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

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.Vance’s grandparents we...

Title:Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis Reviews

  • Jessica

    I read this book as an advance galley, long before it became a Thing and I did not read this book because I wanted Vance to explain Trump, though he's somehow been chosen by liberal media as the person to do just that (though the handful of interviews I saw seemed more like Chris Matthews wanted to pat himself on the back for having a guest with hillbilly cred than actually listening to what Vance had to say). I didn't think this book would have mass appeal because no one outside of Appalachia s

    I read this book as an advance galley, long before it became a Thing and I did not read this book because I wanted Vance to explain Trump, though he's somehow been chosen by liberal media as the person to do just that (though the handful of interviews I saw seemed more like Chris Matthews wanted to pat himself on the back for having a guest with hillbilly cred than actually listening to what Vance had to say). I didn't think this book would have mass appeal because no one outside of Appalachia seems to give a shit about Appalachia, and its success has surprised me. It's not a perfect book, but I do think it's a good starting point as long as you remember that this is just one guy's perspective on his own experiences.

    I picked this up because Vance is from the same part of the world as me and I wanted to read about something that I could relate to. That cover photo looks like it could have been taken on the road that I grew up on, in one of the poorest places in Ohio where Appalachia and the Midwest intersect. It was so poor that a girl who made me cry in first grade was featured on a

    .

    I always knew it was different from the cities and suburbia reflected in pop culture, but moving away and realizing just how different it is from other places was still a weird experience for me. It’s so rural that I struggle to describe it adequately to the people I’ve met since living in Philadelphia and the DC Metro area. It matches stereotypes to some extent, but the stereotypes also often miss the mark. People not from Appalachia really don’t get it, and they’re often way too quick to dismiss it. I never really fit in in Appalachia, for so many different reasons, but I’ll also fiercely defend it. Put me in a room of East-Coast natives making jokes about “uneducated rednecks” and I will probably grow a second head. Poor rural white people are the last group that you can make fun of without being considered un-PC, and I think that’s a huge problem that creates a lot of divisiveness. Books like this one show a culture that is underrepresented.

    Vance grew up in a small town between Cincinnati and Dayton. (TBH, I never really thought of that as Appalachian because Cincinnati is on the opposite side of the state from me, but Vance’s family moved north from Kentucky so of course it is.) His family experienced many of the same migration patterns, cultural touchstones, and poverty-related struggles that describe the lives of my extended family and the families of my high-school peers. His father was never a consistent presence in his life, his mother struggled with drug addiction. His grandparents were the greatest source of normalcy in his life, but they taught him to live by a hillbilly code of loyalty and self-sufficiency. Though they encouraged him to take his education seriously, wanted a better life for him than they’d had, he didn’t do well in school and didn’t seems to think he’d ever have a future outside of Appalachia.

    But then he joined the Marines and it turned his life around. With a new sense of self-determination, a broader perspective of the larger world, and developed leadership skills, Vance enrolled at Ohio State University and, eventually, went on to Yale Law School—an unheard of achievement for someone from his family, his hometown, and his struggling public high school. A lot of the experiences he had in New Haven frustrated him, and that was definitely something I could relate to. However, I think those experiences caused Vance to dig into his conservative values in a way that I can not relate to.

    There's been some sociocultural analysis of Appalachia, but I don't think anything's ever focused so specifically on Appalachia Ohio. That's something that I definitely appreciated as a native. I'm also unaware of any exploration of the region that's actually been done by a native and therefore possesses an insider understanding of what makes the people tick. There really are a lot of very specific personality traits that are unique to the Scots-Irish people who settled in the Ohio River Valley, and these traits make no sense to outsiders. When people talk about how ridiculous it is that West Virginia tends to vote Republican even though it seems to be against their interests, they are fundamentally misunderstanding a lot of these traits that are so ingrained in the psychology of the state and that frustrates me to no end.

    Vance focuses primarily on his own personal story. He does cite some research about the region in general—but this is mostly for context and is not meant to be exhaustive. I think it’s important to remember that Vance is conservative, though he doesn’t seem to be as far right-wing as the Tea Party, so his ideas may not appeal to the point of view of many liberals coming to this book trying to make sense of Trump. By giving this book four stars, that’s not to say I necessarily agree with his political point of view but I think it’s important to hear different voices.

    Vance makes an attempt to extrapolate from his own experience to explain why "simple" social welfare is not enough to help address the problems of Appalachia. The short answer is: there are no easy solutions, because so many of the problems are circular. People don't succeed because they don't see anything to be hopeful about, and they don't see any room for hope because so few have succeeded. Without hope, no one bothers to take baby steps towards the kind of changes that can move the region into a better economic reality. I think some people see that as blaming the poor for being poor—which is a thing that happens and is a gross oversimplification—but I do think there are both internal and external factors at play here.

    I do wish I'd come away from this book feeling a little more optimistic, that it offered up some more concrete solutions, but I suppose that wasn't really Vance's stated purpose. And it's not really something that falls squarely on his shoulders. He's still young—just 31, he likely only finished Yale two years before this book was written, if I've done the math correctly. Perhaps "concrete" is something that he can bring with some more time? Or maybe he's just not the guy that's going to be bring "concrete." Regardless, I do think it's important to listen to the voices of Appalachia. Change is never going to happen until we all start listening to each other and not just applying our own prejudices to each other's words.

