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

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

Written by J. D. Vance

Narrated by J. D. Vance


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

Written by J. D. Vance

Narrated by J. D. Vance

ratings:
4.5/5 (1,960 ratings)
Length:
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 28, 2016
ISBN:
9780062477521
Format:
Audiobook

Editor's Note

Illuminating examination…

Even as the Vance family manages to achieve some semblance of ‘The American Dream,’ J.D. Vance shows how deeply the scars of poverty—and the familial and societal ills that it engendered—have compromised the health and happiness of each generation. A must-read for those interested in the ramifications of American social, economic, and political policy.

Description

From a former Marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America's white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis-that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.'s grandparents were "dirt poor and in love," and moved north from Kentucky's Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance's grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

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

Publisher:
Released:
Jun 28, 2016
ISBN:
9780062477521
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and the New York Times, and works as an investor at a leading venture capital firm. Vance lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his family.



Reviews

What people think about Hillbilly Elegy

4.3
1960 ratings / 272 Reviews
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Critic reviews

  • At the heart of every American, there's this persistent belief in the greatness of the "American Dream," but J.D. Vance shows the toll the struggle for upward mobility can have. Looking back at his time growing up in the Rust Belt shows just how many have been left behind.

    Scribd Editors

Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    Having grown up in Appalachia, I understand this story on personal familiar. While I avoided many of the experiences personally, I do recall the attitude acutely.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed this book...it was thoughtful, supported with some research, and resonated with me and I'm sure many readers.
  • (4/5)
    Highly Recommend! More thoughtful review to come when I have a few moments.
  • (3/5)
    After reading this book, I have a better understanding of the term "working class white". I've been confused by the term in a political context as it seems that the "working" portion of the term need not apply. In Vance's book it implies a person who didn't complete college. But unstated is the element of a trade or craft. The book rather targets as "working class white" the people that might be better grouped by his term of "adverse childhood experience". Best summed up as "instability begets instability".
  • (4/5)
    Part memoir (even though the author is only in his early 30s) and part reflection on the nature of the underclass in America.
  • (5/5)
    SummaryJ.D. Vance should have ended up like all the others who grew up around him in poverty, with drug addictions, and jobless. He should have been "stuck"; however, with the fierceness of the people around him, he was able to move out and up. His story should end with graduating from Yale Law School, and he should be considered a successful story of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps. The problem with that stereotype is that it doesn't take into consideration the consequences growing up within a failing culture that is America's white working class. The idea of "just getting out" isn't as simple as many want it to be. The crisis that Vance describes in Appalachia isn't one that can be shaken off and forgotten. Vance does an incredible job of showing that to readers. Upward mobility isn't just a social climb that can be affected by geography. There are much deeper issues within which to delve if we are to address the crisis of working class whites, including psychological, cultural, social, medical, and educational issues to name only a few. Yes, J.D. Vance is a success. Yes, he made it out. But, his story and many others like it were far from over as they crossed state lines. What I LikedThe historical details - Appalachian Regional Commission/ Lyndon JohnsonJackson, KY to Ohio via Route 23the migratory flow between Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Michigangrowing up in the "holler" catching "minners" and "crawdads"Kentucky coal countryMiddletuckyHatfields and McCoys in Appalachia compared to The SopranosRon Selby, the Advanced Math teacher - "I had that kid in class; he's not smart enough to make a functioning bomb."Mamaw - As harsh as Mamaw Blanton's language (conversation with J.D. about why he was not gay made me laugh out loud, snort and spit my coffee fashion ;) ) and life could be, she loved her grandchildren...and had a truly soft heart for anyone in need. She definitely lived the "take care of everybody" lifestyle and loved to "spend time with those babies."Mamaw made sure J.D. had anything he needed, any time, any place. What an unconditional love this woman had for her grandson.Papaw - Despite his "bullshits" and his grouchiness, he never met a hug or kiss that he didn't welcome. (108)Papaw also loved J.D. In fact, he was J.D.'s father since his own biological father nor any of his mother's potential candidates could or would step up. Papaw taught J.D. how to shoot so well that in the Marine Corp, J.D. qualified with an M16 rifle as an expert. He also played math games with J.D. after a young J.D. came home one day worried about his lack of math skills. When Papaw died, J.D. spoke at his funeral:I stood up in that funeral home resolved to tell everyone just how important he was. "I never had a dad," I explained. "But Papaw was always there for me, and he taught me the things that men needed to know." Discussion of Religion - Organized religion was not something J.D.'s family nor many of the other families he knew spent much time on. This fact calls into question yet another stereotype about working class southern "conservatives." Despite the stereotype, J.D.'s biological father and his new family were the only real religious families that J.D. ever knew. Mamaw reassured J.D. that God never leaves your side. She believed that without a doubt, but she also believed that God helps the man who helps himself. Mamaw believed it was fine to pray to God for help with your problems, but you best be ready to do the work on your part as well.Psychological focus - Once J.D. became successful and "escaped" the trap, he had to deal with the conundrum of still seeing in himself some of the very behaviors he had worked so hard to get away from. Especially where relationships were concerned, J.D. had to re-learn much of what had been unconsciously taught to him during his childhood. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. presents rich research and sources to explain this phenomenon:"Significant stress in early childhood results in hyperresponsive or chronically activated physiologic stress response, along with increased potential for fear and anxiety.the part of the brain that deals with stress and conflict is always activated...the switch flipped indefinitely." (228)Educational focus - Even though J.D. received access to higher education via his service in the military, he needed more...and that doesn't mean just money. What so many see as common knowledge parts of the educational system are huge stumbling blocks to students who come in from the outside. The Ivory Tower isn't famous for welcoming outsiders and is well-known to throw gatekeeping devices in students' way. J.D. wasn't asking for special favors either. He honestly didn't realize what he even needed to ask for help with. Academics wasn't the problem. The largest roadblock was the system itself - institutional, political, and social...and much of it unconscious or accidental...the roadblocks of privilege.J.D. Vance's book made me pull back out some of my old textbooks on working class literacy...I haven't done that since I finished my last degree because I was exhausted with academia. For the first time in many years, my research brain is piqued, and I'm ready to re-visit some of those theories.What I Didn't LikeThere really wasn't anything about Vance's memoir that I didn't like as far as the book itself...there were more than a few things that made me very sad...so sad that I had to think about, analyze, and really process before writing my review. But, again, I think that's Vance's point.I wasn't crazy about J.D.'s mama...I don't "fault" her really, but I don't "forgive" her either. He was just a child, and he needed his mama. But, she wasn't there. She had a lot of extenuating circumstances, but that doesn't change the fact that she wasn't there.I was and am beyond glad that J.D. had other people around him to take care of him. J.D.'s mom did have a library card and made sure he had access to books. She herself became a nurse and cared deeply about "enterprises of the mind"...she was one of those moms who got carried away "revamping" a science fair project. Her own lack of education about how a man should treat a woman was unfortunately handed down to her own children tenfold and exacerbated by her quest to find a suitable father for J.D. and Lindsay..."adventures" which pulled them further and further away from being able to live within a stable family environment.And, then, there were the drugs. Drugs for which she was probably given a prescription but very quickly lost control of.Addiction is a huge issue...a crisis of epidemic proportions.Overall RecommendationAmericans tend to have pretty egocentric views about the world and even within our own borders. Vance's book Hillbilly Elegy reminded me a lot of Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle, two books I think everybody needs to experience.