Hillbilly Elegy

A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Narrated by: J. D. Vance
Length: 6 hrs and 49 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.5 out of 5 stars (169 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What listeners say about Hillbilly Elegy

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Great book, insightful and well written.

an inspiring story, personal and honest. Lessons we all can learn from and be inspired by.

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Honest and thought-provoking

The best feature of the book is the author's honesty in sharing his stories. While the conclusions drawn in the book are debatable, the nature of the arguments are intelligent and well-thought of, and can help drive a good conversation on what upward mobility means to those in the working class.

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Fabulous mix of autobiography and social analysis read by the author

I always enjoy autobiographies read by the author and this was an exceptionally good one. Amazing life story surviving incredible poverty and family challenges but also some robust thinking and analysis about what makes a difference and how things work.

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Engaging story with surprisingly excellent narrati

I have listened to a number of books narrated by the author, and this has perhaps the best narration of any of them. Typically, I feel like the benefits of listening to the author tell their own story more than offset their lack of polish as a narrator - but in this case there is no tradeoff, Vance is a clear spoken and engaging narrator in his own right.

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Wonderful book.

This book gave me a better understanding and I g of my own life and failures. It is more a self help kind of book as one of literary significance. Well written and it answers so many of the questions to socio-economic problems we are trying to solve.

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The strangely familiar reality of the American dream

If your like me and your searching for answers about today's world and how to succeed , then J.D Vance takes you closer to the door step of your enlightenment and freedom.

The book is a memoir of an American white man that is rarely shared that transcends race and unites the poor/working class and their struggle for upward social mobility that is strangely familiar.

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hilarious

hilarious but original. an ordinary story that everyone can relate to. I so recommend this book

1 person found this helpful

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  • Miss
  • 11-15-16

SUPERB, insightful and addictive - a must listen

In the wake of this new Brexit and Trump reality, I've been looking for books, documentaries and articles to try and understand more about all the viewpoints and reasons for voting either way, regardless of which side of the fence I personally fall - my overwhelming sense is one of a deep lack of communication and consideration between any one part of society and the others.

This audiobook delivers insight and sensitivity in SPADES and I'm so glad I listened. The story of JD Vance's upbringing, childhood community and transition into adulthood is generously and unflinchingly told, and interwoven with just enough detail on the wider political and socioeconomic history of "rust belt" America. The overall impression is of an almost dynastic family saga all the more affecting for being true - I think Anne Tyler must have a long lost nephew from Kentucky, if I were JD Vance I'd be demanding a DNA test!

Most of all, it's a really compelling listen and I wasn't expecting to enjoy it so thoroughly as I did! Top quality both in the writing and the narration. It can be touch and go when authors narrate their own audio, but Vance does an exceptional job.

A very timely book which deserves all its accolades. Don't hesitate!

7 people found this helpful

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  • J. Cronin
  • 02-17-17

An important story

Schools, social workers, courts, medical professionals, employers - all have a responsibility to our children and their families in distress; but as JD says, it's the parents of these children that bear the biggest responsibility. When those parents falter, we have to be there.

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  • Albie
  • 10-05-16

Inspiring fascinating story

What did you like most about Hillbilly Elegy?

The candid writing style and level of detail about the main and auxillary characters. As well as it's ability to act as a window into a type of life which seems very alien from those you often meet.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Hillbilly Elegy?

Any of the stories which involved Mamal. Sounded like an amazing woman.

Any additional comments?

Absolutely recommend for those who are interested in the social changes our societies are going through as well as the challenges public policy makers have for the future.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-03-19

Explained a lot about the rust belt in America.

No problem getting this book read...was facinated from beginning to the end. Explains life for the struggling middle white Americans through a very understable journey. JDVance carries us through each element of Hillbilly life from a micro and macro perspective. Read this and you will understand why the all American dream isnt available to everyone.

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  • ADRIAN O
  • 02-03-19

Good book, OK performance

The book is good, not great. J.D.'s reading of it is OK, not good. He is a touch on the monotone side, reads too fast, and takes too few pauses. The overall effect is that he's reading words with little feeling, just trying to rush through it as quickly as possible. By the end I was used to his voice and it didn't bother me too much, but it took half the book before I felt comfortable -- it was hard work concentrating just to keep up with the rush of monotonous words. The 'story' is good, and reveals a lot about his life and where he came from. I recognise flashes of his upbringing in my own life, there's some universal truths about certain backgrounds I guess that work across continents and cultures. What made this book disappointing was the rave reviews it got last year. It was good, but I think I hoped for more. The next book I listened to after this was Kevin Hart's 'I Can't Make This Up' and the contrast was amazing. It's a very different book, but his childhood wasn't that different to J.D. Vance's. They had similar problems, similar attitudes, similar expectations of life and similar beliefs. Kevin's telling of that period is so rich, and so well delivered, and it made me appreciate it all the more after just reading this book. I wish this book had been more like that.

