Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy (2016) by JD Vance is a fascinating autobiographical work about the author’s life growing up in Middleton Ohio as a child in a family descended from Appalachian Hillbillies who moved to Ohio after WWII.

Vance is brought up by his mother, who has serious substance abuse problems and his older sister and his grandparents. Vance credits his older sister and grandmother as  the main influence. His grandmother is also a great character who brightens the whole book. It’s all very moving. Vance’s story of making it through, joining the marines and going to law school is very readable.

The book interleaves Vance’s own story with sociology about the people he grew up with. It works really well. Vance is also a good writer and is writing about something that he knows intimately and that he is clearly passionate about. The book doesn’t provide answers that the author thinks would fix all the problems he sees but instead provides a very readable, intense and finally hopeful portrait of what he dealt with.

The book reminded me oddly of Barack Obama’s books. JD Vance mentions certain politicians and indeed writes praise about Barack Obama. But reading the book gave me an odd feeling that JD Vance is a name that will, in future, be connected with politics. If Vance can be half as good a politician as he is a writer he’ll make a valuable contribution.

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