...a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump. Combining thoughtful inquiry with firsthand experience, Mr. Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election, and he’s done so in a vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans ... Whether you agree with Mr. Vance or not, you must admire him for his head-on confrontation with a taboo subject.
...a quietly thoughtful, poignant look at life in the very places where the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee has garnered the strongest support. It provides a respite (and a much needed one, at that) from the shouting and the sheer noise of today’s political climate, with Vance choosing instead to adopt a tone of thoughtful reflection with a genuine desire for mutual understanding ... while the political timeliness of Hillbilly Elegy is undeniable, Vance truly shines when he takes us with him 'down the holler' into an America we thought we knew — until we realized how little of it we truly understood.
As more than one reviewer has pointed out, Vance’s stories of hillbilly pathology are peculiarly reminiscent of the 'welfare queen' stories deployed against black people during the Reagan years to justify his assault on the social safety net ... Readers looking to understand the class fault lines within white America will be enlightened by Vance’s narrative of class mobility, but as a guide to the new political terrain Hillbilly Elegy is uneven, and frustratingly silent about the writer’s real commitments.
...an affectionate yet unflinching look at growing up in social and domestic chaos in southwestern Ohio ... if Vance is an adroit enough storyteller, he’s a fiercely astute social critic of the sort we desperately need right now. Instead of cleaving his narrative to a political or ideological agenda, he wrestles honestly with the messy contradictions inherent to any conversation about race or class.
Vance’s feelings are more complicated. He’s sympathetic to the psychic holes his mother tried to fill and to the ways the abuse she suffered as a child shaped her adult behavior. It’s a tension he returns to again and again in his nuanced, thoughtful book — what makes some children resilient while others succumb to the temptations that haunted their parents?
America’s political system and the white working class have lost faith in each other. J.D. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, offers a starkly honest look at what that shattering of faith feels like for a family who lived through it ... You will not read a more important book about America this year.
J.D. Vance has written a book that goes some way to helping the rest of us understand what makes these people tick, the lives that they lead that cause them to behave the way they do ... What is so striking about the book is the counterpoint between the utter dreadfulness of Mr. Vance’s life, his persistent good humor in the face of it, and his perseverance in doing what he had to do to survive and get out.
The book echoes with an insider’s righteousness of a boy — weaned on the cursing and strength of his Mamaw — who grows up to reject that defeatist mind-set by enlisting in the Marines and graduating from Yale Law School ... The fascinating and flawed characters in Vance’s work do not endure racism but they struggle against a legacy of poor education and caricatures ... His lessons can appear preachy and simplistic. The memoir would have benefited from a bit more history of how the timber and coal industries dominated an Appalachia isolated by geography and tradition ... [an] important and bracingly honest story.
[Vance] seesaws back and forth between a fierce loyalty to his kin, especially his maternal 'Mamaw' and 'Papaw' — the rough-and-tumble grandparents who nurtured him in their own flinty way — and his emotional need to disavow his extended family’s tendencies toward aggression, bad relationships and substance abuse ... Reading his 'Elegy,' it’s sometimes difficult to decide just what it is he’s lamenting: the realities of underprivileged lives, or the ideas of them.
Donald Trump’s name appears nowhere in this book. Yet what he stands for — a proud, know-nothing middle finger at the urban elites — haunts these pages. These are Vance’s people. He loves them. He is also deeply ashamed ... Vance holds up a painfully honest mirror to America that offers no succour to left or right. Every group is a victim. No one is taking ownership. Others are always to blame.
...a must-read for anyone seeking to understand Trump's appeal. Hillbilly Elegy is a compelling and compassionate portrait of a people politicians seldom address and media seldom reflect ... The one great flaw in Vance's book is a disingenuous near-silence on his kinsmen's attitudes about race ... Still, that flaw does not outweigh Vance's triumph, which is to give substance and dimension to those America has made invisible.
Vance looks at his family and birth culture with piercing honesty and a clear, vigorous style that carries the reader easily through a vivid, dysfunctional world ... Hillbilly Elegy is an entertaining and insightful read. The reader may not always agree with Vance’s conclusions, but his ability to show us the real people and experiences behind the sad statistics gives his book unmatched credibility and power.