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Hillbilly elegy : a memoir of a family and culture in crisis
2016
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Summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"You will not read a more important book about America this year."--The Economist

"A riveting book."--The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading."--David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, 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 forty 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 hopes 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, aunt, uncle, 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 humor and vividly colorful 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 this country.

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Booklist Review
Things could have so easily turned out differently for Vance. Growing up in a working-class family riven by strife and seemingly incapable of escaping its rural Kentucky roots, Vance spent his youth bouncing between homes, a succession of father figures, and ever more explosive situations. The story of how he overcame his upbringing to graduate from Yale Law School and embark on a stable and happy adulthood poses the bigger question of how the obstacles facing other such hillbillies can be surmounted. Vance compellingly describes the terrible toll that alcoholism, drug abuse, and an unrelenting code of honor took on his family, neither excusing the behavior nor condemning it. Instead, he pulls back to examine the larger social forces at work for white, working-class Americans with ties to Appalachia. The portrait that emerges is a complex one, where die-hard cultural beliefs contribute to a downward spiral for Vance's family and those like them. Unerringly forthright, remarkably insightful, and refreshingly focused, Hillbilly Elegy is the cry of a community in crisis.--Thoreson, Bridget Copyright 2016 Booklist
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