Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

73%

28 Critic Reviews

An unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class whose health and economic problems are making headlines in this election year.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"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.

 

About J. D. Vance

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J. D. Vance is a former Marine and a graduate of Yale Law School. He is a regular contributor to the National Review. He lives in Washington, D.C.
 
Published June 28, 2016 by Harper. 273 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Political & Social Sciences, History. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Hillbilly Elegy
All: 28 | Positive: 23 | Negative: 5

Kirkus

Excellent
on Apr 30 2016

An unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class whose health and economic problems are making headlines in this election year.

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Publishers Weekly

Good
on Aug 02 2016

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.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Jennifer Senior on Aug 10 2016

...job prospects are slim. For what purpose do you live under such circumstances? When the stanchions of your life have sunk into the muck? Mr. Vance doesn’t have all the answers. But he’s advancing the conversation.

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NY Journal of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Larry Smith on Jul 29 2016

...the validity of generalizing these family traits to an entire culture seems forced. One can understand how we know the world first from our family perspective, but to use that to define a culture stretches credulity. To a culture too often stereotyped and maligned, this book offers little real insight.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Dan Simpson on Sep 06 2016

With "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis," J.D. Vance has written a book that goes some way to helping the rest of us understand what makes these people tick...

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LA Times

Above average
Reviewed by Jeffrey Fleishman on Oct 07 2016

The fascinating and flawed characters in Vance’s work do not endure racism but they struggle against a legacy of poor education and caricatures that have championed reality TV shows like “Duck Dynasty” and brought epithets such as “white trash” and “rednecks.”

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The Economist

Good
on Aug 13 2016

Mr Vance is a conservative in the oldest and best sense, and his prescription is a bracing tonic for the poison being sold to his people by the pandering huckster seeking the presidency...

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Huffington Post

Above average
Reviewed by Peter Clothier on Feb 08 2017

Vance’s book offers a valuable insight into the rage and resentments that fuel today’s political revolt amongst what used to be the working class.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Susan Storer Clark on Sep 30 2016

Hillbilly Elegy is an entertaining and insightful read. The reader may not always agree with Vance’s conclusions, but his ability to show us the real people and experiences behind the sad statistics gives his book unmatched credibility and power.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Below average
Reviewed by Dan Simpson on Aug 21 2016

There are two problems here, nestling among what seem to me to be the truths about hillbillies. The first is that there are other groups in American society, in different parts of the country, whose situations are just as troubling, if not more so, than the problems of the hillbillies.

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The Columbus Dispatch

Good
Reviewed by Margaret Quamme on Aug 29 2016

Vance’s description of the family in which he grew up, and from which he now feels he has moved as a “cultural immigrant,” provides invaluable insight into a life outsiders might not otherwise understand.

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Look At OKC

Above average
Reviewed by Eric Schulzke on Sep 06 2016

One of the key features of the youthful Vance's milieu is the lack of educational ambition and achievement.

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NY Daily News

Above average
Reviewed by SHANE SAXTON on Sep 06 2016

The rapidity with which he jumps across these experiences, especially regarding his military career, is my only complaint about the book. But at the same time the pacing helps convey J.D.’s extraordinarily brisk rise after so many years of discouraging sameness.

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Chicago Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Heather Wilhelm on Jan 11 2017

The book, which highlights Vance's upbringing in a dysfunctional "hillbilly" culture, is certainly worth reading as a window on a group of Americans, many of them Trump voters, who are too often overlooked. But it doesn't explain the conservative suburban mother of four who voted for Trump.

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National Review Online

Good
Reviewed by Mona Charen on Jul 28 2016

...the book is far deeper than an explanation of the Trump phenomenon (which it doesn’t, by the way, claim to be). It’s a harrowing portrait of much that has gone wrong in America over the past two generations.

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Bookin With Sunny.

Good
Reviewed by Neal Ferguson on Oct 17 2016

When applying for Yale Law School, one of his relatives diminished Vance’s chances by pointing out that he was neither black nor liberal. Vance doesn’t pause to examine the possible implications of the comment. This caveat aside, read J.D. Vance’s, Hillbilly Elegy. You will be amazed.

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London School of Economics

Below average
Reviewed by Peter Carrol on Apr 15 2017

Vance’s unflinching and painful account of the life he has left behind deserves rich praise, as does Vance’s achievement to overcome such huge disadvantages to achieve academic and career success. But while Vance’s personal recollections are compelling, his broader sociological analysis is often too broad and feels overtly political.

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London School of Economics

Above average
Reviewed by Peter Carrol on Feb 08 2017

Vance’s unflinching and painful account of the life he has left behind deserves rich praise, as does Vance’s achievement to overcome such huge disadvantages to achieve academic and career success. But while Vance’s personal recollections are compelling, his broader sociological analysis is often too broad and feels overtly political.

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Business Insider

Good
Reviewed by Josh Barro on Aug 22 2016

...voters are not wrong to insist that things could also be better. I don't know what to do about it, but "Hillbilly Elegy" is a good book that does a lot to diagnose the problem.

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Reason Magazine

Good
Reviewed by Ronald Bailey on Jul 29 2016

Globalization and automation decimated the manufacturing jobs that many low-skilled workers leveraged into a middle-class lives in the mid-20th century, he argues, but that's no excuse for fatalistic victimhood now. Do yourself a favor and read this book.

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Reason Magazine

Good
Reviewed by Ronald Bailey on Jul 29 2016

Despite all their failings, Vance fiercely identifies with and loves his people. He is also a natural storyteller who makes compellingly personal the statistics and news stories about the cultural and economic coming apart of America. It hits close to home.

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The Aquila Report

Good
Reviewed by Mez McConnell on Oct 14 2016

Having read the book I am now not sure whether this is a book review or an online self-understanding counselling session. You see, to me at least, this is not just a book. It’s not even a poem of bereavement. It is so much more than that.

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The American Conservative

Excellent
Reviewed by ROD DREHER on Jul 11 2016

I’m still trying to process this extraordinary book...The book is called Hillbilly Elegy, and I can’t recommend it to you strongly enough. It offers no easy answers.

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Idaho Statesman

Above average
Reviewed by BOB KUSTRA on Jan 20 2017

Relaying personal stories that are both heartening and heartbreaking, he explains what it is like to be raised in a family of proud, poor and loving-yet-broken hillbillies.

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Rob Hardy

Good
Reviewed by Leonard Pitts on Aug 27 2016

Obama is hardly the first politician to be smart, rich and well-spoken. He is, however, the first to be hounded into producing his long form birth certificate. Still, that flaw does not outweigh Vance's triumph, which is to give substance and dimension to those America has made invisible.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Jennifer Senior on Aug 12 2016

Whether you agree with Vance or not, you must admire him for his head-on confrontation with a taboo subject. And he frames his critique generously...

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Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Edward Luce on Sep 19 2016

Vance holds up a painfully honest mirror to America that offers no succour to left or right. Every group is a victim. No one is taking ownership. Others are always to blame.

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com

Above average
Reviewed by WALTER RUSSELL MEAD on Dec 01 2016

his isn’t a story with an obvious political agenda; Vance does not conclude with a ten-point plan for a new War on Poverty.

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