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Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

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This is the memoir that was on the New York Times best-seller list for over a year, written by a man who grew up in Ohio but often spent time in the summers with his grandparents in Breathitt County, Kentucky. His memoir tells of his childhood, his service in the military, and his schooling at Ohio State and Yale Law School. The book also generalizes about our region and occasionally about politics. Interestingly, the New Afterword by the author, focuses on the author’s Republican politics and his belief that poverty is more of a cultural problem than a political one. That actually gives credence to those of us whose initial reviews of the hardback edition focused on that aspect of the memoir. At the end of Vance’s short afterword, he does briefly shift his focus to his family, especially his baby son, Ewan, named after his Mamaw’s father. He writes that he has purchased the land in Breathitt County, Kentucky, where his ancestors resided and that he wants his kid to play there as he did when he was growing up. That portion of the afterword does reinforce the fact that this book is a memoir. My experience is that those I’ve spoken with who came away from reading this book with primarily positive feelings mostly are those who grew up “disadvantaged” as Vance terms it, and empathize with his feelings. Those who talk with different people than I do, probably find that those who are positive about Vance are mostly those who agree with his politics or know nothing about our region. Those, like myself, who came away more critically, in my experience, tended to look at the book more intellectually and politically and were offended that Vance didn’t say he felt like he was he only one at Yale from a disadvantaged background, but instead actually said that he was “unique.”  I do disagree with those who think it is appropriate to protest against Vance as if he is our enemy, though I, too, feel strongly the need to disagree with him. Vance is not the enemy. He has written a memoir that is self-important and has wrong politics and makes un-necessarily sweeping generalizations about the culture of poverty in Appalachia. He is not participating in economic or political exploitation. Those are the people, in my view, who deserve our protests and our positive efforts to encourage and promote better politicians and business leaders.

New York: Harper, a 2018 paperback reprint of a 2016 release. 272 pages with a New Afterword by the author and 28 Notes. Trade paperback