his character to who he is or the experience I was getting from him anyway.... His voice sounds so darn level headed - kind -inappropriate and smart- that I actually had a hard time imagining him being the little kid of some of these horrific things he was telling us. Something about hearing it, as opposed to reading it... from a very successful conservative responsible American -- kinda blew my mind.

I'm glad I listened to the audiobook. It wasn't a picnic hearing about how his mother physically beat him, but I sure was touched by his love for his sister. It's inspiring to listen to Vance share his story - his thoughts - and he did contribute some awareness about the culture......."ALL RICH PEOPLE PLAY GOLF"... ( you can laugh now... but he does talk about this)... It's all a little funny.

For me....it comes down to --in the end --I basically really like the guy. He touched my heart.

I also want to thank so many people for 'their' reviews--readers here on Goodreads -- all your reviews and comments made a big difference to me. This is really a community book in my opinion.
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,718 followers
May 21, 2022
The first problem I had with this book is the author is a bonehead. On page 8 he tells us “I have known many welfare queens; some were neighbors, and all were white.”

I have no idea what I’m supposed to make of that statement. Or actually yes I do know but even so I try to look away. Because of course “welfare queen” is a derogatory term used by people of means to deride the poor, and of course it’s most commonly used to demean and dehumanize urban black poor women, but an author bragging that he knows white “welfare queens” doesn’t really get to the core problem of using a derogatory term to describe poor women, does it? I guess he thinks himself enlightened for declaring that poor people of all colors are equally lazy and undeserving. The entire book is based on the premise that the poor are poor because they are lazy and bitter.

The second problem I had with this supposed memoir is it has all the depth and compassion of a Three Stooges episode. It’s an endless string of anecdotes that involve outrageous behavior, destruction of property, and/or grave bodily harm. Take for instance a time when someone douses another someone with gasoline and sets that someone on fire. Don’t worry! No one was seriously hurt! It’s okay to laugh! Or if anyone was hurt, they deserved it! Also don’t forget that hillbilly folk actually like to hurt one another, because we’re all kind of stupid and lazy! Except me, because I went to Yale and made something of myself, just like anyone can, if they have grit and spitfire!

Ok. That's about it.
Profile Image for Delee.
243 reviews1,099 followers
April 23, 2017
Three month non-ranty political review time is ovvvvvvvvvvvvvvver. Woo Hoo!!! Loooooook out Beeoooootcheeees!

“I know you real Americans hate being called stupid, but you gotta meet me half way and stop being stupid.”

Bill Maher

My empathy level for stupid Americans has diminished this last year. I have un-friended a few people I once thought to be good, intelligent, and sane. This year has opened my eyes to an ugliness and a selfishness in people that I never imagined existed in so many. And that doesn't mean I AM LESS tolerant. It means I have less empathy and sympathy for people who lack empathy and are devoid of tolerance. I am a proud Libretard-I own it. Because Libretards care about the environment, wildlife, and future generations. They care about people who have fallen through the cracks. People who need a boost up...other races...other religions...people who may not always fit the white Christian mold. I am not a hypocrite who says I believe in one thing yet lives and breathes another. I am law-abiding agnostic- with good values...and if I whole-heartedly ever decide to believe in Jesus and God- I know they would be absolutely ashamed at what is playing out in the USA at the moment. I am sorry folks...but Jesus and God would be Libretards- Trump put out there as a test by SATAN!! Oh, and by the way...YOU ALL FAILED miserably.

If I could choose one word to express my feelings about HILLBILLY ELEGY it would be conflicted. Because I usually have all the feeeeelz for people who have had hard knock lives....but the hillbillies that voted for Trump obviously failed to think about anyone but themselves- they refused to see a bigger picture for the world as a whole with their "America first" bull#%@t. They also voted against themselves in their absolute ignorance of the facts laid out before them. Why?...This is where this book came in- but even after reading (listening to) it-I still don't completely get it.

As half Canadian I understand what it is like to be stereotyped and ignored. Some see us this way...

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Your right-wing "Fair and Balanced" Fox "News" has been especially kind over the years...and sees us this way...

Anne Coulter talking about invading us...


Tucker Carleson calling us stalkers and retarded...


Or Fox making fun of our military just days before 4 dead soldiers were about to shipped home. "Oh, I didn't even know Canada was fighting with us in Afghanistan Hahahahaha...really?"


So yeah- this part I get...

....but I do not get why women and the poor voted against their best interest. I do not get how you ignored and still ignore the facts today. I don't get why you blame your government, immigrants, minorities, proven science and a changing world for everything that is wrong with your life. I don't get why you chose a lying millionaire, conman, who doesn't care about anything but himself as your savior- and why you are still the holdouts who have faith in this idiot even though he has proven himself to be beyond incompetent, corrupt, and dangerous- over and over again for the last 90+ days.

J.D Vance did little to convince me to empathize with the hillbilly plight. I found him a tad obnoxious (not everyone is lucky enough to have people who love and support them in their endeavors. It makes a BIG difference J.D)...and if I never hear the words Mamaw and Papaw again that would be wonderful. Maybe I would have found it less cringe-worthy if I had been reading it instead of listening to them repeated over and over again in his voice...I do not know. I am not going to read it next time to find out. Once is enough thank you very much.

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Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,120 reviews1,620 followers
January 1, 2023

Bandiera americana sulle colline di Altoona, Pennsylvania, alla vigilia delle elezioni presidenziali del 2016.

