During this past summer, I worked at a nonfiction publishing company and ended up spending most of those three months watching what was hot in the nonfiction book world, especially on the conservative front. Towards the end of June, the nonfiction book market was completely taken over by one book: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Because of my busy scheduling reading our manuscripts, and then the ensuing school semester, I just recently got time to pick up this New York Times’ Bestselling book, but I am SO glad I did!
Perhaps this book hits so close to home for me because it is close to home. Middletown, Ohio, where Vance grew up and where his family calls home, is about three hours from the town I grew up in, and that I write this review in during the end of winter break. He mentions steel mills and oil refineries by name that still employ members of my family to this day. His experiences, while a little more disastrous than mine, really resonate with me. While my mother was not a drug addict (or isn’t yet, Mom) I know many people who are addicts, whose parents have been addicts, and who will be those obituaries that omit the cause of death because they don’t want to admit it was an overdose.
Vance does an excellent job in this book about tying his own experiences and those of his family to a greater problem. For every narcotic addicted mother of his, there are a dozen more within a mile in Appalachia. Daily there are obituaries of young men and women killed by the needle. There are too many smart kids who never make it further than community colleges because they don’t know about what is out there and how little it will actually cost them. If this is you, you’re not alone. If this isn’t you, it’s time to realize that these people exist.
This book is a MUST READ for anyone who doesn’t understand how Donald Trump got elected.Written and published before the 2016 Republican National Convention, this book highlights the extreme pessimism felt by many white Americans who don’t think there is a place for them in the world anymore. After Donald Trump was elected, I had to have some very frank conversations with friends and acquaintances and explain to them why the people I know who voted for Trump did so. They watched their jobs get taken away by Democrat policies. They watched the liberal elite take over from their Ivory towers. Sure, Trump might be “elite” but at least he could make himself feel like one of the boys when he talked to them.
While this book is the story of one family, it is also much more.It is truly a memoir of a culture in crisis, and there is no clear cure. Coal jobs are just not what they used to be. College educations are becoming more and more necessary and yet schools in Appalachia aren’t preparing their students for success like they should be. My own experiences at a public school really testify to this.
Whether you’re from Appalachia or not, please read this book. Whether you voted for Trump or not, please read this book. Whether you are rich or poor or somewhere in between, please read this book. There is a world out there that too many people have ignored for too long. There is a world of people who might just have it worse off than those in urban, racially diverse cities. This is their story.