  • Diane S ☔

    Possibly the most timely read of the year, here in the United States. Not just a sociological view of this group of people I had heard nor read little about, but the experiences of a young man raised in this environment and pulled himself out, though he does acknowledge to receiving much help along the way. This book enlightens the reader about the huge disparity in thinking between those making the leas and those receiving the benefits of these laws, which probably hinder more than help. His st

    Possibly the most timely read of the year, here in the United States. Not just a sociological view of this group of people I had heard nor read little about, but the experiences of a young man raised in this environment and pulled himself out, though he does acknowledge to receiving much help along the way. This book enlightens the reader about the huge disparity in thinking between those making the leas and those receiving the benefits of these laws, which probably hinder more than help. His story, his journey is inspirational, his thoughts provoking, and his story clear, concise and well told. The working class is seriously under represented in this country, and lack of knowledge and insight is a huge factor in why this has happened. Learned helplessness, a very good term and one it is hard to disagree with.

    He makes it clear that he loves his family, warts and all but his special connection and the help he received from his memaw was priceless. She was his saving grace. Some of his family members, an aunt, his sister, have broken the chain of drug use, alcoholism, many partners in and out, as they both have long marriages behind them. Vance does go into some sociological aspects, explains the exodus of many from his small Kentucky town to Ohio, jobs offered by the new steel mill being the draw, the problems those who moved away from their families experienced. All in all this is a very informative book, Vance's story both harrowing and touching in turns.

  • Jon

    2016 is the year of Donald Trump, and J.D. Vance's

    should be at the top of every politico and thought leader's reading list living in the Acela corridor. Vance is both an excellent writer and a thoughtful person—and when combined with a compelling story, he's able to shed some light on the lives of those living on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains.

    Let's start with what this book isn't. It's not an explanation of why Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, or at least no

    2016 is the year of Donald Trump, and J.D. Vance's

    should be at the top of every politico and thought leader's reading list living in the Acela corridor. Vance is both an excellent writer and a thoughtful person—and when combined with a compelling story, he's able to shed some light on the lives of those living on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains.

    Let's start with what this book isn't. It's not an explanation of why Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, or at least not directly. Nor is it a guide for how to alleviate Appalachian poverty. Vance is too smart to offer simplistic explanations or solutions. Rather, it is one man's experience living in the culture of Appalachia and placing his experience in the broader context of American society. It is the fact that he

    try to do too much that makes this book as compelling as it is.

    Vance grew up in southeastern Ohio and eastern Kentucky, largely raised by his grandmother (Mamaw) and having a complicated relationship with his family members.

    is a story that demonstrates the full measure of the brokenness that wracks Appalachia, but it is also a story that exemplifies the depths of familial love and opportunity.

    Vance's description of Yale Law School is interesting, because while he portrays it as an institution in which he feels out of place (very few people from poor backgrounds go to Yale Law School), he also was afforded the opportunity to go there. That tension—the fact that he managed to "beat the odds" while still acknowledging the deep cultural divide between elite institutions and wide swaths of middle America (the region of the United States sometimes derisively referred to as "flyover country")—pervades the book and ultimately makes it such an important book.

    For that tension exists not merely in the people like Vance who have a foot in both worlds—one in southeastern Ohio with his hillbilly family and the other in downtown San Francisco working for an investment fund. It also exists in the United States writ large, as college-educated urbanites express confusion at the values of those outside of their spheres. There are, therefore, two Americas—one divided less by race or geography (though those certainly matter), but by class and values. In order to break down those barriers, we need books like

    and people like Vance to help us build bridges across those cultural barriers we have today.

  • Bill  Kerwin

    Have you ever wondered what became of the Scotch-Irish, who dug America’s coal, forged America’s steel and built America’s automobiles, who worked for the American Dream Monday through Friday. prayed to The Good Lord on Sunday, and revered F.D.R. and J.F.K. every day of the week? The last thing I heard, they elected Donald Trump. And I am still looking for explanations.

    If you want somebody who knows Appalachian culture

    to explain it all to you, I highly recommend

    by

    Have you ever wondered what became of the Scotch-Irish, who dug America’s coal, forged America’s steel and built America’s automobiles, who worked for the American Dream Monday through Friday. prayed to The Good Lord on Sunday, and revered F.D.R. and J.F.K. every day of the week? The last thing I heard, they elected Donald Trump. And I am still looking for explanations.

    If you want somebody who knows Appalachian culture

    to explain it all to you, I highly recommend

    by J.D. Vance. Vance has his roots in Eastern Kentucky, a troubled childhood in the rustbelt city of Middletown, Ohio, and yet has succeeded in graduating from Ohio State and matriculating from The Yale Law School. He tells us about his family of “crazy hillbillies,” and, in the process of telling us the story of his family, he tells us the story of America too.