Il lancio lo presenta come il libro che spiega il successo elettorale di Trump.
Qualcuno dice che è il caso editoriale dell’anno scorso, ha venduto un milione di copie in nove mesi, è tradotto in diversi paesi, e per essere l’esordio di uno sconosciuto avvocato sotto forma di saggio autobiografico, è un traguardo ragguardevole. Il suo autore è diventato un oracolo politico, commentatore della CNN, ascoltato politologo, intervistato ogni giorno.

Un homeless di East Liverpool, Ohio, area a maggioranza bianca duramente colpita da disoccupazione e tossicodipendenza.

Ma J.D.Vance, pur dichiarandosi repubblicano, non ha votato Trump del quale dice in un’intervista:
Ho votato per Evan McMullin, il candidato indipendente-repubblicano dello Utah. Trump aveva individuato un po’ di problemi, ma non aveva nessuna strategia per portare del lavoro nella regione che mi sta a cuore. Trump fa le cose facili. Il problema per l’America del 21esimo secolo non è riportare indietro il lavoro che abbiamo perso, ma riuscire a prepararci per una nuova generazione di lavori. Questo significa istruzione, formazione. L’orologio non torna indietro, le miniere non verranno riaperte. Trump potrà avere anche qualche successo, ma se non riuscirà, la gente sarà frustrata e arrabbiata e si rivolgerà all’opposizione. Le parole durano poco nella politica americana, i risultati invece sono premiati nel tempo.

Sostenitori di Donald Trump.

Inoltre, i sondaggi dicono che a votare Trump con più ardore e accanimento non sono stati gli elettori più poveri, ma piuttosto i piccolo-borghesi, la classe tradizionalmente più attratta dal fascismo.

In queste pagine, invece, si parla di un’altra classe sociale, il proletariato operaio diventato sottoproletariato con la crisi (trasformazione iniziata ben prima del 2008, impoverimento e marginalizzazione progressivi per conseguenza della globalizzazione), un folto gruppo umano che sopravvive sull’assistenza pubblica (welfare), senza casa (homeless) alcolisti, tossici (non solo droghe, anche: sonniferi, antidolorifici, analgesici, medicine in genere - infatti, nella parte di Stati Uniti di cui parla Vance, ci sono piccole contee in cui la McKesson, la più grande distributrice americana di farmaci, spedisce centinaia di milioni di pillole).


Sono bianco, ma non mi identifico di sicuro nei WASP, i bianchi anglosassoni e protestanti del Nordest. Mi identifico invece con i milioni di proletari bianchi di origine irlandese e scozzese che non sono andati all’università. Per questa gente, la povertà è una tradizione di famiglia: i loro antenati erano braccianti nell’economia schiavista del Sud, poi mezzadri, minatori e infine, in tempi più recenti, meccanici e operai. Gli americani li chiamano hillbilly (buzzurri, montanari), redneck (colli rossi) o white trash (spazzatura bianca). Io li chiamo vicini di casa, amici e familiari..

La parte di Stati Uniti di cui parla Vance è quella soprannominata Rust Belt, la fascia dei Monti Appalachi: Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, nel Sud del paese.
Le acciaierie (e The Deer Hunter brilla nella memoria), fabbriche e industrie in generale sono dislocate, ridimensionate, chiuse.
Gli operai finiscono a vivere di sussidi pubblici.

Ed è quella parte di paese che la globalizzazione ha reso senza opportunità, dove il sogno si è inceppato e non si realizza più, è nel Sud, nella Rust Belt e negli Appalachi che i poveri sono destinati a rimanere poveri, a restare senza santi in paradiso, bianchi relitti urbani.
È quella parte del paese dove l’epidemia di eroina e oppiacei (ossicodone, idrocodone, fentanyl, 35 mila morti solo nel 2015) colpisce di più: c’è un’impennata nazionale delle morti per overdose di oppiacei, che per la prima volta superano le morti per arma da fuoco e, di nuovo per la prima volta dal 1993, hanno fatto abbassare l’aspettativa di vita americana.

Amy Adams, sempre notevole, Gabriel Basso e Haley Bennet, con Glenn Close, sono i protagonisti dell’omonimo recente film Netflix diretto da Ron Howard.

A dire il vero, globalizzazione a parte, e a parte la crisi del 2008, si direbbe che è una parte di USA dove la povertà è sempre rimasta endemica, un proletariato che in 150 anni si è spostato inseguendo la produzione industriale, ma mai avvicinandosi al Sogno Americano.
Sono loro i volti disperati delle famose fotografie di Walker Evans durante la Depressione, i tontoloni protagonisti delle barzellette, gli ignoranti, chiusi, lontani dal mondo.

Nel mondo che J.D.Vance ha conosciuto e frequentato, nell’ambiente in cui è cresciuto e che lo ha circondato, litigare senza alzare la voce e senza ricorrere a brutali insulti tutti i giorni, bere moderatamente, o astenersene perfino nelle occasioni sociali, ricorrere a punizioni corporali senza eccesso come strumenti di correzione più che punizione, senza accompagnare le sculacciate a cattiveria, urla e parolacce, erano eccezione, erano miraggio.

Un film da Oscar, Un tranquillo weekend di paura, nel 1973 mostrava le terribili avventure della gente di città che si spinge nelle loro terre.

Un momento di marca hillbilly in un film capolavoro – questa scena è rimasta nella storia come Dueling Banjos.

La coppia protagonista del mitico Duelling Banjos 40 anni dopo: a sinistra l’attore Ronnie Cox, a destra il ragazzino del banjo, Billy Redden. Per rRedden il film di Boorman fu la prima e ultima esperienza cinematografica.

