Cover image for
Title:
Hillbilly elegy : a memoir of a family and culture in crisis
Author(s):
Vance, J. D.,
ISBN/ISSN:
9780062300546
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
264 pages ; 24 cm.
Abstract:
Vance, a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, provides an 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. 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. 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.
Bibliography Note:
Includes bibliographical references (pages 263-264).
Pub Date:
Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2016]

©2016
Holds:

Available:*

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Summary

Summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"You will not read a more important book about America this year."--The Economist

"A riveting book."--The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading."--David Brooks, New York Times

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.


Author Notes

J.D. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio, and Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served for four years in Iraq. He is a graduate of the Ohio State University (2007-2009) Political Science and Philosophy, Summa Cum Laude and Yale Law School, Doctor of Law (J.D.) (2010-2013). He has contributed to the National Review and is the author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. He is also a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Things could have so easily turned out differently for Vance. Growing up in a working-class family riven by strife and seemingly incapable of escaping its rural Kentucky roots, Vance spent his youth bouncing between homes, a succession of father figures, and ever more explosive situations. The story of how he overcame his upbringing to graduate from Yale Law School and embark on a stable and happy adulthood poses the bigger question of how the obstacles facing other such hillbillies can be surmounted. Vance compellingly describes the terrible toll that alcoholism, drug abuse, and an unrelenting code of honor took on his family, neither excusing the behavior nor condemning it. Instead, he pulls back to examine the larger social forces at work for white, working-class Americans with ties to Appalachia. The portrait that emerges is a complex one, where die-hard cultural beliefs contribute to a downward spiral for Vance's family and those like them. Unerringly forthright, remarkably insightful, and refreshingly focused, Hillbilly Elegy is the cry of a community in crisis.--Thoreson, Bridget Copyright 2016 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

In this compelling hybrid of memoir and sociological analysis, Vance digs deep into his upbringing in the hills of Jackson, Ky., and the suburban enclave of Middletown, Ohio. He chronicles with affection-and raw candor-the foibles, shortcomings, and virtues of his family and their own attempts to live their lives as working-class people in a middle-class world. Readers get to know his tough-as-nails grandmother, Mawmaw, who almost killed a man when she was 12 in Jackson, but who has to live among the sewing circles of Middletown. Her love for children, and for her grandson in particular, fuels her dream to become a children's attorney. When Vance finishes high school, he's not ready to head off to Ohio State, so Vance joins the Marines, completes a tour of duty in Iraq, and returns home with a surer sense of what he wants out of life and how to get it. He eventually enrolls in Yale Law School and becomes a successful lawyer, doggedly reflecting on the keys to his own success-family and community-and the ways they might help him understand the issues at stake in social policies today. Vance observes that hillbillies like himself are helped not by government policy but by community that empowers them and extended family who encourages them to take control of their own destinies. Vance's dynamic memoir takes a serious look at class. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Growing up in Appalachia may leave a person open to harsh criticism and stereotype, yet Vance delves into his childhood and upbringing to make a clear distinction between perception and reality. Born in Kentucky and shuffling among homes in Ohio, the author ended the cycle of poverty, abuse, and drug use after becoming a U.S. Marine and Yale Law School graduate. His memoir is less about his triumph and more about exposing the gritty truth of how a culture fell into ruin. Using examples from his own life with references to articles and studies throughout, Vance's intent is to show that what was once the fulfillment of the American Dream-moving to the Rust Belt for a better life-has now left families in peril. His plea is not for sympathy but for understanding. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, this memoir is akin to investigative journalism. While some characters seem too caricaturelike, it is often those terrifyingly authentic traits that make people memorable. Vance is careful to point out that this is his recollection of events; not everyone is painted in a positive light. -VERDICT A quick and engaging read, this book is well suited to anyone interested in a study of modern America, as Vance's assertions about Appalachia are far more reaching.-Kaitlin Malixi, formerly at Virginia Beach P.L. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

J. D. Vance is from a working-class, Scots-Irish background who, by his own admission, "grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember." A self-described hillbilly, he was able to rise above his impoverished circumstances to graduate from college and then go on to earn a law degree from Yale. Though the memoir sometimes lapses into overwrought descriptions of dysfunctional relationships and seemingly hopeless situations, Vance provides in-depth, unforgiving descriptions of the working-class culture of Appalachia. He explains the more positive aspects of his culture, such as the fierce loyalty to family, tradition, and country, as well as the more negative aspects, such as the high rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, and unemployment--even when jobs remain open not for a lack of potential employees but because of a lack of interest. Vance also explains how he defied statistics and tradition by rising to the level of the middle class. Summing Up: Recommended. General, public, and undergraduate collections. --Carol Apt, South Carolina State University


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