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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 members say

Average customer ratings

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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!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Poignant and explanatory

Fantastic, not an easy listen by any measure but provides context to what is happening.

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Compelling

I loved this book for the way it made me think about families, society and politics. J D Vance tells how he escaped from the poverty and abuse of his childhood through hard work, education and the love of his grandmother. Don’t think this is just another misery memoir - it’s a startling first-hand account of how society is breaking down amid the opioid crisis in the USA.

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Gripping

a very insightful tale of one man's journey from the hillbilly upbringings to a yall law graduate. humble and honest, it gave a British listener an insight into the dynamics of the American rust belt lifestyle and a hope that humankind can achieve against all odds. thanks J.D.. for sharing

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Such a good read but not well read

J.D.Vance has written a great book but his reading of it spoils it almost it completely. I started reading it for a book group and was really enjoying it, but ran out of time to finish it. Resorted to Audible, which often saves me 😉, but the performance is so disappointing. He reads in a monotone voice, clearly knowing it so much by heart that he hardly sees what he’s written. He doesn’t pause at all between sentences let alone paragraphs. I tried to slow the speed down but then it just dragged of course. Hard to follow, but a great book to read, and if audiobooks is the only way, then still probably worth it.

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Fantastic mix of memoir and insight

This book has perfectly balanced the personal story with all of its sometimes unbearable details and insightful self and surrounding society analysis!

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So much more than just an autobiography

Absolutely love this interesting and inspiring book that comes with some value lessons. Great listen that is read by the author himself.

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Timely insight

A fantastic listen. The narrator was easy to listen to and engaging. An absorbing personal story of family and survival that also gives a penetrating analysis of a major American sub-culture. Vance never mentions Trump but his book helped me understand how he got elected.

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  • frank
  • 22-01-18

hilarious

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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Greg D. Joffe
  • 14-10-17

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Pieter Reyneke
  • 21-06-17

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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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-06-17

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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  • Nyaribo
  • 01-06-17

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.