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


Waterstones Non-Fiction Book of the Month for June 2017

Soon to be a major motion picture

I didn't write this book because I've achieved something extraordinary. I wrote this book because I've achieved something quite ordinary, which doesn't happen to most kids who grow up like me. You see, I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been haemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember.

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 post-war 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 humour and vividly colourful 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.

Our Non-Fiction Book of the Month, Hillbilly Elegy has become something of a sobering, best-selling touchstone for those who felt they had little other choice. Vance's lucid account of his family is no polemic of misery, but rather a hymn to a certain kind of America, hopelessly adrift in a country transfixed by technology and the economies of the future. Throughout, the ex-Marine author holds up an uncomfortable mirror of discrimination to the affluent set he now mixes with: the malaise of ignorance is embedded on either side.

'The political book of the year' - Sunday Times

'You will not read a more important book about America this year' - Economist

'Only an insider can speak about his community with honest anguish. Hillbilly Elegy is especially compelling because Vance writes with the sorrowful judgment of a betrayed yet loyal son.' - The New Yorker