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Publisher's Summary

Winner, 2017 APA Audie Awards - Nonfiction

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.

©2016 J. D. Vance (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Hillbilly Elegy

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting memoir

J.D. Vance tells his story of his rise from a poor family in Appalachia. He goes on to serve in the Marines, and completes college and Yale Law School. This is mostly a personal story of his family which is both dysfunctional and beloved. It is an intelligent look at life in rural Kentucky and Ohio. In addition, he talks about studies of entrenched rural poverty, and what government can and cannot do. He quotes research and his own life equally. The author goes beyond the stereotypes of hicks and rednecks, and gives us an honest portrait of hillbilly life, for good and bad. I enjoyed this and learned a lot.

60 people found this helpful

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A story about us, but not for us

Mr. Vance writes a moving piece, which brought me to tears on more than one occasion. The great disappointment of the work, however, is that he's written something about us and not for us. Hillbilly Elegy holds up the consequences of three hundred years of Appalachian exploitation, and rather than addressing the causes which yielded these results, he unceremoniously shits on those that suffer them.

If you would like to impress folks in New York or California with some folksy yet tragic stories, then this might be ideal. If you have, what I can assume Mr. Vance would call, the great misfortune of being an Appalachian: you'll find nothing in this book written with you in mind.

48 people found this helpful

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A very real and moving story of real people

I grew up in rural Ohio and was really moved by this book. I recognized many people from where I lived in the cultures and behaviors of the author's family. I can see that pride and frustration in people now. The author does a wonderful job of capturing his love for,and pride in where and who he comes from, while at the same time understanding and explaining how many of those same qualities have led people to trap themselves and be taken advantage of in our modern time. I really got a lot out of this book and I hope JD Vance continues to write. The people of Appalachia and everyone else in this country can use clarity and a voice like his.

47 people found this helpful

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monotonous hyperbole and generalization

the grandchild of a hillbilly goes to Yale against all odds, ignoring incredible privilege. incredible poverty and adversity contrasted against always feeling comfortable in any situation and never going hungry or cold. the book felt, in short, like a college admissions letter - eager to aggrandize and emphasize the difficulties and generalizing their experiences towards hundreds of thousands of people.

- an annoyed rural Ohioan and descendant of hillbillies

25 people found this helpful

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Enlightening!

Would you listen to Hillbilly Elegy again? Why?

Yes. I loved the stories that the author shared. Some were colorful and quaint, others were dark, sad, and disturbing. But a life lived, examined, and improved upon--that is irresistible to me.

What other book might you compare Hillbilly Elegy to and why?

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Have you listened to any of J. D. Vance’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I doubt if J.D. Vance has recorded other performances. One important thing I must point out: a few reveiwers noted that the author/narrator spoke too quickly. I had the opposite reaction. Finally, a narrator who moved along at a decent pace, and who was not more interested in emoting and acting than he was in getting on with the story! This is one of the few author-narrated audio books that I have really enjoyed. Another reviewer made negative comments re the off-colored language used by some of the people in J.D. Vance's autobiography. Sorry, but that's how those individuals expressed themselves. The author wasn't indulging in gratuitous or excessive cursing. What was he supposed to do--censor genuine, pithy remarks and change them to "Gosh darn" or "Gee whiz"? Time to grow up, readers!

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I felt very sad, reading how tough life has been and continues to be for one seldom noticed group of people, those of Scotch-Irish ancestry who proudly call themselves hillbillies. This isn't a group of people who suffer from lack of outside intervention, which they resent and resist, often rightly so. The tragedy is their assumption that their fates are sealed, that life will always be tough, that there is no future outside poverty and drugs and violent upholding of cultural codes. The author was blessed with some caring relatives and friends, who helped him cope with the effects of his cultural inheritance and his mother's substance addictions. The author remade himself through a stint in the Marines, then graduated from college and law school. Yet the effects of his hillbilly upbringing remain and require ongoing understanding, acceptance and modification. I'd like to meet J.D. Vance. He sounds like a remarkable man. Somehow, by his own transformation, he is uniting the best of both the hillbilly culture and modern mores and behaviors.

Any additional comments?

I worked as a nurse for decades. I took care of hundreds of people who had physical problems resulting from mental and emotional issues, often caused by unfortunate childhood experiences. Those who took responsibility for their own condition and fate did well. Those who wallowed in self pity, and who blamed others--family, school, law enforcement, the government--for their problems, never improved. Self pity and blaming others is a trap. Giving in to those two negatives is like crawling into a cave and rolling a stone across the entrance, so that no light can enter. Like the case of J.D. Vance, the only way to a happy, productive life is to accept and understand one's past, work hard in the present, and make positive plans for the future. And the key to all that is to recognize one's own worth. It's hard to feel worthy of a good life, unless we receive enough affection and encouragement along the way. I hope the hillbillies of this world, and all groups and individuals who lack good parents and adequate food, clothing and education, find what they need in other positive forms, like grandparents, teachers and good friends. There is always hope. Sometimes, we have to work hard to find hope. But it's there.

457 people found this helpful

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No

I’m an actual, bona-fide, raised-in-south-eastern-Kentucky-my-whole-life hillbilly and I think you absolutely missed the point, J.D.

17 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

So many truths

Vance's ability to be truthful to his life story and tell it through his fears is remarkable. As a Black Appalachian who is also a social worker and educator trying to help others recognize the humanity in so classified difficult youth, I appreciate the read. But even more importantly I am hopeful that others will pause as they read to take stock in their surroundings - to offer positive words, random actions of kindness, and moments of encouragement to some child, youth, or first generation college student because to alter one's path takes many people along the way. It is not just natural "smarts" or opportunity as many think, it is all the implicit rules of engagement that we never even think about that makes a difference. And as Vance also illustrates even well into adulthood there is much unspoken assistance needed. Great read! Thanks for sharing so freely of yourself.

135 people found this helpful

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White Nationalist author

As seen in his Twitter feed he is an admitted nationalist that is worried about birth rates of white people. The story itself was a typical pull up your boots straps story that once you dig into the details of this suburban-Ohioan-"hillbilly"-nationalist, you question why it is so popular. There are many other real stories that are much better showing the effects of poverty and of people who actually live in Appalachia, not just has family from there. I regret every minute reading this and wish I did a little better research before reading it and regret sending any money to a white nationalist.

14 people found this helpful

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Relevant

Not having Appalachian heritage but growing up in Appalachian Ohio this book articulated so many patterns I've seen in my own communities. While the book does not offer solutions for the problems that face these communities, it names them and that is an important first step for progress. The book also gives a face to the working class and humanizes folks who have been "othered" for far too long.

29 people found this helpful

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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.

441 people found this helpful