    The hillbilly seeking the American Dream in industrial Ohio was always “a stranger in a strange land”, for he cleaved to his Appalachian identity—the church in the wildwood, the old folks in the hollers—and returned to the welcoming hills every chance he could get. But economic decline left its mark on both mountain culture and urban manufacturing. Opportunities shrunk, hard liquor was supplemented by painkillers and heroin, church attendance fell and so did belief in the American Dream.

    J.D.’s were most powerful influences were his grandparents Mamaw and Papaw: fierce, hard-drinking battlers with a proud belief in individual honor and family solidarity. They might beat their kids, sure, only when they deserved it...but no outsider better say one harsh word to them, much less lay a finger on them. They probably did their own children little good—especially J.D.’s mother, addicted to heroin and a bewildering succession of men—but by the time J.D. needed them they had mellowed a little, and gave him the love and determination he needed to succeed.

    The early chapters about family are compelling, but the last few chapters, touching on the cultural hurdles a hillbilly in a high class East Coast law school must overcome, are fascinating too. J.D. shows us how many things the upper middle class takes for granted—how to dress for an interview, how to schmooze a prospective employer, how to strive for what you really want not what you’re supposed to want—are difficult for a young man from a poor background.

    J.D. Vance’s insights are noteworthy not only because of his family background but also because of his political philosophy. He is a conservative, one of those cautious, reflective conservatives who are growing increasingly rare these days. (Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is one of his heroes, David Frum is a former employer and mentor). He is critical of specific government practices (the high barriers grandparent’s face if they wish to be foster parents, for example), but he also realizes that government has a role—although limited—in raising the Appalachian people from poverty. The major responsibility, however, he puts squarely on the shoulders on the hillbilly himself:

  • Elizabeth

    ...

    Why is this guy the darling of the talk show circuit right now? He thinks his fellow hillbillies just need to work harder. Problem solved! He thinks because he made it everyone else should be able to do the same. He asserts social programs won't help his

    but then

    ...

    Why is this guy the darling of the talk show circuit right now? He thinks his fellow hillbillies just need to work harder. Problem solved! He thinks because he made it everyone else should be able to do the same. He asserts social programs won't help his

    but then is short on solutions.

    ...

    True- so when he is asked in interviews and by the media about Trump's appeal he needs to be more honest. He indicates that it is because Trump is a political outsider & not part of the political elite, speaks to their issues, & sounds like one of them. He doesn't talk about the racism & xenophobia that is much a part of

    . That is also part of Trump's appeal & needs to be included in his narrative.

  • Candace

    First and foremost, let me say that I am not a big non-fiction reader. Every once in a while, I need a change of pace or something catches my eye that isn't my typical smutty romance. Sometimes it works out for me and I learn something new. Other times, the "enlightening" read is about as entertaining as having a lobotomy. Sadly, this book fell into the latter category for me.

    I picked up 'Hillbilly Elegy' because the blurb sounded interesting enough and I really don't know much about the Appalac

    First and foremost, let me say that I am not a big non-fiction reader. Every once in a while, I need a change of pace or something catches my eye that isn't my typical smutty romance. Sometimes it works out for me and I learn something new. Other times, the "enlightening" read is about as entertaining as having a lobotomy. Sadly, this book fell into the latter category for me.

    I picked up 'Hillbilly Elegy' because the blurb sounded interesting enough and I really don't know much about the Appalachian people. To be clear, watching 'Deliverance' (or that TV show where they make moonshine in the woods) is just about all of the exposure that I had to the people from that region of the country. Needless to say, I am pretty ignorant of this particular subculture in the United States.

    I had hoped that listening to this audiobook would provide me with a little insight. I figured that the portrayals of the Appalachian people I'd seen were probably grossly exaggerated in order to increase ratings. I didn't believe that the reality could be so bleak or, for lack of a better term, "trashy". Being born in the deep south, I'm very familiar with the way that entire region is often falsely portrayed as being filled with ignorant, uneducated rednecks. I assumed that the same is true for the Appalachian region.

    That being said, if the people of Appalachia aren't as "trashy" as they are portrayed on TV, you would never know it from reading this book. If anything, J. D. Vance's autobiographical account of growing up in his hillbilly home only reinforced every negative stereotype that I know of regarding this subculture. Simply put, this book read like a low-class nightmare.

    His family was violent, uneducated and proud of breaking the law. Drug and alcohol addiction, as well as chronic unemployment and abuse of the welfare system were common themes. His mother was a real piece of work, with men coming and going with greater frequency than she'd change her underwear. Every time his Mamaw would say something I'd cringe, even though she clearly was the most loving and supportive person in his life. It was nearly unbearable.

    However, this wasn't a book meant to entertain. This book was written to shed some light on the cultural differences that have resulted in social and economic decline in this region of the country. J. D. Vance certainly shed light on some important social aspects that I was oblivious to before listening to this audiobook.

    His observations regarding the closed-off nature, and the pride of this group of people, was especially relevant to the discussion. I also appreciated his candid discussion of a declining work ethic, sense of helplessness, domestic violence and abuse of the welfare system. He also offered some insight into some of the networking habits of the wealthy, which are largely neglected by the poor.

