Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance

I’m probably a touch behind the times in reading this book – it’s been out and hugely popular for almost a year.  That said, I devoured it – it was excellent.  It’s about the author’s life growing up in a family with roots in Appalachian Kentucky.  Since he’s now only in his 30s, the stories are very timely and give a great picture of a culture that’s really in decline.  He actually grew up in Middletown, OH, but his family migrated there in the 1950s from KY to get work and also to escape scandal (teenage pregnancy).  His mother was a drug addict who cycled through a series of boyfriends/husbands and couldn’t keep a job.  He was raised largely by his grandparents who were the ones who originally moved to Middletown.  His is a culture that doesn’t celebrate achievement, has very few role models that show kids a way out of the poverty so prevalent among the people, and that is based on honor and making sure no one gets the better of you.  It’s a culture that’s largely uneducated and hit hard by unemployment and broken families (somewhat because of the honor-code way of seeing relationships).  He uses stories from his background as a platform to explore what’s happened to working class whites in the last forty years.  It’s absolutely fascinating.  He’s a good writer and the stories from his life keep your interest and really let you see into a group of people who are really hurting.  The author – amazingly – joined the marines out of high school, matured and saw a different side of life as a result, got his four-year degree at Ohio State, and went on to get a law degree at Yale.  He’s now a very successful attorney (with a very successful book).  Really recommend the book.  It’s not a long read and it gives a great insight into a disgruntled and fading class of people who more and more feel completely left out of the American Dream.

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