Hillbilly Elegy
From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.

At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.

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Hillbilly Elegy Reviews

  • Ned Mozier
    Oct 20, 2016

    Ned Mozier

    This is a fine young author who tells the old story of scots-irish immigrants who left the withering coal mining industry from the Appalachia for the rust belt (Middletown OH). Vance refers proudly to himself as a hillbilly, yet articulates the pathos, dysfunctional and distinctly Amer...

  • Rae Meadows
    Oct 17, 2016

    Rae Meadows

    I loved reading about Vance's family, about his Appalachian roots, and his rust-belt childhood. His grandparents (Mamaw and Papaw) are phenomenally drawn characters. There are plenty of cliches in the writing, but Vance is an observant and sincere guide.Like Vance's grandparents, my da...

  • Melora
    Oct 15, 2016


    The author admits up front that he is young to be writing his "memoir," but that was still something that I really noticed here. Parts of this were really interesting, but other parts -- the long stretches about how he pulled himself out of poverty, despite having suffered deprivations...

  • aPriL does feral sometimes
    Oct 14, 2016

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    'Hillbilly Elegy' is a memoir by the author, J.D. Vance, describing his impoverished Greater Appalachian trailer-trash Kentucky culture and childhood, relating the history of his parents, grandparents and extended family members, and their beliefs in religion, patriotism and family tie...

  • Amy
    Oct 14, 2016


    I am really struggling with rating this one. I'm more in a 2 and a half to three place with this one. I was really interested in the concept of this memoir and hoping it would add some insight into the decisions people make as they relate to culture, class and regional differences. My ...

  • Barnabas Piper
    Oct 9, 2016

    Barnabas Piper

    I'd heard and read nothing but praise for this book, and it more than lived up to it. Vance's writing is clear, concise, tight, and insightful. He opened my eyes to many of the cultural and personal realities of the working class white people in Middle America. The most significant asp...

  • Bill  Kerwin
    Oct 6, 2016

    Bill Kerwin

    Have you ever wondered what became of the Scotch-Irish, who dug America’s coal, forged America’s steel and built America’s automobiles, who worked for the American Dream Monday through Friday. prayed to The Good Lord on Sunday, and who revered F.D.R. and J.F.K. every day...

  • Heidi The Hippie Librarian
    Oct 6, 2016

    Heidi The Hippie Librarian

    Intense memoir of J.D. Vance's childhood and eventual rise. It reminded me of Angela's Ashes except that instead of Ireland, it took place in Kentucky/Ohio and the drug of choice was prescription pills rather than alcohol. I was astonished that J.D. not only survived, but thrived. He c...

  • Trish
    Oct 5, 2016


    A twitter storm this summer brought this book to my attention. I read several articles and interviews with Vance before managing to get my hands on a copy. That circuitous introduction led me to expect some kind of treatise on working class attitudes, so at first I experienced the work...

  • Elizabeth
    Oct 5, 2016


    Why is this guy the darling of the talk show circuit right now? He thinks his fellow hillbillies just need to WORK HARDER. After all, he did it. Obviously I am struggling to understand his positions (and condescension). He thinks because he "made it" everyone else should be able to do ...