Nella vita politica c’è sempre stato interesse a usarli come argine contro l’emancipazione dei neri e, a parte la stagione kennediana degli anni Sessanta, quando le fotografie di John e Bob erano appese e venerate nelle catapecchie di legno, gli hillbilly tornarono a Nixon e ai repubblicani.
Obama era riuscito a conquistare questi Stati con i massicci aiuti che aveva dato a industrie fallimentari, ma la globalizzazione ha lavorato contro. Le fabbriche sono andate via (i sindacati erano già stati cacciati).
Le grandi miniere di carbone, ormai troppo costose e inquinanti, sono irrimediabilmente chiuse.
Lì lavorava il padre di J.D.Vance, ed era alcolizzato pur avendo lavoro.

Glenn Close e Amy Adams nel film.

C’è comunque buona sintonia tra il linguaggio rozzo, misogino, arrogante di Trump e la quotidianità dell’eterna depressione descritta da Vance.
Come evidente appare che in questa parte del paese una donna di città (Hillary), diventata ricca, amica dei banchieri, una snob, una liberal, una che vorrebbe togliere agli hillbilly i loro fucili, in luoghi in cui i preti li benedicono e tuonano contro l’aborto, non ha mai rappresentato una vera alternativa a Donald Bellicapelli.
In comunità dove si impara fin da piccoli ad alzare i pugni se qualcuno offende tua madre, dove nessun sogno si è mai realizzato, le scuole cadono a pezzi, l’eroina e gli analgesici hanno sempre avuto un consumo altissimo, i discorsi razzisti, ad alzo zero, di chiusura, di arretramento del candidato repubblicano sono stati ben accolti e hanno trovato terreno favorevole.

Le pagine più toccanti del libro di Vance riguardano proprio la tossicodipendenza. Il padre minatore attaccato alla bottiglia e la madre che tentò di dargli fuoco con la benzina.
La stessa madre, infermiera, che prese a iniettarsi eroina e che faceva pisciare il piccolo J. D. al posto suo quando all’ospedale facevano i test antidroga.
La madre che cambia cinque fidanzati e si sposa altre tre volte; otto amici morti di overdose, il nonno e la nonna (gli adorati Papaw e Mamaw) che lo adottano e lo portano fino all’arruolamento nei Marines e, dopo quattro anni di Iraq, all’università.
C’è molta violenza nel libro, ma anche rispetto per un’umanità nella miseria e nella disperazione, un senso di amicizia e lealtà, una solidarietà tra consapevoli perdenti che J.D. Vance riesce a trasmettere.

E si tende a dargli ragione quando dice:
Ho l’impressione che il capitale umano che si trova sui monti Appalachi non sia stato costruito per il 21esimo secolo.

”The Deer Hunter-Il cacciatore” di Michael Cimino, 1978. I cinque amici escono dall’acciaieria per preparararsi al weekend: caccia al cervo, matrimonio, a seguire partenza per il Vietnam, con un attacco di montaggio rimasto nella storia. Gli amici sono: Robert DeNiro-Mike, Christopher Walken-Nick, John Savage-Steven, John Cazale-Stan, eChuck Aspegren-Axel – l’assente in questa still è l’amico proprietario del bar, George Dzundza, dove si svolge una delle scene più belle che il cinema ci abbia mai regalato. Eccola…

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,692 reviews14.1k followers
September 5, 2016
Possibly the most timely read of the year, here in the United States. Not just a sociological view of this group of people I had heard nor read little about, but the experiences of a young man raised in this environment and pulled himself out, though he does acknowledge to receiving much help along the way. This book enlightens the reader about the huge disparity in thinking between those making the leas and those receiving the benefits of these laws, which probably hinder more than help. His story, his journey is inspirational, his thoughts provoking, and his story clear, concise and well told. The working class is seriously under represented in this country, and lack of knowledge and insight is a huge factor in why this has happened. Learned helplessness, a very good term and one it is hard to disagree with.

He makes it clear that he loves his family, warts and all but his special connection and the help he received from his memaw was priceless. She was his saving grace. Some of his family members, an aunt, his sister, have broken the chain of drug use, alcoholism, many partners in and out, as they both have long marriages behind them. Vance does go into some sociological aspects, explains the exodus of many from his small Kentucky town to Ohio, jobs offered by the new steel mill being the draw, the problems those who moved away from their families experienced. All in all this is a very informative book, Vance's story both harrowing and touching in turns.

Profile Image for Justin.
272 reviews2,243 followers
February 7, 2017
I set dozens of reading goals for 2017, but I won't bore you with all of them. However, this book helped me accomplish two reading goals this year:

1. Read better books
2. Read more nonfiction

This book, while difficult to read at times, is an important book, and I can't recommend it enough. It hit me pretty hard at times. I mean, I wouldn't consider myself a hillbilly, but i did grow up in the suburbs of Nashville, and I'm honestly not too far removed from some of the family members depicted in the book. Im very fortunate, but, man some of the people and scenes depicted here feel like stories I've heard from my own family. And it's crazy because it wasn't until I grew up and moved out that I got to hear about all the craziness in my extended family. Families are insane.

There are so many great books and memoirs out there now that peel back the curtain on what it's like to be black, Muslim, female, Hispanic, whatever. So, yeah, it's weird to read a book from a 30 year old white guy and think he has something interesting to bring to the table. He does have something to bring to the table though. A whole class of people that are living and fighting to survive and dreaming and voting and being pushed to the fringes of society. Hillbillies. Who knew?

Vance's stories of his upbringing are jaw-dropping and feel more like fiction at times. We quickly learn his childhood was anything but ideal as he walks us though various phases that shaped who he is today. While these stories were both terrifying and heartbreaking to read, it was his later message of not being a product of your environment that resonated with me. He admits he was fortunate to have people in his life to give him a chance, but he did everything he could to push against the life he found himself in.

