Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

We hear plenty of stories of struggling communities, those of the urban disenfranchised or the oft-mocked people of the Deep South. But I had not heard much of the plight of the Hillbilly.

JD Vance tells of his hillbilly family, mountain people who have experienced extreme poverty due to the dilapidation of their once thriving industrial town. With the white working class becoming a shrinking population, Vance describes what it was like watching this class fall apart, as one if its members. Vance’s grandparents left Appalachia to give their family a better life. While they came close, they were constantly pulled back to the “dirt poor” roots of their Kentucky hometown. Eventually, factories begin to shut down and their new, better life in Ohio is rife with problems. Alcohol, drugs, and abuse invade both the town and their family. Somehow, Vance manages to make something of himself, eventually graduating from Yale Law School. As a successful adult in his early 30s, he now wants to understand how his family – and the hillbilly population – can fall apart like they did.

This is a memoir, but one that feels almost like an anthropological study of a specific group of people. Vance introduces some pretty unique family members that makes me wish there was a bit more “where are they now” info, but part of what makes this book interesting is that it’s about the trends of a larger group of people, made interesting by the real people who can lend some color to the facts. I don’t need to understand exactly how often Vance sees his sister to get a general idea of what’s happened to this group.

4.5 out of 5 stars.