Tim O'Hearn's Reviews > Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
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it was amazing

It's been said that Donald Trump is the avatar of the Angry Common Man. It's also been said that Appalachians are the angriest and the commonest. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance (, J.D.) has written what might one day be heralded as the single most significant characterization of this strand of the underclass.

It's almost a shame that the election had to occur. While political strife fueled this book's rise to the top of the bestseller list, it's also detracted from meaningful discussion. When viewed as a story about either us or them, which is an unfortunate reality in a political climate inching toward extremes, it's easy to take Vance's honesty and comeuppance for granted.

What I mean by this is that the author isn't just a courier hiding behind a Yale Law degree. He's both the postman and the stamp licker. The scribe and the dictator. He tells a once-in-a-generation story of reaching the American Dream in a region sometimes mockingly referred to as Dreamland. It would have been easy for him to recount the funny stories about his crazy family and wrap it all into a feel-good narrative of how he made it. But that's not what happens.

J.D. Vance lays bare the story of his life. He shares every meaningful detail of his early years in what comes to stand as sobering reminder that most people just can't relate to what he's talking about. You'll read about how he never felt poor but also a litany of other things that combine to form a startling depiction of Appalachia. After getting into Yale, he reflects on the inevitable "Why Me?" question. While he credits his grandparents and their strict rules for ultimately lifting him to a different life, he also mentions research that has shown that those who suffer from several traumatic events in childhood tend to be higher than average performers later in life.

As you continue through the tour de force that is the last segment of the book, there's an inexplicable connection you feel to the author. All at once, you're proud of him. You're glad he made it out okay. You're happy that he wrote the book and so candidly at that.

This is an intimate account of Vance's life. I'd say that those searching for an ethnography with bulleted action-items for fixing deficiencies will be disappointed, but anyone who finds himself genuinely disappointed after reading this book should consider getting a lobotomy.
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Reading Progress

November 3, 2017 – Shelved
November 3, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
December 4, 2017 – Started Reading
December 8, 2017 – Finished Reading

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