From a former marine and Yale graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broad, 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 40 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 hope 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, his aunt, his uncle, his 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 humour and vividly colourful 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 the country.
"The memoir gripping America.... Vividly articulates the despair and disillusionment of blue-collar America." (Sunday Times)
"Vance's description of the culture he grew up in is essential reading for this moment in history." (David Brooks, New York Times)
"A beautiful memoir but it is equally a work of cultural criticism about white working-class America.... [Vance] offers a compelling explanation for why it's so hard for someone who grew up the way he did to make it...a riveting book." (Wall Street Journal)
"Quietly thoughtful, poignant...while the political timeliness of Hillbilly Elegy is undeniable, Vance truly shines when he takes us with him 'down the holler' into an America we thought we knew - until we realized how little of it we truly understood." (Huffington Post)
"Looking back on his youth, and all he fled, yields a frank, unsentimental, harrowing memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. It's a superb book given an extra layer of importance by its political reverberations: When Vance returns home these days, he sees yard after yard festooned with Trump signs." (NY Post)
"You will not read a more important book about America this year." (Economist)
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- Pieter Reyneke
Great book, insightful and well written.