Hillbilly Elegy

A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

By J. D. Vance

Narrated by J. D. Vance
6 hours 49 minutes

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

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.

Essential reading

David Brooks, Author of The Road to Character

Elites tend to see our social crisis in terms of ‘stagnation’ or ‘inequality.’ J. D. Vance writes powerfully about the real people who are kept out of sight by academic abstractions.

Peter Thiel, Author of Zero to One

About the Author

J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.

Reviews

[A] compassionate, discerning sociological analysis…Combining thoughtful inquiry with firsthand experience, Mr. Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election, and he’s done so in a vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans. Imagine that.

Jennifer Senior, New York Times

You will not read a more important book about America this year.

The Economist

Author

Narrator
J. D. Vance

ISBN
9780062477521

Length
6 hours 49 minutes

Language
English

Publisher
HarperCollins

Publication Date

Abridged
No

  • Psychologists call it “learned helplessness” when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life.
  • We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance—the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach.
  • Whenever people ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class, I say, “The feeling that our choices don’t matter."
  • What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.
  • If you believe that hard work pays off, then you work hard; if you think it’s hard to get ahead even when you try, then why try at all?
  • There is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites. Well over half of blacks, Latinos, and college-educated whites expect that their children will fare better economically than they have. Among working-class whites, only 44 percent share that expectation.
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