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Hillbilly Elegy

A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Narrated by: J. D. Vance
Length: 6 hrs and 49 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (489 ratings)

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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)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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!

6 of 6 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.

2 of 2 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent

Really unexpected treat. Seems like a kind of rarefied subject but once you get into the story its gripping and revelatory.

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  • Sandy
  • Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England
  • 13-01-19

Profoundly moving.

Though from England, I recognise so much of this book in my home town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. It's a universal story of poverty and communities in crisis.

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Honesty, bravery, resemblance

It's not just a story, it's real live. We can all relate to this in our own way and influence

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Interesting and well told

I found this book to be very honest, interesting and well told. A friend suggested I read it and I’m glad.

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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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  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • NIVEDH SHETTY
  • 26-07-19

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.

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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  • 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.

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  • Frank N
  • 22-01-18

hilarious

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

1 of 3 people found this review helpful