Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis

Book - 2016
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Shares the story of the author's family and upbringing, describing how they moved from poverty to an upwardly mobile clan that included the author--a Yale Law School graduate--while navigating the demands of middle class life and the collective demons of the past.
Publisher: New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2016]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780062300546
Characteristics: 264 pages ; 24 cm
Call Number: B VANCE, J


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List - Inklings Book Club
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October 2017

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DCLbookclubs Sep 14, 2016

This book will be discussed Tuesday, January 7, 2020 in Event Hall B. Book Club Express kit available.

kkoenigc Oct 11, 2017

Mr. Vance shows us firsthand what it is like growing up in Appalachia and why it is so hard for someone who grew up as he did to succeeed.

lindab1111 Nov 17, 2016

A personal memoir of a young man who grows up in a poor, white working-class family in Ohio. The author also takes a broader look at the working-class culture of Appalachia. Vance is a self-described "hillbilly" who overcomes huge cultural challenges to become a Yale Law School graduat... Read More »

AnnabelleLee27 Oct 09, 2016

Memoir examining the idea and impact of social mobility in America. Vance's family straddles Kentucky and Ohio over several generations. Lots of interesting ideas and information - well worth reading to understand social mobility and its impact on working class whites today. Vance did not exami... Read More »

From the critics

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Sep 13, 2019

The deck was stacked against J. D. Vance for nearly his entire young life, but he defied the insurmountable odds and escaped an all-to-common life of poverty and despair. Hearing his story, you can see it was a mix of luck, second chances, and, above all else, persistent and grinding hard work.

In another context, this book achieved a sudden popularity as it was published a few months before Donald Trump's surprise election, and journalist were scrambling to try and understand this seemingly forgotten underclass.

Sep 12, 2019

I felt like I learned something I didn't know. I didn't grow up in a small town in the Appalachian mountains, I didn't grow up so poor that I felt my only prospects were a blue-collar manual labor job, babies out of wedlock, drugs, jail, etc.. so yes, I learned something. But overall, this took me a while to read because it at times read more like a research paper, citing evidence, than a memoir. I'm not disappointed I read it, but I don't know how much I will recommend it to others.

Aug 26, 2019

I was expecting more from this book. Instead 99% of this story surrounds the authors growing up in a dysfunctional family and his unlikely climb up the ladder of the American Dream. There are a couple of observations of note however when he went back to his high school to talk to some of his old teachers. One of these is what everybody knows and his former teachers agree to is that you can almost tell which students come from dysfunctional families by the struggles they have in school both scholastically and socially. Teachers I know say the same.

Aug 16, 2019

Although there are some enjoyable, anecdotal moments of this book where Vance recalls moments of his life growing up in both Kentucky and Ohio, this book cannot be be taken as a definitive look at the culture of the Appalachian region, nor as an academic work. Though Vance does claim his book to be "apolitical", it is rife with the same conservative and neoliberal platitudes (poor people are just lazy, just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, etc.) recycled time and time again, yet veiled behind the guise of an innocent memoir. Having grown up in Breathitt County myself (for far longer than Vance ever spent time there) some things he describes certainly ring true; however, characterizing an entire region as Scots-Irish and drawing on overly broad generalizations of a diverse culture, not only erases the identities of people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are too very much a part of this culture, but white-washes a very complex interplay of social, political, and artistic aspects.

Verdict: Enjoy the anecdotal moments Vance shares, but do not apply them broadly to the culture at large. Nancy Isenberg's "White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America" addresses issues of class and race in this area of the country in a much more powerful and academic way--a much better read, too!

Aug 15, 2019

While laying in words the story of his upbringing and the problems in his family and community ( poverty, drug addiction, violence … ), the gist of the book (really) is the author's position on WHY the once Democratic States (namely) OHIO, WV, IN and especially Kentucky in the Bible Belt area turned 180 degrees, from their sturdy convictions to the Republican ones. While the story is a rather compelling one, in a sort of way, … however, the argument is rather 'weak'. To base your rather single-sided observation of a community which was and remained a religious area (the Bible Belt) and to blind yourself and not talk (seriously, that is) about the Democratic Party's direction on this important aspect and, more importantly about the democratic civil right movement is peculiar to say the least, especially coming from a, now Harvard graduate. Read the book as it was picked up by the book-club I belong to, but found no literary merits in this book either; if anything, the story is one of 'endurance' - a story of resilience in face of adversity - a success story of a man who grew up in harsh conditions but managed to became a successful able to lead a meaningful life for himself and society - and for that: "Hats down"! JD Vance