I also appreciated the humble tone throughout the book. It could have easily read as a guy who had a rough life, but he overcame it and graduated from college, went to Iraq, and graduated from law school at Yale (not in that order). He could have said, "Look at me! I did it! And you can, too!" Instead, it's more like, "I had people in my life who gave me a chance. I carved a different path, but I felt like a fraud most of the time, and I still had a hard time dealing with my past. It wasn't easy. I also want to talk about how to fix the problem that impacts thousands of others, but I don't have the answers. The government can't fix everything." That's a lot of paraphrasing by the way.

Anyway, Hillbilly Elegy is a very eye-opening, important, emotional book to read- but I'm so glad I took the time to read it. It helped me understand some things in my own family structure that I also won't bore you with, and it gave me a new perspective to help relate to others I know with similar stories. It's rare that a nonfiction book read this quickly, but I read more than half of it this evening. You should, too.

Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,228 reviews451 followers
May 4, 2022
5/4/2022. I am revising my review of this book because the author has proven himself to be a sham with his embracing of Donald Trump in order to win the primary in Ohio. If he can revise his opinion of DT just to get elected, how do we know anything in this book is even true? We certainly don't need more lying, unethical politicians in this country. Down to one star, and it doesn't really deserve that.

I am not quite as enamored of this book as a lot of people. It tells this young man's story of his journey out of poverty and violence into the world of an elite pursuer of the American Dream. He had luck, intelligence, and a Mamaw and Papaw who cared enough to help him along. The Marine Corp was another catalyst into the good life. He was smart enough to use all these things as a way out of a downward spiral.
I'm not sure where the idea that this book explains Donald Trump's rise came from, but I didn't get that here. I found it to be just another book about a dysfunctional family, and a guy who was able to escape. Had to hand it to Mamaw though, she was one tough old biddy.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,851 reviews16.4k followers
January 2, 2018
A well written, thoughtful statement about our culture; where we are now, how we got here and where we could be going.

I identify closely with the author: both of us were born poor and from divorced parents, both benefited from military service and both found a way to get through law school (coincidentally even though I am fifteen years Vance’s senior and am closer in age to his mother, he and I were in Iraq at the same time and both worked for military pubic affairs and both took part in civil affairs missions).

That’s where the obvious similarities end. Vance’s Yale Law degree is oodles more prestigious than my very humble diploma and on the other end of the spectrum, his hillbilly family is far more dysfunctional than my redneck clan.

The difference between “hillbilly” and “redneck” is more of regional semantics than of degree. Both terms identify a member of Scotch-Irish origin and synonymous with pejorative monikers like “white trash”, “poor whites”, “hayseed” and “yokel”.

Vance makes the case early on that this European heritage is an important distinction. This ethnic group is a heterogeneous population that brought with it from the Old World a continent sized chip on it’s shoulder, a deeply engrained sense of oppression and dogged rebellion. Most pertinent to our society today is that this is the demographic that seems to have turned isolationist and whose skepticism of government has crossed the border of cynicism and cruised right into xenophobia. If it’s true that the Democratic party lost the middle in 2016, then it’s also likely accurate that this group makes up a big part of that middle.

A reader can consider Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America to illuminate how this group has been instrumental in making this country what it is – bad and good. This tendency towards fierce loyalty and family on the one side and self destruction and irrationality on the other is also exemplified by Seán O'Casey’s 1924 drama Juno and the Paycock. Vance brings these dualities to bear on our own time and through the lens of his own experience.

Besides Vance’s talented writing, this book succeeds on his unique perspective: he has seen the depths of family dysfunction and the heights of professional and financial attainment. Vance demonstrates both the opportunities available to a young person today and also the deeply held obstacles that make reaching these goals prohibitively difficult and unlikely.

A very good book, highly recommended.

Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews694 followers
November 28, 2020
When I bought this book I didn't really read the title closely so I really just assumed it said Hillbilly Energy and so I like assumed it was going to be something about solar energy on farms, I don't know I have a presumption problem clearly, so I was kind of confused when I started to read the book. The books is readable and I enjoyed in terms of it being one person's memoir. The framing is kind of one that doesn't align with me but we don't all always have to agree. Not much else to say, except the beginning was stronger than the ending, but that's a frequent complaint on my end. Also appreciated that it felt less self absorbed than other memoirs, where I'm usually left just feeling like why do I care about the happenings of this person's life?
Profile Image for Howard.
325 reviews227 followers
May 14, 2022
UPDATE: MAY 13. 2022

Why would I retract the good things I wrote about J.D. Vance in my review? Read this:

Vance used various descriptions of his disdain for Trump. Vance said he was a “Never Trump guy,” “never liked him,” “will never vote for Trump,” “loathed” Trump, called Trump’s election “terrible for the country,” and described him as “dangerous” and “reprehensible.” Vance claimed to have voted for Independent candidate Evan McMullin in 2016, but previously said he might vote for Hillary Clinton if it appeared that Trump would win in 2016. Vance criticized Trump’s policy proposals, saying they ranged “from immoral to absurd.” Vance likened Trump’s candidacy to heroin for his supporters and accused him of appealing to racism and xenophobia. Vance expressed support for women who accused Trump of sexually assaulting them, and wondered on Twitter “what percentage of the American population has @RealDonaldTrump sexually assaulted?” -- Huffpost

UPDATE: APRIL 24, 2022

Vance told an audience earlier this week that Trump was the “greatest president of my lifetime.”

“We’ve got a ridiculous leadership, even on the Republican side, that tries to undo some of the best things that Donald Trump did over the past four years,” Vance said, after Trump called him up on stage.

