Saturday, February 18, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

  • THE BOOK
    • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
    • Published June 28, 2016
    • First work by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • Here is part of the blurb:
      • "...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, [the book] is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream."
    • This book has been on The New York Times non-fiction bestsellers list for 28 weeks at this writing.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The blurb says "part memoir, part historical and social analysis". I say it's probably about 95% memoir and 5% the rest.
      • It really is his and his family's story with a few generalizations about other folk who also live in the Appalachian areas of Kentucky and Ohio.
      • He is a lawyer with no background in sociology or psychology so he is not really the right person to analyze the overall situation for a large section of poor middle America.
    • His family's story is quite fascinating however. His mother had issues with drug abuse and he was raised in large part by the efforts of his sister and his grandparents, called Mamaw and Papaw.
      • I called my Louisiana grandparents Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw, pronounced just like they're spelled (the syllables rhyme with "law"). The author specifies that Mamaw is pronounced like Ma'am-Maw. I assume Papaw is the same? Papp-paw? The author doesn't say.
      • His grandmother is probably the most fascinating character in the book. She swears like crazy, uses tough love in all areas of life and supports her family members with fierce love.
      • This is a family steeped in yelling, violence, feuding and community. Outsiders are to be kept out of the loop, one of the things that makes it hard for people to ask for help when they need it.
    • He discusses the handful of people who get jobs but then don't work hard at them (lateness, absenteeism, poor performance, etc...) and end up fired. Then they rage about how the system keeps them down even while they draw entitlement benefits.
      • The difficulties of the poor seem to mainly stem from the fact that all the good blue collar jobs have disappeared from the area. You didn't need a college education to work in the factories and make a decent salary. As we know, most of those jobs are long gone.
      • Someone who's lost their job in the manufacturing sector, a place where their father, grandfather and uncles all worked, have no other options if they choose to stay in their towns. 
        • And even if they moved elsewhere, they don't have the skills to get a job in a different field. So poverty takes hold and is almost impossible to shake.
        • Local businesses can't be sustained by the poverty-stricken and towns get poorer too.
        • It's difficult to know how "bringing back jobs" will cure the ills of these areas of the country. The jobs won't be the same type as so many factories are automated and worked by robotics.
        • The author doesn't have many solutions to offer but he shows how the culture of the area hinders advancement for many.
    • He makes some interesting points though. As an example, if their parents never went to college, they don't always know how to help their kids fill out college applications.
    • Some people, based on comments on Good Reads, have looked to this book to explain the rise of Trump. 
      • This book does not do that. It is solely concerned with a specific sub-culture of the United States, the hillbilly of the title and even more specifically his own family.
    • The story of the family is interesting but the section on his life in the U.S. Marines and Yale Law School bogs the book down. The family narrative is fascinating; training and school not so much. 
    • Recommended for those who want to learn about how another section of America lives.
    • ★ ★ ★

1 comment:

  1. Proving the premise that education is one of the keys needed to break the cycle of poverty.

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