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I really enjoyed this reading. I think I enjoyed more than I normally would for a few reasons, one being that I have family that are similar to J.D.’s and are hillbilly transplants that moved to Ohio but have Appalachian roots. Second that I saw the Netflix movie and really enjoyed that before diving in, so I had faces and voices to go along with all the characters. I really enjoyed the beginning where J.D. includes sociology and historical facts among his childhood to add some depth to his experiences. I do recommend this read to any one living in Ohio who is interested in sociology.
JD Vance tells the story of his life growing up as a 'hillbilly'. He was very poor, lived with his grandparents most of the time because his mother had problems with drugs and men. His father was out of his life. Through determination on his part and the love of his grandparents he graduated from Yale Law. he shares many things he learned along the way and credits his time in the Marines with achieving maturity.
This is not a comment about content as I found it an interesting commentary on the subject. As a self-proclaimed aficionado of recorded books, I say Vance was a terrible, terrible narrator. Very seldom can an author do justice to their work by doing the narration and this was NO exception. He should have had this decent story presented by a professional.
The last few chapters were the most important read for me as they reflected so much of my life.
According to stereotype, Hillbillies, people of the Appalachian, are uneducated, unemployed, and unmotivated. Abandoned when factories left the Steel Belt, they suffer from a high rate of drug usage and domestic violence and, despite the decades that have passed, things don’t seem to be getting better.
In his memoir, Vance describes his experience as a third-generation Hillbilly. His grandparents had profited from the economic prosperity of the Steel Belt, but now they were also collaterally damaged by its collapse. Vance’s grandfather was an alcoholic, his mother a drug abuser, and in his most helpless moments, a young Vance had to lie in court to avoid being put into foster care.
On one hand, Vance’s story sounds like the epitome of the American Dream. He eventually attended Yale Law School, leaping over socioeconomic barriers and lifestyle changes. On the other hand, his identity still haunted him: he had anger issues and trouble maintaining long-term relationships. Yet he acknowledged that he was already fortunate for having caring grandparents. What about those who did not have role models? He asked. How would the majority of Hillbilly posterity have a future?
As a 1.5 generation immigrant to Canada and once an international students in the States, I identified with our author to a surprising degree. I still find myself at a loss during certain Western social situations and testing the waters academically and professionally. In a way, Vance is as much of an immigrant as I am; the cultural shocks and insecurities he had suffered were not any less jarring.
I had already read about the Hillbillies in works such as Dopesick and Good Economics in Hard Times, but Vance really humanized the families and communities that would otherwise have just been statistics. We can say the suicide rate is X and the drug usage rate is Y, but behind these numbers are families fleeing from their pasts and children struggling for a future.
Understanding others, at least trying to, is important I think. This book was a reminder that not everyone in the US is born with all the breaks but much is still possible in this country. Change is the one constant we all face no matter what.
And how important a Grandmother’s love is.
I like very much like what you have done to provide a accurate summary description of a book and provided comments from other readers. I am a loyal non-fiction reader and want to know about the author as well as the theme of the book.
This is a first person account of young man without a father and a drug addicted mother growing poor and still making a successful escape from that to become a Yale educated lawyer and now a founder of a company. All throughout the book he laments people make their lives miserable on their own - it is not the fault of the government! Here is a quotation -
“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. I have watched some friends blossom into successful adults and others fall victim in the worst of Middletown’s temptations – premature parenthood, drugs, incarceration. 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 is not your fault that you are a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”
I lived in Middletown for a few years & thought it was much* worse of a “hillybilly” experience than the book only seems to scratch the surface of. I worked at the golf club Vance worked at and served Ron Selby his beers at the turn (9th hole). The writing style is meh and yes, it is a memoir of someone with something to prove. I’m not sure if it went over quite as planned.
Learn what it REALLY means to be a proud Hillbilly!
Reviewed in the United States on August 24, 2020
HILLBILLY ELEGY is JD Vance's attempt to make sense of his childhood and his people, who are the embodiment of what the rest of the United States disparagingly refers to as Hillbillies, Rednecks, White Trash, Trailer Trash, etc.
JD's life story is fascinating and filled with considerable empathy and gratitude. His journey, and the struggle to overcome his childhood, is something readers will enjoy immensely. This book offers you a rare opportunity to feel like you understand what it is like walk in someone elses shoes and know them. You will sympathize for JD's struggles and celebrate his accomplishments. You will come to really like him, and certainly, admire him.
JD does an excellent job of drawing the reader in and allowing us a deeper understanding of a culture that is deeply and historically rooted in the United States. Because Hillbillies don't trust outsiders (often with good reason), they tend, as a people, to be misunderstood, looked down on and often maligned by people from other regions of the country. Sadly, in some ways they have fallen to meet those expectations.
But despite the struggles and disenfranchisement of his people, HILLBILLY ELEGY is a beautiful tribute to Vance's love for the grandmother who raised him, and the many members of his extended family, who had a hand in elevating him up, and out, of a cycle of desperate poverty and hopelessness. Very few people who grew up like him escaped their circumstances.
JD's kin (Hillbillies) are part of a cultural group made up of white, blue collar, largely uneducated, fiercely loyal, geographically connected, extended families. They inhabit the area of the country that extends south from the Ohio Rust belt to the hollers of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Collectively, this group has less hope, less opportunity and fewer prospects than any other culturally or racially defined group in America.