UPDATE: APRIL 16, 2022

Trump Endorses J.D. Vance in Republican Primary for Senate in Ohio -- New York Times


"As for Vance, he has pulled off a transformation, morphing into an avid supporter of Trump, whom he once bashed as 'noxious,' 'reprehensible' and an 'idiot.' -- Huffpost


In light of J.D. Vance's abject, self-abasing, about face surrender to Donald Trump, and his blatantly opportunistic campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate, I hereby retract any positive comments I made about him in my review of his book in 2016.

Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
658 reviews837 followers
November 30, 2016
I didn't really want to read J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy, but it sort of felt like a car crash you know is right in front of you. It's tough to keep your eyes closed and not peek. Even before I opened the book, I reflected that the 'hillbilly' culture Vance describes as in crises is the same culture that was in crisis 100 years ago. I wondered whether there was something about these people (my people as it turns out) who just need to act out every so often and make sure they're noticed. There were some insights here; however, early on, I had trouble with Vance's description or defense of racism. Vance seems to excuse the seeming racism of his hillbillies by claiming that it's not skin color that makes them uncomfortable, but rather people who are accomplished/have succeeded. No matter how many times Vance makes this claim, I'm not buying it. It doesn't help when Vance argues, “my people were on the right side….hillbilly justice…the best kind!” As a memoir which describes how powerless his family felt, and how he overcame that dynamic by leaving (“the best way up for the hillbilly is out”) it's more effective. Still, even though I went into the book with mixed feelings, I was hoping for more out of Hillbilly Elegy.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,668 followers
January 15, 2018
“One way our upper class can promote upward mobility, then, is not only by pushing wise public policies but by opening their hearts and minds to the newcomers who don’t quite belong.”
― J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

(my dad's father [center on the stairs], uncle, and other workers during harvest)

The writing and conclusions of this book are probably a 3-star, but emotionally this is a 4-star book for me (thus my vacillating between 3&4-stars). J.D. Vance is my father. Reading his memoir is like reading a story about my dad. My dad, like Vance, grew up in a family with a lot of dysfunction. Neither of my dad's parents graduated from high-school. He wasn't a hillbilly, per se, but he was born in a small dry-farm community in the mountains of Southern Idaho. Poor. And he wanted the hell out. He didn't get good grades, but a stint in the Navy and marriage to my mom provided the stability and the perspective that allowed my dad to climb. And climb he did. The GI-bill and my dad's grit enabled him to eventually graduate with honors from UC Davis' Veterinary school.

His work ethic still is a thing of wonder to my brothers and sister. He is intimidating. He, by force of will, natural intelligence, etc. climbed (always with the assistance of my mom) up several economic and social rungs. His effort provided middle class, and eventually upper-middle class opportunities for his children. I will have to travel to the moon, I feel, to maintain the same trajectory he set.

Vance's story about growing up a hillbilly in Kentucky and Ohio resembles not just my dad but many people I know from many cultures, races, and backgrounds. The positive of this book is Vance's lack of meanness married to his willingness to criticize. That is a fine line, but I think Vance is right. There is no magic bullet, but there are several things that need to come together to help address some of the cultural, economic, and societal challenges facing not just poor whites in Appalachia, but inner-city poor minorities, Native American poor, etc..

Vance and Vance's publishers also benefited from timing. His book was published during the Trump movement of 2016 and 2017 (and yes, we are still trying to understand all of that). Vance seemed to offer SOME explanation why poor whites in Appalachia and the Rust Belt seemed to vote against their interest for a demagogue and pseudo-populist. Vance seemed available with at least SOME answers. If you look at the way this book was published, this book almost seems like a Yale project to get J.D. Vance into congress. A hillbilly Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. I can't completely go down that caustic hole, but this book seems almost designed as a political answer, as a legitimizer. I have a friend from the poor town in Ohio whose BS radar is high on this book. I'm still not sure.

We are a nation that is seeing a huge chasm open up between the haves and the have-nots. There aren't enough bridges, and not enough shepherds helping those on the edge across. I remember thinking about this very issue years ago. It was one area where I felt I needed to take a personal stake in someone else's development and progression. It is hard to see neighbors struggle with debt, single mother's barely keeping their heads above water, addiction, and hardest of all despair. Despair. I don't want to wait until government addresses the income gap. I think, because of the tremendous gift I've been given and the resources attached to that -- that I have a moral responsibility to pass that gift on. My kids will get it naturally enough. They will have a stable home (mostly), education, too much food and exposure to opportunities that will allow them to maneuver through the hurdles and the traps of the modern economy and upper-middle-class culture. What I need to do, because I have been blessed, is find a way to extend this opportunity to more. I really think -- and like Vance I don't have all the answers -- my way is person-to-person. Mentoring. Looking for an opportunity to take a kid who, given the opportunities I was BORN with, could excel me -- and helping her or him out. I've done this a couple times and it is miraculous and I think going forward necessary. Both for the economic survival for our nation, but also for our nation's soul.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews55.9k followers
May 10, 2022
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance

Vance describes his upbringing and family background in a family from a small town in Ohio. He writes about a family history of poverty and low-paying, physical jobs that have since disappeared or worsened in their guarantees, and compares this life with his perspective after leaving that area and life. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و دوم ماه اکتبر سال2018میلادی

عنوان: هیل بیلی: روزگار آمریکایی‌های پشتکوه‌ نشین، خاطرات یک خانواده و یک فرهنگ بحران‌ زده؛ نویسنده: جی.دی ونس ؛ مترجم سیدعلیرضا پارساییان؛ تهران نشر نون، سال‏‫1396؛ در260ص؛ شابک9786008740162؛ عنوان دیگر روزگار آمریکایی‌های پشت‌ کوه‌ نشین، خاطرات یک خانواده و یک فرهنگ بحران‌زده؛ موضوع سرگذشتنامه ی ونس، ج.دی - خانواده - کارگران سفیدپوست - از نویسندگان ایالات متحده - سده21م