Aug 13, 2019

Guy from trailer park trash family gets education and writes about it.-

Aug 11, 2019

I finished reading this book shortly after the 2016 election. I didn't write a comment then because I didn't feel strongly about it one way or the other—it was merely an interesting memoir and a quick read. Because I don't own a television I was largely unaware of the minor furor that had grown up around the book and its author. Yet, due to my interest in Appalachia and politics I learned about it soon enough.

First, in 2018, came "What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia" by Elizabeth Catte and then, in 2019, came "Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy," an edited collection. I've read and commented upon these works and in light of those two critiques of Vance's memoir I'm now leaving comment on his book.

It seems to me that Vance's book has become an inadvertent Rorschach test. This is always the case, to some extent, with any cultural work. However, for some significant portion of its readership "Hillbilly Elegy" seems to provoke an extreme reaction that is far more a reflection of who is reading it than what is actually contained in the book. I suspect this is a reflection of our polarized political times and that, with respect to Vance, it's true of some on the Right, too. However, I don't listen to conservative radio, watch Fox News, frequent any Right-wing web sites, etc., so I don't have any real sense of that. As far as I know no conservatives have published any book length response to "Hillbilly Elegy".

Having returned to "Hillbilly Elegy" after reading "What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia" and "Appalachian Reckoning" it still seems to me that most of Vance's harshest critics are acting out of a mix of deep and unwarranted sham and anger that so many of the people of Appalachia aren't the people these critics want them to be. This actually comes across most strongly in another work that, as I recall, doesn't reference Vance at all.

In the 2018 York and Rubin documentary film "Hillbilly", filmmaker York confesses early (16:15) in the film that: "I just could not understand why my family, who voted for Barack Obama, supported [Trump]". More to the point, near the end of the film (at about 1:12:30), writer Silas House is filmed in the immediate aftermath of Trump's election complaining, "I've spent my whole career defending rural people. I can't do it anymore. I'm not gonna do it anymore. Um, when you look at that electoral map, rural people did this [i.e. elect Trump]." Poor Silas, a minority of "rural people" didn't toe his line and now he won't defend any of them. Frankly, "rural people" are probably better off without manipulative, agenda-pushing, fair weather, lump-them-all-together, self-styled defenders like Silas House.

Vance's critics also seem angry that he hasn't drunk the kool-aid that only macroeconomics and the larger social circumstances really matter in people's life circumstances. It would be fair to argue that Vance puts too much emphasis on individual decisions and responsibility but, for the most part, Vance is speaking from personal experience and doesn't claim the imprimatur of social science; he wrote a memoir not an ethnography.

It's a mistake, of course, to rely on Vance's book or any other single text for a full picture of Appalachian people but Vance's experiences and perspectives ought to be accorded the same respect as any memoirist even as it's fair to disagree with his larger descriptive and prescriptive analyses. Instead, the tendency of too many of his Leftist academic critics has been to disparage and misrepresent him. And to try to "quiet" his voice as the editors of "Appalachian Reckoning" openly admit as their purpose in the book's introduction.

Jul 28, 2019

Bookclub: July/19

Jun 19, 2019


May 15, 2019

I personally had many issues with this book. You may not, although J.D. Vance stepped all over my 4-year sociology degree and kicked it to the bucket. If you believe in welfare queens, or that those experiencing extreme poverty are doing so out of laziness, then this may be a more fitting book for you than it was for me. While I can still enjoy a book that goes against my political beliefs and education, I felt that "Hillbilly Elegy" was poorly written and extremely uninteresting.

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Add Notices
May 07, 2018

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

May 05, 2018

Frightening or Intense Scenes: Frightening and intense scenes.

May 05, 2018

Sexual Content: Strong sexual content.

May 05, 2018

Violence: Strong violence.

May 05, 2018

Coarse Language: Strong language.


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May 04, 2018

LThomas_Library thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over

Mar 17, 2017

runningbeat thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


Add a Summary
Jun 28, 2017

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


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