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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
by J. D. Vance

Published: 2016-06-28
Hardcover : 272 pages
74 members reading this now
211 clubs reading this now
20 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 26 of 30 members

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, NAMED BY THE TIMES AS ONE OF "6 BOOKS TO HELP UNDERSTAND TRUMP'S WIN" AND SOON TO BE A MAJOR-MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY RON HOWARD

"You will not read a more important book about America this year."—The Economist

"A riveting book."—The Wall Street ...

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Introduction

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, NAMED BY THE TIMES AS ONE OF "6 BOOKS TO HELP UNDERSTAND TRUMP'S WIN" AND SOON TO BE A MAJOR-MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY RON HOWARD

"You will not read a more important book about America this year."—The Economist

"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

1. In what way is the Appalachian culture described in HillBilly Elegy a "culture in trouble"? Do you agree with the author's description of the book's premise:

The book is about what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It’s about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.

2. Follow-up to Question 1: Vance suggests that unemployment and addiction are self-inflicted and that the Appalachian culture is one of "learned helplessness"—individuals feel they can do nothing to improve their circumstances. Do you agree with Vance's assessment? What could individuals do to improve their circumstances? Or are the problems so overwhelming they can't be surrmounted?

3. What are the positive values of the culture Vance talks about in Hillbilly Elegy?

4. The author's mother is arguably the book's most powerful figure. Describe her and her struggle with addiction. How did the violence between her own parents, Mawaw and Papaw, affect her own adulthood?

5. To What—or to whom—does Vance attribute this escape from the cycle of addiction and poverty?

6. Talk about Vance's own resentment toward his neighbors who were on welfare but owned cellphones.

7. Follow-up to Question 6: Vance writes

Political scientists have spent millions of words trying to explain how Appalachia and the South went from staunchly Democratic to staunchly Republican in less than a generation.... I could never understand why our lives felt like a struggle while those living off of government largess enjoyed trinkets that I only dreamed about.

Does his book address those two separate but related issues satisfactorily?

7. Critics of Hillbilly Elegy accuse Vance of "blaming the victim" rather than providing a sound analysis of the structural issues left unaddressed by government. What do you think?

8. What does this book bring to the national conversation about poverty—its roots and its persistence? Does Vance raise the tone of discourse or lower it?

From Litlovers

Suggested by Members

Is there a solution to the "Spirit of Poverty" displayed by the lower class whites in Appalachia?
How did military service help the author?
by Kerrinhp (see profile) 07/01/17

Do you regularly socialize with people from other socio-economic classes?
Do you buy JD Vance's conclusion?
by christineflee (see profile) 04/11/17

Are there any contradictions between the conclusions that the author offers and the solutions he found for achieving beyond his community/
by BJean (see profile) 03/07/17

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Hillbilly Trivia
by Kerrinhp (see profile) 07/01/17
We had a multiple choice quiz about Hee Haw, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Movies about Hillbillies. We served classic Southern foods, including Wilted Salad with Fried Country Ham, Fried bologna on white bread topped with potato chips, Cornbread, Turnip Greens, Tomato Salad, Creamed corn, and a Fluff Fruit Salad (gotta have Cool whip or it ain't a hillbilly meal).

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Nothing new"by lpollinger (see profile) 07/24/17

As a thirty something Mr. Vance is writing his memoir based on his life as a hillbilly. While he is to be commended that he was able to join the Marines, go to college,graduate from Harvard Law and marry... (read more)

 
by abbtab2000@yahoo.com (see profile) 07/23/17

I was transfixed. It was so touching but it was also productive!

 
  "A Different World"by witchy1 (see profile) 07/21/17

A glimpse into the lives of those who live up in the hills in Appalachia.

 
by Duttons (see profile) 07/20/17

 
by ladydiphil (see profile) 07/06/17

 
  "Sociological Study of the white lower class"by Kerrinhp (see profile) 07/01/17

Interesting story about a poor young man from a dysfunctional family in Appalachia who was able to "take the train out of crazy town" and graduate from Yale Law School.

 
  "Hard But Worthwhile Read"by bmedvid (see profile) 06/25/17

I was very interested to read Hillbilly Elegy as my father and many of his ancestors were born and raised in SW Virginia in the Appalachian mountains. I have not spent much time down there b... (read more)

 
by jmlystad@hotmail.com (see profile) 06/20/17

 
  "Could relate"by smith2k (see profile) 06/14/17

It was great to hear about a success story and about someone who knows first hand that there is no such thing as a free lunch. AND that the mentality that there is such a thing is bringing this country... (read more)

 
by Peyton001 (see profile) 06/06/17

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