| 4/5 |
28 June 2016
Rural sociology, Poverty
| Goodreads Choice Awards Best Memoir & Autobiography|
When Breath Becomes, The Magnolia Story, Atlas Obscura: An Explor, The Underground Railroad, Lab Girl
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis is a memoir by J. D. Vance about the Appalachian values of his upbringing and their relation to the social problems of his hometown. The book topped The New York Times Best Seller list in August 2016 and January 2017.
Hillbilly Elegy Wikipedia
Vance describes his upbringing and family history. He writes about a family tradition of poverty and low-paying, physical jobs that have since disappeared or worsened in their guarantees, and compares this life with his perspective after leaving that area and life. Vance was raised in Middletown, Ohio, though his ancestors were from Breathitt County, Kentucky. Their Appalachian values include traits like loyalty, love of country, and tendency towards violence and verbal abuse. He recounts his grandparents' alcoholism and abuse, and his unstable mother's history of drug addictions and failed relationships. Vance's grandparents eventually reconcile and become his de facto guardians, particularly spurred by his tough but loving grandmother, such that Vance was able to leave his town and ascend social ladders to attend Ohio State University and Yale Law School.
Alongside his personal history, Vance raises questions such as the responsibility of his family and people for their own misfortune. Vance blames hillbilly culture and its encouragement of social rot. Comparatively, he feels that economic insecurity plays a much lesser role. While there is danger in blaming a people for their misfortunes, Vance has greater credence as an insider to the culture. As a grocery store cashier working checkout, he watched people on welfare talk on cell phones while Vance himself could not afford one. This resentment towards those who profited from misdeeds while he struggled, especially combined with his values of personal responsibility and tough love, is a microcosm of Appalachia's overall political swing from strong Democratic Party to strong Republican affiliations. Likewise, he recounts stories about lack of work ethic. For example, someone who did not like his job's hours and quit only to post on social media about the "Obama economy", and a co-worker who would skip work even though his girlfriend was pregnant.
The book was popularized by an interview with the author published by The American Conservative in late July 2016. The volume of requests briefly disabled the website. Halfway through the next month, The New York Times wrote that the title had remained in the top ten Amazon bestsellers since the interview's publication.
Vance credits his Yale contract law professor Amy Chua as the "authorial grandmother" of the book.
The book reached the top of The New York Times Best Seller list in August 2016 and January 2017. Journalists wrote that the book was of specific importance during the 2016 United States presidential elections, as Vance compassionately describes the white underclass that fueled the campaign of Donald Trump and a resurgence of outsider politics. The New York Times wrote that his direct confrontation on a social taboo is admirable regardless of whether the reader agrees with his conclusions. The newspaper writes that Vance's subject is despair and his argument is more generous in that it blames fatalism and learned helplessness rather than indolence. John Podhoretz described the book as among the year's most provocative.