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  • Richard Mayne
  • 05-20-20

Really enjoyed this

I enjoyed JDs recounting of his lifes journey thus far. The lessons are a lot more universal that he may recognise.

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  • Kristin
  • 04-28-20

best nonfiction book I've read

the reality of it was just the spice this book needed. important read for everyone who wants to understand America and, to be honest, the world's almost poor.

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  • Craig Bradford
  • 03-02-20

One of the best books I’ve ever read.

Such a fresh view of what it means to be privileged. I found myself laughing out loud throughout and then the next minute thinking deeply about some of the tragic stories throughout. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Monserrat
  • 02-11-20

Compelling

Listened in two sittings. Very well written but the narrator rushes his delivery, marring it for me.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-26-20

An interesting introspection of a maligned people

I found JD Vance’s story interesting especially about his Kentucky ancestry but also his personal story later. Perhaps a little more detail at the beginning of the book about the origins of the Hillbilly and why they are who they are as a type of people would have made this book a rare authority on a culture and people exclusively overlooked by intelligent observers such as Mr. Vance.

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  • AndrewH
  • 06-28-17

An excellent read

For a young man you did extremely well JD Vance. I'm in my 70's and can relate to your memoirs. Your narration is excellent. There is a lot to learn from your story and the way you value the role of each individual who make up that story. Thank you.

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  • Heyjools187
  • 12-18-16

window view

I enjoyed this book. It was an interesting and in ways quite a disturbing read about the inequality endured on a daily basis.

1 person found this helpful

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  • James
  • 10-07-16

Amazing story about overcoming the odds

Really enjoyed this unique and personal account of a much wider problem in American society. I could relate to JD Vance's story in many ways, despite being a non-American. The audiobook was read very well by the author.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-29-19

Thank you for the healing!

Amazing to hear the perspective from another person from a similar socioeconomic rung in childhood. Our experiences may differ, however our struggles are the same. Thank you JD!

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  • Dennis Atkins
  • 01-03-19

A deep dive into rural poverty in America

J.D. Vance has written a strong very personal memoir about growing up a hillbilly refugee travelling from darkest Kentucky to the more urban badlands on Ohio. We meet his hotch potch family from a loving & terrifying Grandma, his sister & brother to his drug scarred mother and an array of aunts and uncles and grifting men who move in with mom. He kicks down the doors to the middle class and beyond - graduating in law at Yale and joining a prestigious law firm. He marries and, apart from episodic battles with sine ingrained demons, succeeds in breaking with the desperate Appalachian poverty. While there are deep contradictions in J.D.’s politics, the insights into how his people end up where they do are brilliantly sharp and clear eyed. It’s a must read.

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  • Marguerite
  • 05-15-18

A book well worth the read

There appears to be such honesty in this frank account of this young mans life. His clever analysis is made all the more impactful because it is his life, his family and his tribe.

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  • Layla Sacker
  • 05-06-18

Who knew?

Like most people my knowledge of Hillbillies was based on stereotypes with little understanding of this community. I was fascinated and totally absorbed by the journey of J.D. Vance as it also applied to disadvantaged communities everywhere. I had new insights insight and so appreciated the honest and not self pitying tone of the author.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-05-18

Interesting Biography account of early life includes subjective analysis of 'Hillbilly Culture'

This account is interesting insight into the difficulties faced by children growing up in dysfunctional families from a disenfranchised class called Hillbilly's in USA . The author narrates his story in an accessible way. There is plenty to discuss and the authors theories provide insights into how he managed to move upward and out of the class with education and the support.

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  • Amanda G Scott
  • 02-10-18

Thought provoking book

I listened to this book after a friend suggested it. She said it gave insights into the poor who supported Trump. It did provide a confronting window into the lives of the rustbelt poor in America. It also depicted a family in crisis and the poor stock of skills many people have to deal with the situations facing them. Of course many of the problems are found here in Australia too. Some of my extended family post Pauline Hanson opinions on Facebook that would fit seamlessly into hillbilly culture. J D Vance gives an honest account of a difficult life, his subsequent successes and ackowledges those who helped him out of the mire. I recommend it as a great read.

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  • Theresa Cargill
  • 01-18-18

Amazing!

Enjoyable, eye opening and relevant. This could so easily describe many different communities around the world.