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

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

J.D. Vance


What happens when a rural culture spills-out into a more urban environment? What happens when the ties between parts of families are broken by distance, and the habits that might have sustained them in their new surroundings turn out to be toxic in isolation? That's the world that Vance explores, and indeed from which he escaped. This is by turns social commentary and a deeply personal memoir, made stronger by the authors' insights into his own behaviour and evolution, his interactions with his girlfriend (and later wife) from outside the boundaries of his own hillbilly background.

I don't think the book is quite the searing explanation of recent American politics that it has been presented to be: that feels to me like an over-reading, and an unnecessary one given that it does explain well many features of American working class struggle. Many aspects feel uniquely American: despite a clear lineage in Scots-Irish immigration, I can't see many of the factors at work in the UK or Europe, and we should be glad for that, but I'm sure there's a similar story waiting to be told in these countries too.

4/5. Finished 11 November 2017.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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