Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance is a book that has been on my radar for several years now. Going into it, I knew nothing about it beyond the fact that many fellow book bloggers have said, "You have to read it!" What I found was a book about growing up, overcoming the odds, and understanding others so that you can empathize with their situation. At a time when we seem more divided than ever, I think that is the main reason why Hillbilly Elegy has resonated with readers of such diverse backgrounds.

The history of J.D. Vance's family is pretty familiar to that of most other American families of the time. His grandparents moved from their small Appalachian town in Kentucky to pursue the American Dream in Ohio. They hoped to find a better life than the one their parents had, and, on the surface, they did. J.D.'s grandfather was able to find a manufacturing job that propelled the family to the middle-class status of their dreams. A good job, car, house, and tight family should equal a great life, but the Vance's were having a tough time escaping the social norms of their previous life.

J.D. candidly tells of the addiction, abuse, a trauma that surrounded the majority of his upbringing. Despite all of their financial success, the Vance's always felt "other" compared to their neighbors. J.D.'s mother was essentially absent from his life. She struggled with addiction and a revolving door of men who only added to the strain between her and her son. Thankfully J.D.'s grandmother (mawmaw) provided a more stable, albeit unconventional, hand. She pushed J.D. to overcome the constraints of his family history to excel in school and try to truly make something out of his life.

J.D. went on to serve in the Marines, graduate with a law degree from Yale, and even serve in the political arena. Not bad for a kid from the hills. At times, I recognized pieces of my own blue-collar upbringing. Other times, I was shocked by some of the things that were considered "normal" for the Vance family. As I said at the outset, I think Hillbilly Elegy succeeds as shining a light on a section of the US population that often goes unnoticed. Vance does his best to avoid getting overtly political, but he also doesn't shy away from relating the values and cultural views of the people he grew up with to the rise of hard-right politicians. While I don't agree with everything Vance writes about in this book, I do think that his story is one that is well worth reading.

For more information visit Amazon and Goodreads.
(2020, 4)

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16 Responses to “Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance”

  1. I think I would enjoy this Ethan. Adding to my list.

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  2. I agree that this book features a population we rarely see in books, and it's always good to get a window into how other people live. Like you said, it allows us to empathize. The story also sounds sort of inspiring. I was "wowing" just reading your summary of the authors accomplishments.

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    1. It is amazing to see how much he was able to make out of his life, especially given his upbringing.

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  3. Great review Ethan - I really enjoyed this one as well. I listened to it and the author himself was the reader.

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  4. J.D.’s accomplishments are truly impressive, particularly considering his background.

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    1. Right?! It was such a story of overcoming the odds.

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  5. That title certainly conjures up a whole lot that the actual book quickly seems to set to rest. Jd certainly is impressive.

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    1. Really the whole book is about his journey to overcome and come to terms with that side of himself and his family history.

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  6. From the outside - i.e. in my dining room in South Wales - it's always surprising how *many* different cultural experiences exist in America, and how *vastly* different they are.

    I mean, of *course* there are different experiences here, but at the end of the day, my country (Wales, rather than the UK,) has a population of just over 3 million people, and just over 20k kilometres-squared in size - there's a limit to how different we can make things!

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    1. I never really thought about it from that perspective, but you're so right! It is fascinating to consider the different cultural subsets that exist here.

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  7. I had several people tell me to read this to get an idea of why Trump supporters follow him so blindly, but I also had almost a s many say it doesn't help understanding their loyalty. I have the ebook and I'm still going to read it, but I think I will be waiting until next year. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 👍✨

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    1. I don't know that it actually reveals a political perspective, though it does try to.

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  8. Glad to hear you enjoyed J.D.'s story even if you didn't always agree with his views. :)

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