    Although there were some things that I really enjoyed about this book, it was mostly like a slow death by audiobook. As a reader that has a strong preference for fiction, namely smutty romance, I'm probably not the best judge though. If the Appalachian people really are half as depressing as this book makes them out to be, all I can say is that I want to steer clear of that abysmal region. This book was really sad and a whole lot of trashy. Kudos to the author for rising above it.

    Check out more of my reviews at

  • Elyse

    Audiobook

    My local book club will be discussing this book this month. I'll be attending- I almost took a 'pass'. I'm really glad I didn't.

    THE CONTROVERSY and DISCUSSIONS from reviews on Goodreads is already ENGAGING!!!! Seriously, I spent more time reading through every review - and all the comments on THIS BOOK - more than any book in all my years on Goodreads.

    My interest elevated - and my emotions were entangled. The passion of expression from people about this book - positive and negative -

    Audiobook

    My local book club will be discussing this book this month. I'll be attending- I almost took a 'pass'. I'm really glad I didn't.

    THE CONTROVERSY and DISCUSSIONS from reviews on Goodreads is already ENGAGING!!!! Seriously, I spent more time reading through every review - and all the comments on THIS BOOK - more than any book in all my years on Goodreads.

    My interest elevated - and my emotions were entangled. The passion of expression from people about this book - positive and negative - both - shook me up in a way that's hard to explain. Julie's review had me in tears. April's review deepen my compassion for pure courage. Diane first brought awareness to me that this is a "timely" book, Rae express Mamaw and Papaw sooo lovely - ( I melted again reading about them especially after having my own experience too)... and Melora brought up points that I spent time thinking about. My entire review could be about my inspiration from something everyone else has said.

    So.... I'm going to express random notes:

    I WAS engaged while listening to Vance's Appalachian roots in Eastern Kentucky and the rust-belt city of Middletown, Ohio. Although he grew up in an unstable family --(abuse, abandonment, and poverty)-- his grandparents ( Mamaw and Papaw), were strong positive influences. It was hard NOT to give Vance my full attention with the type of stories he was sharing.

    Vance has a VERY PLEASANT AUTHENTIC SOUNDING speaking voice by the way. He is very 'easy-on-the-ears'.

    Half way through this audiobook---I started to notice a problem beginning with the title of the book. If the title were "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir".. that would have been. Enough!!!!

    Once he added family -Culture - and Crisis into the title.....my expectations as a reader was different than and ordinary memoir'.

    So, the intentions of this book - memoir - purpose - cautionary tale - all get a little blurry. What we 'mostly' get is a straight memoir.

    BUT.... at some point I started having so much fun--- ( fun not being the best word for all this tragedy)...but yes I started enjoying listening to Vance so much I no longer cared what the name of this book was--or even his purpose. My first belly laugh came when he wanted to stick a golf club in a guys ear. I actually liked when Vance used profanity, because it seemed against his character to who he is or the experience I was getting from him anyway.... His voice sounds so darn level headed - kind -inappropriate and smart- that I actually had a hard time imagining him being the little kid of some of these horrific things he was telling us. Something about hearing it, as opposed to reading it... from a very successful conservative responsible American -- kinda blew my mind.

    I'm glad I listened to the audiobook. It wasn't a picnic hearing about how his mother physically beat him, but I sure was touched by his love for his sister. It's inspiring to listen to Vance share his story - his thoughts - and he did contribute some awareness about the culture......."ALL RICH PEOPLE PLAY GOLF"... ( you can laugh now... but he does talk about this)... It's all a little funny.

    For me....it comes down to --in the end --I basically really like the guy. He touched my heart.

    I also want to thank so many people for 'their' reviews--readers here on Goodreads -- all your reviews and comments made a big difference to me. This is really a community book in my opinion.

  • Julie

    Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance is a 2016 Harper publication.

    When I first noticed this book popping up on Goodreads, I admit the title really threw me. I hate that word ‘hillbilly’ because it sounds derisive and conjures up stereotypes. But, then, I noticed the reviews were stellar for the most part, and so I took a closer look.

    Once I finished reading this book, I was stunned. I actually shed tears, and nearly talked myself out of leaving a comment at all. But, my husband convinced me to at leas

    Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance is a 2016 Harper publication.

    When I first noticed this book popping up on Goodreads, I admit the title really threw me. I hate that word ‘hillbilly’ because it sounds derisive and conjures up stereotypes. But, then, I noticed the reviews were stellar for the most part, and so I took a closer look.

    Once I finished reading this book, I was stunned. I actually shed tears, and nearly talked myself out of leaving a comment at all. But, my husband convinced me to at least say my peace, even if I lost every friend I had on Goodreads. When one makes a stand, they must be prepared for the consequences- but I hope I still have all my friends after this rant is done. But, hubby is right. This needs to get said, so here goes.