جی.دی ونس، کودکی‌ خویش را در سرزمینی زندگی کرد، که مردمان آن‌‌جا در بگذشته ها کارگران مناطق دیگر، و معدنچی معادن زغال سنگ بوده‌ اند؛ زندگی مردمان این منطقه از آمریکا، تاثیر فراوانی در سرنوشت، و سبک زندگی این نویسنده داشته است؛ «جی.دی ونس» با اِشراف کامل، از زندگیش کتاب «هیل‌ بیلی» را به نگارش درآورده، که منبع دقیقی برای شناخت مردمان منطقه ی کوهستان «آپالاچيا» است؛ «جی.دی ونس»، نویسنده و سرمایه‌ گذار آمریکایی است، که برای یادمانهای خود، که با عنوان «هیل‌ بیلی» منتشر شد، شناخته شده هستند؛ ایشان در روز دوم ماه آگوست سال1984میلادی در شهر «اوهایو» به دنیا آمدند، و همانند سایر کودکان آن منطقه، با مشکلات اجتماعی زادگاهش روبرو شدند؛ خانواده‌ ی «جی.دی ونس» در کودکی او را ترک کردند، و او در کنار مادربزرگ، و پدربزرگش زندگیش را گذراند.؛ او توانست از دانشگاه دولتی «اوهایو» فارغ التحصیل شود، و پیشرفت او در واقع دستیابی یک نسل رو به رشد، به موفقیت بود.؛ این نویسنده علاوه‌ بر فعالیت در زمینه‌ ی حقوق، و سیاست، ��دتی را هم در روزنامه‌ ی «سی.ان.ان» مشغول به کار بوده است

نقل نمونه متن: (همان امید همیشگی، چیزی که نمی‌توانستم به آن نه بگویم.؛ همان امید بود که داوطلبانه پایم را به آن جلسات ترک اعتیاد باز کرد؛ جلسه‌های ترک اعتیاد، آن همه کتابی که در مورد اعتیاد خواندم، و مشارکت در فرآیند درمان مادر، تا جاییکه در توانم بود.؛ همان امید باعث می‌شد در دوازده سالگی سوار ماشین او شوم، با علم به اینکه با آن وضع روحیش ممکن است، دست به کاری بزند، که بعدا پشیمانی به بار بیاورد.؛ «ماماو» هیچ‌وقت امیدش را از دست نداد، آن هم بعد از انبوه دل‌ شکستگی‌ها و ناامیدهایی که تعدادشان بیش از اندازه‌ ای بود، که در عقل من بگنجد.؛ زندگی او مدرسه‌ ی آموزش ناامید شدن از مردم بود، ولی «ماماو» همیشه، راهی برای ایمان داشتن به کسانیکه دوستشان داشت، پیدا می‌کرد.؛ سر جمع من هم از آن همه کوتاه آمدنم پشیمان نیستم.؛ انجام خواسته‌ ی مادر در مورد نمونه آزمایش، کار غلطی بود، ولی هرگز از گوش کردن به حرف «ماماو»، پشیمان نخواهم شد.؛ امیدواری او بود، که باعث شد «پاپاو» را، بعد از آن سال‌های سختی که در زندگی مشترک‌شان داشتند، ببخشد، و همین امید «ماماو» را مجاب کرد، من را در زمانیکه بیش‌تر از همیشه به او نیاز داشتم، پیش خودش ببرد.؛ روی «ماماو» را زمین نیانداختم، ولی آن روز صبح، چیزی در درونم فرو ریخت.؛ با چشم‌های سرخ از گریه، به مدرسه رفتم.؛ به شدت از کمکی که به او کرده بودم پشیمان بودم.؛ چند هفته پیش‌تر با مادر در یک غذاخوری چینی نشسته بودم، در حالیکه او تلاش بی‌حاصلی می‌کرد، تا قاشق غذا را داخل دهانش بچپاند.؛ خاطره‌ ای که هنوز هم خون من را به جوش می‌آورد، مادر نمی‌توانست چشمش را باز کند، یا دهانش را ببندد، قاشق غذا تا وارد دهانش می‌شد، برمی‌گشت و می‌ریخت داخل بشقاب.؛ بقیه‌ ی مردم به ما خیره مانده بودند، «کن» زبان بند شده بود، و مادر در دنیای خودش بود، فارغ از این هیاهو.)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 07/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 19/02/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,710 reviews2,260 followers
February 4, 2017

Poverty is in the eye of the beholder. My father grew up in the hollers of West Virginia in a small town that hasn’t changed very much (if at all) since he lived there. Oh, wait. They changed the name of the street he grew up on from Pennsylvania Avenue to something sounding less presidential. Other than that, I’d be surprised if anything had changed. His grandfather built the house he grew up in when my grandfather was a little boy in short britches. It was a big jump up from living on the family farm for them. Despite that, or maybe more because of that, my father grew up believing that all men are basically the same, some are good, some not as good, but all are capable of decency. None are of greater worth than another, and all are worthy of respect. Like J.D. Vance, my father was able to move away, find a way to make a living doing something he loved, to rise above the poverty of his youth. I’m not sure that money was his objective, he just wanted to fly, and to a young man in the 1930s/40s, it was an adventure and a dream. His closest friends, for all of his days, were some of those pilots with whom he shared ownership of his first plane, pilots that he shared those early years of flight with. He went back a few times over the years to visit those who still lived there, but he never wanted to return to live there.

“Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends and family.”

Vance’s family are among the many Scots-Irish who settled in the Appalachians, as were my father’s parents, and a few others who have read this memoir. There was a lot I could relate to what I recall of my father’s tales of growing up “economically disadvantaged,” although Vance lived in a larger area, and two generations apart from my father. What both have so strongly in common is the tie that binds them back to the place where they grew up. A tie that binds them to the journey from the child to the man.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is filled with the stories of Vance’s family, some are crazy-sad, some crazy-funny, some you just shake your head at, and some you can how the way he views things isn’t so far from how you might.

I especially loved Vance’s views on his struggles, how he learns from them, how he adapted maybe not to those struggles but from them, learned strength from his Mawmaw, and also how to fight from her, learned to love despite the imperfections of others and find the good in what remains. The hardest of all is seeing the good in one’s self, and he is no exception.

"How much of our lives, good and bad, should we credit to our personal decisions, and how much is just the inheritance of our culture, our families, and our parents who have failed their children? How much is Mom's life her own fault? Where does blame stop and sympathy begin?"
Profile Image for Candace.
1,176 reviews4,155 followers
August 1, 2017
First and foremost, let me say that I am not a big non-fiction reader. Every once in a while, I need a change of pace or something catches my eye that isn't my typical smutty romance. Sometimes it works out for me and I learn something new. Other times, the "enlightening" read is about as entertaining as having a lobotomy. Sadly, this book fell into the latter category for me.

I picked up 'Hillbilly Elegy' because the blurb sounded interesting enough and I really don't know much about the Appalachian people. To be clear, watching 'Deliverance' (or that TV show where they make moonshine in the woods) is just about all of the exposure that I had to the people from that region of the country. Needless to say, I am pretty ignorant of this particular subculture in the United States.

I had hoped that listening to this audiobook would provide me with a little insight. I figured that the portrayals of the Appalachian people I'd seen were probably grossly exaggerated in order to increase ratings. I didn't believe that the reality could be so bleak or, for lack of a better term, "trashy". Being born in the deep south, I'm very familiar with the way that entire region is often falsely portrayed as being filled with ignorant, uneducated rednecks. I assumed that the same is true for the Appalachian region.

That being said, if the people of Appalachia aren't as "trashy" as they are portrayed on TV, you would never know it from reading this book. If anything, J. D. Vance's autobiographical account of growing up in his hillbilly home only reinforced every negative stereotype that I know of regarding this subculture. Simply put, this book read like a low-class nightmare.

His family was violent, uneducated and proud of breaking the law. Drug and alcohol addiction, as well as chronic unemployment and abuse of the welfare system were common themes. His mother was a real piece of work, with men coming and going with greater frequency than she'd change her underwear. Every time his Mamaw would say something I'd cringe, even though she clearly was the most loving and supportive person in his life. It was nearly unbearable.

However, this wasn't a book meant to entertain. This book was written to shed some light on the cultural differences that have resulted in social and economic decline in this region of the country. J. D. Vance certainly shed light on some important social aspects that I was oblivious to before listening to this audiobook.

His observations regarding the closed-off nature, and the pride of this group of people, was especially relevant to the discussion. I also appreciated his candid discussion of a declining work ethic, sense of helplessness, domestic violence and abuse of the welfare system. He also offered some insight into some of the networking habits of the wealthy, which are largely neglected by the poor.

Although there were some things that I really enjoyed about this book, it was mostly like a slow death by audiobook. As a reader that has a strong preference for fiction, namely smutty romance, I'm probably not the best judge though. If the Appalachian people really are half as depressing as this book makes them out to be, all I can say is that I want to steer clear of that abysmal region. This book was really sad and a whole lot of trashy. Kudos to the author for rising above it.

Check out more of my reviews at www.bookaddicthaven.com
Profile Image for MomToKippy.
205 reviews80 followers
December 27, 2016
I am really not impressed by the author's hillbilly credentials. He writes a "memoir" at 31 for starters. If you have not read this you may be disappointed as I was because he did NOT grow up in the hills and hollers of Kentucky. His grandmother's family did and she left there for small town Ohio at the ripe old age of 13. He even changed his name to Vance - which is one of his ancient ancestors who was part of the Hatfield and McCoy clan. So much of what he shares is hand me down stories from his grandparents' family. He visits their home town a few times along the way. I do agree it is important to know the story of these Appalachian people and also the struggling white working poor and it gets a couple stars for shining the light on that. I don't believe they are all violent drug addicted trash as portrayed however.

And all the connections to Trumpism are very overhyped. So If you are afraid to read this because it is rally for Trump, it is not. I did not get that at all. So if he is a conservative he did not convey that to me in his writing. More importantly, you might be hesitant to read this because it is boring as heck in the way it is told and his woe-is-me attitude. Poor guy didn't know which fork to use at his Yale law firm recruiting dinner nor the difference between Chardonnay and Sauvignon! So maybe I'll write a memoir about growing up with the repercussions of WWII Nazi Germany because my grandparents and mother experienced this. No, I won't wear that badge because I didn't earn it.

So why didn't he become a doctor or social worker and go back and help his people or enter a profession where he could create jobs for these forgotten people? We need another DC lawyer like we need a hole in the head. But he sure found a way to use his "upbringing" to sell books.
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,563 reviews5,861 followers
December 11, 2016
J.D Vance's grandparents set the basis for this life story. They move from the hills of Kentucky to Ohio chasing a better life. J.D.'s life is in both places. He does live a life that is very familiar here in the southeast. His real dad gives him up, he is told by his mom and Mamaw that his dad doesn't want him anymore. He is adopted by one of his mother's many men. Who also ends up leaving. J.D.'s mom is a revolving door of different men. (I'm not judging her as I see this lifestyle taking place around me daily.)

