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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

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J. D. Vance

6 Hours 50 Minutes


June 2016

Audio Book Summary

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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  • Tracey H

    Narration was absolutely perfect! Listened on a long trip, to the WHOLE book.. great connection to your audience.. simply fell in love.. Buckeyes are life ????

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  • Naveen Rondla

    I was born and raised in India. I came to US for graduate school. When I had conversations with fellow American students I was jealous of comforts they had during their childhood. But listening to the story of J. D. Vance I realized that there are many people here who are more unlucky than I was. Growing up we didn\'t have much money, our family was together though, and there was no substance abuse or violence in the family. That\'s what probably helped me to achieve my goals. The way J. D. Vance describes how growing up in such families impacts people psychologically. How some wounds may not be healed is really amazing. I would recommend this book to everyone so that they would appreciate many things they would take for granted. I like when the book is read by the author as he can put his feelings into narration.

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  • william Maddex

    Fascinating in depth look at a poorly understood cultural perspective. JDs forthright assessments of the human dilemma faced by the Appalachian people's is a compelling treatise. Well written well read.

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  • Samantha A.

    This is a powerful book. I don’t often read memoirs, but Vance’s candid, plain manner of writing and articulate delivery combine to give a poignant glimpse into Appalachian families. Their fierce love for each other is evident, as is their desperate dysfunction and struggle to survive.

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  • Sterling LAMP

    Fantastic. I enjoyed every minute of this book!

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  • Sherry T.

    The story itself was interesting but the commentary was boring and I stopped listening before the end.

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  • Ezri S.

    Poignant and identifiable. A story of individual perseverance.

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  • Patti B.

    I found this book totally enjoyable, sad, true and informative. Having lived in West Virginia all the author said about hillbillies is absolutely accurate. The author read the book which is always a boon because he knows where the tone and inflections belong.

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  • James D.

    I enjoyed the book very much and could relate to the exodus of the families from Appalachia during the 1940’s as much of my family did. Not all families from the mountains are as dysfunctional as his seemed to be. The importance of family and its influences on one’s life cannot be underestimated. The author got off on a political tangent at one point and I almost turned it off. I made it to the end. Yes, I would recommend this book.

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  • Kim F.

    I love it! I am a few hours into this new book. There are a lot of the stories I can really relate to. The media and politicians use it towards their own agendas, however, the author himself did seem unknowing of how politics could shape or alter this problem. The book reminds me of Educated, however, this memoir sounds more like stories I understand. I would recommend the book!

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