    First of all, let me say, that Vance is a prime example of what I have taught my children to believe. I have often spoken out about those who make excuses for why they ended up living a life of crime, or wound up stuck in a vicious economic cycle. Vance made some solid decisions and was able to move away from a bleak and depressed area and the rather colorful upbringing he had, managed to find a way to garner, not just a solid education, but an Ivy League education, and is now working at a white collar job, living the American dream. He is obviously very proud of his achievements, and I am proud for him. But, I do think his Ivy League status has gone to his head just a little bit.

    What rubbed me the wrong way about this book, is Mr. Vance’s tone. He puts down anyone who works a blue collar job as though that is the worst thing that could ever befall someone. He is arrogant, patronizing and superior in his assessment of his family and those who reside in the Appalachians, but doesn't stop there, insinuating anyone who works blue collar jobs should be earnestly seeking a way out of that embarrassing predicament.

    Now, I do not live in that area, I have never even visited the area. But, I do know all about depressed locations, with schools that suffer from low funding, where parents do not necessarily stress formal education to their children, where factory work is always available, and is the staple of and the sole source of income for the community. I understand, and agree with Mr. Vance’s concerns for these areas and the sparse opportunities these folks have, the attitudes they convey, and their defensiveness at times.

    But, on the other hand….

    My husband and I are both blue collar workers. I worked in supermarket management until I retired. My husband worked on a dairy farm, then went on to work for two local factories. He has done this type of work his entire life, but he makes a good living, has a decent health care package, and something many people coming out of universities do not: a strong work ethic, principles, and integrity.

    So, I felt Vance’s remarks on blue collar employment were unfair. I know many people who work right alongside my husband who have college educations. They do not sit at a desk, where a suit, carry a briefcase, or make more money that we do. They have a job, and are happy and thankful to have it.

    But, not everyone is college material, and not everyone wants to sit in a cubicle behind a desk all day. My husband would be miserable in such a position. He enjoys working with his hands, is creative, artistic, and can put even the most tech savvy people to shame with his computer skills.

    But to suggest a person who could not get loans for college or grants or scholarships, who settled into a long term position doing blue collar work should be embarrassed by the life they live, and should be ashamed of themselves for not getting up off their sorry, no good, lazy asses to do better for themselves or their families, is an arrogant presumption and groups together a whole lot of people, and stereotypes them, unfairly, and I felt like I had been personally slapped by the author, as he looks down his nose at blue collar work, with an air of superiority, deciding on our behalf what path our lives should take, and what is best for us, the environment we should we live in, the types of jobs we should hold, and what will make us the happiest.

    I have all my teeth,( no Mountain Dew mouth here), I never beat my kids, or screamed obscenities at them, caused a scene in public, had numerous ‘men’ in my life, packed a pistol, dipped tobacco, or neglected my children. I was never a drug addict, or alcoholic. I have never hit someone, encouraged violence, or praised it. I hate bullying of any kind and believe there are far better ways to solve problems or conflict, than resorting to violence.

    I am an honest, law abiding, tax paying citizen the same as you. I watch the same movies, read the same books, and enjoy the same leisure activities you do. I travel, garden, am an animal rights advocate, fight for women’s rights, and have feminist tendencies. I raised two decent human beings, one of which is in college, the other taking a different path, but both are productive citizens making good money, and are living positive and moral lives.

    I live in a nice brick home, have newer model cars, a nice landscaped lawn, and live in a nice neighborhood, and insist on living inside my means, which means having to say no to things I want sometimes. My hometown is a rural, college town, with ranching and dairy work being predominant occupations as well four factories, and the college, which also provides job opportunities. Many people who left here to get their educations, returned to start or raise their families. They WANT to live here, LIKE living here and are as upwardly mobile as they wish to be. They could leave anytime and move to the city, but enjoy the slower pace of life, the sense of community, the value systems we adhere to, and a clean, safe environment for their children.

    I know wealthy, highly educated people who suffer from drug addiction, problems with alcohol, are abusive, physically and verbally, who neglect their kids, have epic entitled hissy fits, yelling and screaming in public when they didn’t get their way, and instill a sense of entitlement on their children, who give little or nothing back to their communities, and believe it not, support the republican candidate!! They have numerous affairs, cheat, lie, steal, and blend families with the best of them,many of the exact same actions, qualities and traits Mr. Vance was so embarrassed by from his own family.

    I did not miss the moral of Vance’s story, but I did find his deliverance less than impressive, and the timing of this release is not lost on me. Is this a political statement, a plea for those in rural areas not to buy into Trump’s rhetoric? I mean, after all, those of us working blue collar jobs, without the benefit of a formal education must be easily misled by all of the republican candidate's promises, lies, and claims, right? I’m not sure, if the author was trying to make a statement on that concern, but others seem to believe he was, and for the record, we do not support the republican candidate, not that this is anyone's business, but because this author seems to have figured out which way I lean based on my economic, educational and professional background, I thought I'd mention it.

    But, here is my question. After everything has been said and done, what solution or resolution is Vance offering for the plight of those living in the depressed areas of the Appalachians? You can’t call attention to a blight, but offer no alternatives, or suggestions on how to change things for the better.

