Victor Davis's Reviews > Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
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Jan 26, 2017

it was amazing
Read from January 22 to 25, 2017

This book more than lives up to its promise. I watched JD Vance's TED Talk and heard his NPR interview and resolved to pick this book up. It doesn't disappoint, however it may be a bit different than you think, based on the aforementioned summaries. I was expecting a well-researched nonfiction sociology exploration supplemented by his personal stories. It's inverted. The book is very much a personal family memoir, supplemented by a sprinkling of stats and regional history. At first this turned me off. He spends the first chapter introducing us to the members of his lineage and I thought, "no book needs fifty ordinary characters." But he focuses on a few, and he makes each choice relevant. He talks about his great uncles in terms of their obstreperous reputations. He talks about his grandparents in terms of a stable home to fall back on when his parents fail him. He talks about his sister, aunt, and cousin in terms of their healthy marriages and what they did differently to break the mold of corrosive relationships endemic to the culture.

The formula, if you will, consists of a personal anecdote or journey, followed by statistics and historical context, followed by a compassionate, contemplative analysis. Vance displays a deep sense of appreciation and love and emotional intelligence. He is very forgiving but not at the expense of incisiveness. Wisely, he keeps away from politics, though he flirts with a few ideas toward the end having to do with income credits, schools, and welfare. It's obvious he's a conservative thinker, but his sense of worldliness and openmindedness is exactly the brand of conservatism we need more of for a well-balanced national conversation.
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Reading Progress

01/23/2017 marked as: currently-reading
01/23/2017 page 130
47.0% "Read half the book the first day. The introduction is exactly like Vance's TED Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/j_d_vance_a...). The memoir itself is a bit more towards the personal story end of the spectrum rather than sociology. But he does a consistent and admirable job of contextualizing his family's history within the broader history of the region."
01/26/2017 marked as: read

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