Hillbilly Elegy

  • by J. D. Vance
  • Narrated by J. D. Vance
  • 6 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 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 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, 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 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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Deja vu for me

I was raised lower middle class. Not with the violence portrayed in the book but with the values and the incentive for a better life. I'm now a successful dentist. I wish that there was a version without the cussing and swearing for my grandkids to listen to. I'm in a very low socioeconomic community and understand the plight of many of my patients. I've shared the book with most of my 'reader" patients. And will continue to. But always with the caveat of the language. I can't share with most of my dental colleagues about my bootstrap early existence because they won't understand. But I can relate to my welfare patients and give back when I can.
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- Ron

In Mamaw's Contradictions Lay Great Wisdom

I was bewildered when Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, but not completely surprised. I'm a veteran and a good number of my old Army buds vocally supported Mr. Trump - but even then, it wasn't half of of my current and former service member pals. FBI Director James Comey's pre-election machinations with Hillary R. Clinton's emails certainly presaged the results - but not the wide swath of red dividing the country, with only a thin veneer of blue that cracked so quickly.

Other than duty stations in the Army, I've lived my entire life in indigo blue states. As a decades long California transplant, I've got a deep understanding of Mexican culture and traditions. However, I was completely and embarrassingly clueless about a lot of my country, especially a hillbilly culture of 25 million people in the Appalachians.

After the political upset, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times - maybe all three? - talked about J.D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis" (June 28, 2016) as a way to help understand the America that elected Trump. It's no sociological study, but it certainly gives perspective and it's a good way to start.

"Hillbilly Elegy" is a memoir, the story of a young man who had an upbringing so rough he could have ended up drug addled and dead at a young age. Vance struggled through high school and an uncountable number of temporary fathers. An enlistment in the Marines started a turn around that lead to Yale Law School and then prestigious jobs at white shoe firms that never even crossed the mind of street lawyers like me . Vance believes the presence of strong and loving family members, especially his grandparents and sympathetic mentors made the difference. It's hard to argue, but Vance undervalues his shrewd intellect and a presence that is, on Audible at least, commanding.

Vance's description of the hardscrabble Appalachians and the Ohio rust belt he grew up in; the murderously fierce Scots loyalty that shaped him, his family and his world, fueling and altering recent and ancient history; and the crushing poverty of both places were rocket fuel that drove him but immolated so many more on the launch pad. Vance's memoir is unpitying, but not unsparing . I would guess things were very much worse than he described - maybe not for him, but for his neighbors.

Vance himself called the 2016 Presidential election wrong, assuming the common belief that Clinton would win, "Life Outside the Liberal Bubble" New York Times Opinion page, November 9, 2016. "I thought I was above this divide, and I looked down on the coastal elites for living in their bubble. But I was wrong . . . This election has revealed, above all, that Trump and Clinton voters occupy two separate countries."

If Vance, with his personal experience and far superior education got it wrong, I don't feel quite so stupid. Still uneducated, though. So I'll read more, and maybe I'll find the time to start section hiking the Appalachian Trail next year.

Vance did the narration - and, wow. If that New York Times contributor/best selling author/Yale educated lawyer thing doesn't work out for him, he's got a fall back career as an Audible narrator.

The title of the review is a quote from the book.

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- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-28-2016
  • Publisher: HarperAudio