    So, there you go. I hope you won’t think less of me now because my family lives in a small rural town, and has worked blue collar jobs all our lives and have little or no formal education, or think of me as some ignorant backwoods person, who is too stupid to see past all the political rhetoric, or is morally bankrupt, or a pistol toting grandma with a wad of chewing tobacco in my mouth full of rotting teeth. I’m not depressed, or unhappy, nor do I wish to be pitied. I try to learn something new all the time, I strive to better myself, to stay up to date and informed, try new things, but I must do this by teaching myself, and there is nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.

    I fully expect to be chastised for my response to this book, will probably lose the respect of some, or many, maybe all of you, but I felt like I had to stand up for those who are not white collar workers after Vance made it clear he holds such positions in contempt and with disdain, and believes those of us who are employed in these positions are shameful, an embarrassment, a blight on this country, and should strive for a different life, one just like his, one he can endorse.

    I don’t like being placed in a category or box this way, and don’t appreciate the suggestion that because I have little formal education, or am not working in a white collar occupation, that automatically makes me poor ignorant white trash, someone in need of guidance, a republican, and a conservative, or a Trump supporter. To assume such is, for all intents and purposes, classist and profiling, and that is the thing that turned me off about this book.

    On a more positive note, I loved his grandmother!! Go MaMaw! I thought she was a pistol- if you will pardon the pun, and she obviously loved her grandson, which is something from his past the author should be proud of.

    2 stars

  • Christy

    Hell hath no fury like a strong Protestant Work Ethic without work.

    Okay – that was my original, but it should have been Vance’s! Instead, he mostly blamed the poor for being poor, lazy, and generally culpable for all (and few) choices. No wonder anger and angst filled their days and nights, and they needed drugs, alcohol, and violence to trigger some brief if dysfunctional relief. Vance was born right after the decades of American prosperity post WWII when if you wanted a job you simply got one

    Hell hath no fury like a strong Protestant Work Ethic without work.

    Okay – that was my original, but it should have been Vance’s! Instead, he mostly blamed the poor for being poor, lazy, and generally culpable for all (and few) choices. No wonder anger and angst filled their days and nights, and they needed drugs, alcohol, and violence to trigger some brief if dysfunctional relief. Vance was born right after the decades of American prosperity post WWII when if you wanted a job you simply got one. Vance sneering that people do not realize how lazy they are and presenting that human failure as a social problem indicates a lack of understanding both who the poor are and what they do in the US, as well as what has happened to the industrial Midwest. President Elect Trump negotiated last week with Carrier to keep 1000 jobs in the Rustbelt or “rustexit” (as Michael Moore correctly called it as a vote bloc) area of Indiana. Paul Krugman calculated that even “if Trump did a Carrier-style deal every week for the next 4 years, he could bring back 4% of the manufacturing jobs lost since 2000.” For the greater Middletown, Ohio area that Vance is from it’s not about shoring up an ailing, regional economy but rather to face the demise of an economy that has drastically changed what Max Weber called generational “life chances”, including the perception and reality of those.

    Middletown, OH is only about 50 miles from where I was born in Muncie, IN and where I still have a large, extended family, so I relate quite strongly to his story, although my "hillbilly" family, also a mix of working- and middle-class, was quite the opposite of his often violent and abusive one. Indeed, while I’m fully aware of domestic violence and drug abuse statistics, I’m not sure we should take his family as generalizable although it’s a familiar rendition of the typical, “poor White trash” family (an ethos that stretches from the lowest rungs of socio-economic status through some parts of the middle-class, as with Vance’s family). Does his story warrants the blanket acceptance that this is what people in this area are like? The real story is the downward mobility of the US middle class back to the working class, not the lack of hard work or enough hard work by the poor who were and aspired to stay McWASPs, as is said (Middle-class, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and a smattering of upwardly-mobile Catholics. Vance’s family and mine share a geographically similar notch along the Bible Belt, a Kryptonite mix of mostly German, English, Irish, Scots, and French stock.

    I wish Vance would have described our cultural geography more directly for what is it – the US South. The ethos of the South geographically sits like a triangle encompassing all “deep South” states then narrows while shooting up hari-kari-style right through to the Northern border with Canada, encompassing the ethos and ideology of Nixon’s racist “southern strategy” that includes part the Rustbelt states of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and those environs. Urban centers are different (but Indianapolis the “the South”, believe me…) but let no one forget that Indiana was the birthplace of the KKK, after all. Vance joins a large bloc of other lower- through middle-class Whites in the Rustbelt area of the "South" that deny the impact of race and nativism on their ideology, behavior, and vote.

    Patriotism, military, and militarized police states seem normal and something to respect in my extended family, too, although my own set of parents were less so. Bitter resentment and multi-levels of “trigger happy” reactions (with actual guns and also their anger) physicality was similar – I was the size and strength of my linebacker dad so relished all the wrestling we regularly did with both children and adults involved. We played hard and rough, stopping only when somebody got hurt. Even then, men would tell crying children with a hurt arm, for example, to “wipe it off”, as if the pain would then stop. Even though many in my family were hunters, I didn’t know anybody who carried guns on their person, nor the similar ‘trigger happy” personalities, ready to grab their guns or spit the f-word with threats if somebody looked at them or their kin “wrong”.

