Hillbilly Elegy

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (New York: Harper Collins), 2016

This book was recommended to me by several of my progressive thinking friends in the wake of the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. It was a common belief that educated liberals were out of touch with the pain of working class whites and that we needed to be educated in the specifics of their problems and circumstances. David Brooks called it "Essential reading." The Wall Street Journal proclaimed it " A riveting book." I was much less enamored.

It is not a comprehensive analysis of the situations of all working class whites in the United States. It makes far too many assumptions about the nature of working class people based on its distinctly regional bias. I am not questioning the reporting of a family that started out in Appalachia and migrated to Ohio. But this is not the story of Western farm families or families whose living came from mining or timber or other sources.

Its narrow point of view, frankly, makes the book whiny, s if the troubles felt by Vance's family were somehow unique and as if class decline was something that only people with his color of skin feel. There are simply too many voices in our society today that use the displacement of those at the bottom of the economic ladder by the greedy denizens of the top to make excuses for maltreatment of immigrants and outright racism. Justice is not achieved by reaching out and striking those who are different. The elegy simply doesn't acknowledge how much folks have in common, but rather wants to make the plight of one family somehow greater and more compelling than that of others.

As memoirs go, it is a compelling story. As social commentary, it is decidedly narrow. It is probably worth reading, but falls short of "must read" in my opinion.