Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance



Summary: Vance reminisces about his Appalachian childhood in a struggling Ohio town. He describes why he (and people with the same poor white-kid background as he) switched from Democrat to Republican over the past decade. Despite this being touted as a book that helps you understand why Trump was elected, it was mostly a memoir and not a political book.

My Thoughts: This was an enlightening book, as it did a good job of showing how the attempts of the Democrats to help poorer people backfired on the poor white Appalachian folks, and why they would want a major change. Vance described how people flocked from deep in Appalachia to steel-working towns in Ohio before and during the Cold War. But when steel became a lagging industry after the Cold War, many people lost their jobs and struggled to find any job to support themselves. The welfare system (according to Vance) only made things worse, because it encouraged people not to find jobs.

I found Vance’s life story quite compelling, and his description of why his family switched from Democrat to Republican when they did was mostly reasonable. However, I wasn’t completely convinced by his argument that it isn’t racism that turned people  like himself against Obama. Vance claimed it was because they couldn’t relate to Obama because he was Ivy-league educated, from a big city, and wore a suit everywhere. That’s a load of bull. If THAT were their reason for not liking Obama, then they wouldn’t like Trump either. Unfortunately, that few paragraphs of the book colored my view of the rest of his argument.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy and it made a lot of good points. And, importantly, the narrative was interesting and always brought me back for more. And I would have been perfectly willing to listen to a valid argument about why their issue with Obama had nothing to do with race (I’m sure they have other reasons), but he gave a very poor excuse, which made me think it was simply that – an excuse. Vance literally couldn’t come up with a valid reason to say why they related to Trump better than Obama (other than race). This book would normally have gotten four stars, but I’m going to dock it .5 because of that big problem.

3 and half snowflakes

3 thoughts on “Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance

  1. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this one over the past year or so. Like you, I don’t think the explanation regarding the Trump vs Obama support would have sat well. IN fact, it doesn’t even make sense. If I remember correctly, Trump has a degree from Wharton which is about as Ivy League as it gets. If his entire arguement is based on that one fact… he doesn’t have much to stand on.

    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books


    1. He may have been trying (very poorly) to argue that Obama is an intellectual and Trump isn’t – which is true despite the university choices. But if that’s the point he was making, he didn’t do a good job. He would have been better off leaving that section out altogether. When you say “it’s not because he’s black, it’s because…” and then your because makes no sense, then people just assume it’s because he’s black. *shrug But there were good points in the book, too.


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