JD, who graduated from YALE Law School, wants the hardships suffered by his kin folk to be understand by outsiders and policy makers. He readily admits there are no easy solutions to the rampant social problems , that are holding them back in the "land of opportunity". Even though some of the stereo types ring true, you will gain a solid understanding of the challenges faced by these remarkable people, and an admiration for their dedication to family, and their strength, in the face of adversity.
Learn what it REALLY means to be a proud Hillbilly!
I Just heard from a quite learned, educated person - "You would think that if someone could get education, get a better job, better food, better living conditions etc. that they could work themselves out of poverty..." I insisted they read this book!
😡 It's interesting to see that, though Vance is from southwest Ohio, he's given many people here the impression that he's from Kentucky or West Virginia (Appalachia). But southwest Ohio is indeed a region populated by hillbillies. Certainly more insight into the area may be had by reading "Knockemstiff," a book of short stories by a fine writer, Donald Ray Pollock, from the same area, where they had a serious pill problem before it became fashionable to talk about opioids.
I am troubled not so much by the content of the book, but by the way it has been interpreted and used.
As a memoir speaking to the devastating consequences of ACEs, as well as the importance of mentors and role models (even imperfect ones!) this book is excellent. Vance shows remarkable honesty and vulnerability in his writing and really gives readers a glimpse of a portion of America that is far too often overlooked, if not openly despised, by many of the same people who claim to care for the poor and oppressed.
BUT. As a book explaining the many factors contributing to support for Trump in poor rural communities, look elsewhere. Please.
This book is a memoir. It does not address the many historical, political, and economic factors that have contributed to poverty in this region.
Even more troubling, Vance appears to downplay the role of race as a social and economic force on more than one occasion, seemingly misunderstanding that its recognition does not downplay his own experiences or his suffering. He also comes to some weird conclusions- at one point stating flatly, “there is no government that can fix these problems for us. We created them, and only we can fix them.” This, when, in fact, a combined history of government policies and corporate interests are precisely the entities and forces attributed to poverty in Appalachia.
Indeed, Vance seems to effectively blame a culture for the crises afflicting Appalachia, rather than seeing a culture reacting to crisis. Any discerning reader should be wary of these conclusions.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found Chapter 11 to be particularly useful in understanding the motivations of voters in the Rust Belt: “His wife (Obama) 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.”
A readable, interesting memoir told within a very particular sociological construct, with a very particular political agenda. More of a 2.0 rating for me, with rounding up because of the author's writing skills. But boy, some of his conclusions were maddening....
While this book is controversial especially from others who live in the Appalachian region I feel the main take away's are of a deeply personal nature and can transcend the sweeping commentary of the region.
J.D. Vance does a great job of showcasing how "escaping" the town and way you were brought up does not free you from the emotional scares that are left behind. We all must come to a point of growing and moving on from emotional trauma or fall victim to perpetuating those same crimes. The key is to never lose the idea/hope/belief that hard work and care will help see you through to a better future.
Fascinating look in to the Appalachian culture with its values, positives and negatives. It is a powerful blend of stories from his life and compelling thoughts on society. With knowledge of the foster care system, I appreciated his view of what helps kids in crisis ultimately succeed.
This book was very eye opening since it revealed the life style of families in Appalachian America. It describes the struggles that J.D. Vance had to go through to become a successful adult. The book also expands on how growing up in a broken household is like, it shows the effects of drug abuse in families and how much they negatively impact the children of the family. I think the most important idea that Hillbilly Elegy has is that no matter where you come from or how poor you are, you can work hard and achieve your goals.
Interesting read. I learned a lot about this part of the population and hardships that are removed from where we live. It is not representative of everyone in that area, but it is an idea of what some people face day to day. Just the discussion about why paycheck cashing services are necessary made me open my eyes.
I didn't know what to expect but glad I didn't have preconceived expectations and no thought to how or if there was supposed to be a message about the current administration. His opinion on that front is of no importance to me. I'd lean toward agreement with 2 other reviewers, Mllex and hinahusain. I doubt the ones that need to hear his story will hear it.
The in depth explanations of how the group lives gives a clear reference frame and it's reasonable to find some compassion, not pity. He refers to Scots-Irish culture in an isolated region, not so different from other immigrant groups that exist today in America. So is he lucky or fortunate a variety of factors intervened? his family received counseling/therapy; he had more than one family structure for living; he had enough sense not to drug or drink; he entered military service and learned discipline, order, listening skills, personal presentation and found some idea of what life is outside his narrow confines.
I liked the intro but not his reading and was overly ready for it to end. Good on Vance, now will he return to his community to help educate or share the experience?
Interesting book which shed some light on a demographic not often positively portrayed in literature.
Right in the middle of reading/listening to "Hillbilly Elegy" by JD Vance. It is a really fantastic book. An eye opening view into the real world of 'hillbillies' who are shown in pop culture as a caricature of southern, white poverty. JD Vance brings life and empathy to these caricatures, showing them to be living, breathing humans, relatives, and people growing up in a self-perpetuating cycle. For a young man who 'escapes' the cycle he grew up in, in large part due to the support and love of grandparents, JD Vance has a unique perspective on the culture of his formative years and numerous issues of the people who live in it. In the line of books like "Educated" and "The Glass Castle" JD Vance shows us a world that we might not have seen otherwise, giving us real people with real problems and examining the reasons for the poverty and hopelessness of his family and neighbors.
I enjoyed this book. It described the family life in Appallacia America. It gave history about the migration of people from Kentucky.