March 12, 2018

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Wow. I'm not sure where to begin. I rated the book 4 out of 5 stars because while it was very interesting and I had a hard time putting it down, it left me feeling....unsettled. Or maybe disturbed. Reading about Vance's childhood, his family, and where he came from I had to admit something. I just might be more than a little bit hillbilly.

Vance grew up in Middleton, OH which sits smack in the middle of the Rust Belt, that region once defined by the giant steel mills. His people had migrated there from the hills of Kentucky. My family is not dysfunctional in the extremes that Vance's is or of the friends and neighbors he describes. However, I live in an area that is firmly in the Rust Belt, but also exists on the edges of Appalachia and I saw many things in his story that I recognized in either my life or those of my family, friends, and neighbors. I wasn't expecting that.

The book was "recommended" to me by several liberals in an online discussion the day after Trump won the presidency. They were struggling to understand how it could have happened, how they could have been blind-sided so thoroughly. As a conservative and one who voted for Trump, I was trying to explain what brought me to that point and what, as I understood it, brought a majority of those I know to that point as well. I was treated with such blatant condescension that I was put off and refused to even pick up the book. 

In the year that has followed, I kept hearing about "Hillbilly Elegy." It seemed to have become something of a rallying point for liberals, a explanation of the circumstances leading to the uneducated, racist, drug-addicted, blindly patriotic, gun-toting, bible-thumping base that got Trump elected. Things have calmed down enough, for me, that I finally allowed my curiosity to push me to read the book.

I didn't see in it what I have heard from liberals and while Vance is a conservative Republican (or was at the time the book was published), I didn't see great support for the GOP, either. I didn't see support for any political party. What I saw was a fair, insightful, and heartfelt look at a section of society as Vance knew it. He doesn't cast blame in any one direction and in fact, suggests no solution will be found until we stop playing the blame game. He doesn't offer solutions, either. He definitely doesn't think the solution will come from the government. Instead, Vance offers that the solution lies within the people themselves.

In short, "Hillbilly Elegy" doesn't offer any solutions or make any person or political party the scapegoat. All it does is give an honest and intimate look at a segment of American society that feels forgotten, overlooked, and left behind....the white working-class family.


  1. I actually live within 15 minutes of Middletown, OH and my husband was born and raised in Middletown. His dad worked at the steel mill and his brother works there now. Maybe I should check this out.

  2. I think you'd find it interesting. It's a fairly easy read. He writes plainly. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts if you do. Even over here in Latrobe I see a lot of what he talks about.

  3. So all the reviews I keep seeing - is this a real story or like an autobiography?

  4. Sounds interesting. I grew up in central Ohio but lived up on Lake Erie for four years, not far from Cleveland. Thanks for the review!


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