    My family also shared Vance’s fierce loyalty, but embraced the opposite of his family’s fear and suspicion of “outsiders” and strangers. There were some fights, but generally issues were talked out, sometimes loudly, then the modeled behavior was to laugh and move on. The laughing part was key, and I hope Vance got some of that. Vance’s family often had a violent or abusive element featuring how Mamaw was threatening to virtually all others outside her family. Several weeks after reading, Mamaw seems a bit less funny or lovable. Yes, she was clearly the main entertainment in the book, and she was Vance’s “rock”. While we can be grateful for that, but I don’t think that Appalachian women generally use the f-word in every sentence like she did, and I didn’t know anybody then who carried guns on their person, even though most all were hunters and my uncle owned a large gun shop. Some of Mamaw and his mom seems more like mental illness the further out I go from this reading, and I’m not sure we can take it as “hillbilly” common.

    As girls of 7 and 9, and right before my own nuclear family of six schismed away from the “clan” out to Wyoming, we took a summer-long class at a local university called White Gloves and Party Manners. Here, aspirational working-to-middle class Whites in the late 60s learned etiquette, genteel politeness. My grandparents and parents were taught to be social, to engage people directly and fearlessly, but with civility and a laugh, if possible. I wonder if Vance was blaming culture or genes on the possible mental illness in his family? I remember some powerful fights – more with words but sometimes physical - in and out of my family in that Indiana small town, but it wasn’t typical or common. We all worked hard and played hard. Starting at age 16, even though I should have focused on academics (and getting out of high school and into college early) I worked at K-Mart merging full-time work, full-time school, and full-time social life (with youth exquisitely wasted on youth, surely). Working hard is what everybody did, although it was a generation before Vance’s when everybody was employed (including the Blacks on the other side of the tracks in the small city down the road from our small town.

    My Grandma repeatedly said that there were two kind of people, the "here I am!" and the "there you are!" type, and reminded us grandkids that WE are the latter! Her ethics and manners were, as females are still socialized, of a selfless focus on the other. She also told my mother than a kindly Black woman they passed and chatted with on the street “couldn’t help that she was Black”, and was a nice woman. She told me we must be nice to Black people, but “we’d NEVER marry a Black, as that would be unfair to the children!” She had trained to teach elementary school, and I was in awe when she was “installed” as some Grand Queen of the Masonic Temple. This was back when social capital was strong and created and accumulated as most adults in the US were involved with some kind of community or social groups, whether Lion’s Club, Masons, or just a bowling league, as Robert Putnam uses as a metaphor in

    . My Grandpa repeatedly said, "you're entitled to my opinion, even if it's wrong!" With his high school education before the Army, he'd figured out the need for a tolerant relativism in a pluralistic, civil society, yet also realized without studying moral development theory that judgment or some kind of stance always should come back into play, too.

    Much of the strength of Vance’s descriptions lie in how vulnerable are our children in one of the wealthiest countries of the world with only thin policies and support for the family that struggles to take care of itself, by itself. I often ask undergraduates if they believe that we've set up our country to "do" family well - to support them staying intact. Virtually all of them disagree. Vance is right to ask what role culture played in his family’s plight, but it’s really the abuse, violence, and drug addiction for which I hold the culture accountable well over individual choice. An important study to me was one on the variable of resiliency for children – what creates it, enforces it, and erodes it. Resiliency here included perceptions of safety, well-being, and the potential for self-advocacy. I was taken that a “resiliency index” was strongest for children that believed that there exist two adults that would do anything for them - that essentially "had their backs". These adults did not have to be heterosexual parents, or even relatives, or even nearby, but the child was secure in the knowledge that one of "their" people, even if halfway around the world, would do whatever they could to get to the child if needed.

    Ultimately, this is all that Vance describes – a memoir (as he correctly titles), an auto-biography, not social science (it’s a problem this is categorized as “sociology”) as the story is based on the perceptual arc of a single individual spinning through his own life. Even though Vance discusses and sometimes argues about recollections he discussed (especially with his sister, as I recall) this is basically a “sample size of one” (as social theorist Peggy McIntosh said she wished to rehabilitate). It is a biography. Why is this important? Because I suspect his family was not the typical “Appalachian Scot Irish” as he insisted they, and he, were throughout the work. There were just as many Germans and English as Scot-Irish, or even just Irish, in the tri-state area where Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana join and from where both our families hailed. Certainly, there was much mixing of White ethics during the approximately six-to-ten generations from the 17th- and 18th-century Scot-Irish migration until Vance’s birth in the late 20th century. To understand the ethnic enclaves that did survive into the 20th century and the mix of White Ethnics are make up our Midwest roots, I’d suggest (rise of the…) I am interested to get the Ancestry DNA test at some point, to see what percentages I am of German-English-Scot-Irish and French, and perhaps Vance should take the test, too, to see how strong or “pure” his Scot-Irish roots really are.