She does manage to end up with nursing degree but then drugs move into her life and she loses even that. Mamaw and Papaw are the saving graces in this man's life. They fought tooth and nail early in their marriage and ended up living at different places and visiting each other during the day. BUT they did install some confidence in this boy.
This seems to be typical in this area. My Gran also took me in from a bad homelife and she was as rowdy as Mamaw is in this book. Once when I took her grocery shopping she pulled out her gun and flopped it on the counter and about gave the clerk a heart attack. She didn't cuss as much as Mamaw did but I may just have glossed over that memory.

The book is also pretty political, pointing out that most people from this area used to vote Democratic with a vengeance but things they have changed. He takes a look at whether it was President Obama's demeanor that turned average poor southerner's against him.
Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife 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.

This does strike a cord with me because I've seen the millions upon millions of facebook posts that my friends and family have posted.
Is that why we now have Trump coming into office? He was more approachable to the middle and lower class than Hillary? I remember everyone loving Bill Clinton, but truthfully he was more approachable than his wife was.
Who knows? I'm not about to get into a political post. I just observe and do my own thing. Cuz I had a Gran that did teach me to be my own person also.

This book did tend to make me think, I laughed with him when Mamaw would blurt out her opinion and I even teared up several times. The reasoning for my rating falls for some of the back patting he did. I got bored as shit in those parts.
He does admit to having lots of help on his climb out of bad circumstances to go on to the Marines and Yale Law. So I'll give him props for that.

Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books889 followers
August 25, 2020
Didn't see what the fuss was about, but maybe that's because I grew up in a small town and am familiar with 'hillbilly' mentality. If you read this and are shocked, then you probably are a part of the 'elite' class and could use the experience of seeing how the other side lives. Actual hillbillies reading this (probably none) might feel inspired by J. D.'s story.

There are some moderately intriguing tidbits of political insight. Notably a passage where Vance considers why the Obamas are so resented by poor whites. They hate how articulate and intelligent he is, he hypothesizes, they hate that his wife pushes for healthy eating. Not because she's wrong, but because they know she's right. They think the Obamas are intentionally insulting them by being so goody-goody.

He skirts around issues of racism, but to me that's obviously part of the equation. Life is hard, but at least these 'hillbillies' are American. It is my opinion that many of these individuals do not view persons of color as American, however. Maybe it's conscious, maybe it's unconscious, maybe it's history still weighing them down, but it messes with their head when they see non-whites in power. It's why "birtherism" can gather such a large following. Anyone of color can't possibly be American! Where were they really born?

That's just my armchair hypothesis, of course. I think this book does a good job of staying neutral and letting the reader draw their own conclusions. Rather than try to provide explanations, it focuses on starting a conversation. Unfortunately that didn't appeal to me. I read it hoping for answers; hoping someone could explain to me how the hell Trump is a thing and continues to be. Alas, that mystery remains unsolved. Or maybe it's simply too otherworldly for my comprehension.

Anyway, not the worst book out there, but don't expect to be enlightened. I give it a so-so recommendation.
Profile Image for Liz.
1,959 reviews2,406 followers
January 6, 2017

A good friend of mine told me I had to read this if I wanted to understand how Donald Trump won the election. But that's not to say this is a political book. Part memoir and part social treatise, the book attempts to explain the mindset of the poor whites of the Appalachian/Midwest geographic area. Mostly Scotch-Irish, they are a proud people with a split mindset when it comes to beliefs vs. actions, especially concerning work ethic, religion and the value of education.

J.D. Vance basically goes beyond the loss of manufacturing jobs in explaining the crisis of what used to be considered the working poor, but is now mostly the non working, white poor. He blames the lack of family and thus, stability, for the crisis. If not for his Mamaw, his grandmother, and the US Marines, he believes he would never have made it out of the quagmire. His Mamaw provided him the stability he never got from his parents. And the Marines taught him self-esteem and discipline.

Vance brilliantly explains why this sector of our country has come to feel alienated from the country and from the liberal elite. As he writes, “if you believe that hardwork pays off, you work hard; if you think it's hard to get ahead even when you try, then why bother at all?”

Now, if you think Vance is a liberal, you'd be wrong. He identifies as a modern conservative. But he doesn't give them a free pass he thinks they have encouraged the detachment “that has sapped the ambition of so many of my peers”.

There are so many deep ideas here that I will be pondering for days to come. Not just the ability to move up or down the economic scale, but who bears the blame for personal failures.

I highly recommend the book and also recommend American Nationals: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, which covers some of the same geography from a purely historic point of view. Is it too soon in the year to have a book I know will be on my top 10?

Profile Image for b.
138 reviews
September 29, 2016
This book is the worst, most pernicious type of hack ideological trash. I wanted to read it because it purports to offer a telling sociological portrait of the regions from which my in-laws hail, and the supposed "hillbilly" culture that ostensibly defines those same regions (SW Ohio and Kentucky). What this book actually is is a infantile memoir written by a self-hating, self-defining "hillbilly" who traffics in right-wing garbage arguments. The book's primary argument is that poor people suffer because they don't know any better because they are poor and don't work hard enough because they don't know any better because they are poor. He of course tries to cloak these pernicious arguments in "patriotic" garb. I made it 75% through and had to slam it shut once I got to the part where he pathetically tried to justify racism, and to justify racist right-wing attacks on Pres. Obama in particular. Did he learn how to apologize for racism while he was at Yale? I don't know and I don't care to know. I DO NOT RECOMMEND. JUST PLAIN AWFUL.
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