    I was annoyed at how Vance inserted data to back up his view of his family and the community, and seemed to over-generalize with them. Still, the problem is more with what “sociology” has become, where anyone can quickly rake the coals of their particular foci through the research e-bases, and wrap theory around their anecdotes. I could not get a sense of the research tidbits he scattered through this, but do hope some younger sociologists are following up with better statistical data. I sensed he had considerable loathing for his family and other like types in his community, and, by extension, himself? I believe he was trying to be honest, and I appreciated his sardonic and deprecating humor. Surely he, like me, were taught to try to do good acts while trying not to take much of life too seriously. My parents constantly say, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, so perhaps that life stance may be a Midwestern defense mechanism, too.

    The crime, truly, is that so many women in his family were pregnant much too early. Instead of casting that as part of a problem with either the “culture” or the “family”, he tends to shade his view of his mother as an object of pure disdain for low or missing morals, essentially a prostitute, with a rotating door of boyfriends and husbands and the threat of domestic violence almost often present. We know that, for example, teen mothers have greater risk, statistically, of lack of education, under- and unemployment, and domestic violence. In the US, close to a third of US teenagers are pregnant by age 19, and with just a third of those ending in abortions at this point – a number down considerably. The US teen pregnancy rate is 5-6 times higher than that in comparable European countries, with no less sexually active teens but with comprehensive sex education and access to birth control. As the AAUW noted several decades ago, sex education is “Civil Rights” for women, but in many Conservative, more rural areas of the US it is a joke. I did appreciate how Vance learned “never say never” and while enforcing strict boundaries against his mother for his own psychological well-being, he also decided he should help his mom. I fear Vance didn’t see that Mamaw viciously hating each of the men that came in and out of her daughter’s life was likely the projected pain of limited opportunity in Mamaw’s own life.

    Remember that Late Capitalism started with its Golden Era post-WWII, when people like his Pawpaw got jobs just by going out and getting one. By the time Vance was born, it was almost a decade after the “falling rate of profit” for capitalism, and the “land of plenty” was in terms of good jobs. “Choice” enjoys a consistent reign as a central metaphor for hyper-individualism in capitalism. Vance is right that individual accountability matters, but “it’s the economy, stupid”, and he errs on the side of blaming the community and the individuals within it for their plight. As others have noted, and how advertising by FOX News confirms, the worst part of this book is how racism and race resentment among lower- to middle-class Whites, largely un- or under-educated in the Midwest, is hidden and denied. I assume this was Vance’s conscious decision, and he even said something to the effect of not focusing on race (can we say asserting White Privilege with impunity?)

    I slowly went numb with the awareness that Trump would likely pull it off when I realized summer before last that every single member of my extended family in the Indiana was voting for him. This included a large number of Liberal- to Conservative-Methodists (the latter more devout), a good number of evangelist-fundamentalists, and even the younger, non-religious, and even apolitical ones. The hypocrisy of the White evangelicals voting for Trump was made possible by nativist-racist fear, the thing that Vance said makes little difference. Rust-belt, moderate Christianity has been on a trajectory to the right over the last couple generations, and that movement certainly quickened with this election. My cousins generally found the American Dream and are doing as well economically as our parents, but it looks considerably bleaker for the next generation, made more scared (and thus Conservative) as those that went to college face overwhelming student loans and few prospects for jobs that will keep them in the middle-class. I’m skeptical of how typical is Vance’s family of violence, abuse, and suspicion (and I share details of mine from the same ‘hood) and am taken on how other reviewers just assume Vance’s family is typical and generalizable. While I tried to parse out both similarities and differences between our families, I would add to the former the assumption that Vance’s family voted for Trump as did mine. One of the best summaries about what has happened to “our” people in the Midwest and how there are no easy answers was right after the election in The Atlantic here:

    .

    For my money, there are many better reads to understand Midwest poverty, including

    that I briefly reviewed. In the US, blaming the poor for being poor is an art form. We're socialized to blame it on individual "choices" and lack of "responsibility" rather than the social structural causes of poverty. Most in the US don't know who the poor are, so they accept Vance’s characterization of masses of lazy people not working at all. Census data from 2010 shows us that 80% of US homes are of are "working poor" (in which at least one adult works at least part-time – often seasonal or piecemeal) and not the benefit-collecting "welfare poor". Many don’t realize that a family of four does not meet the technical definition of poor if it makes over about $25K/year in income. Michael Higgins'

    on views of poverty argues that we tend to have two answers to the question of "why poverty?": either the social-structural or individual causes. Both views, however, rest of the notion of fate: the mistaken notion and validation of middle-class ideology that poverty is a hopeless, insurmountable social condition.

    This was only my second “book on tape”, but I’m looking forward to my next one. With six CDs, it took about 9 hours and was a relaxing way to pass the commuting time over several weeks. If anybody would like it, I’d be happy to drop it in the mail if you’d PM me with your address.

  • Lauren Cecile

    Very candid account of growing up disadvantaged and white. The parallels between his demographic and a historically, systematically marginalized Black America are evident. Both populations deserve understanding and empathy, but I tend to think the author thinks his people are somehow more noble. I would have like to seen an acknowledgment that the two groups should not be antagonistic but work together to achieve mutually beneficial economic goals.


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