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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

It's been quite a while since I've done a post about a specific book.  Life got crazy, and now I have quite a backlog.  This post will be about Hillbilly Elegy, a book I finished back in January.  My next posts will be on My Antonia; Mayflower: a Story of Courage, Community, and War; and the Brothers Karamazov.

The full title is Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.  The author paints an incredibly bleak, but compassionate, picture of the lower-class Americans struggling throughout Appalachia and the Midwest.  The book was seen as particularly illuminating during the 2016 presidential election, as these same people formed the core of Trump's voter base.

It is a very interesting look into what the author calls "Appalachian values" and the lives of those left in poverty in post-industrial America.  While Vance definitely notes the devastating impact that the decline of manufacturing had in most of these towns, he seems to believe that the Appalachian values play a much greater role in keeping them mired.  Some of these values would seem to be desirable, like a love of country and loyalty, but they actually become a problem when coupled with deep histories of violence and verbal abuse.  People who get out are seen as traitors and help from them is scorned.  So instead of looking at these as success stories for inspiration and as contacts that can be leveraged to help others, they exile the most promising members of their community and continue their decline.

I think this book would be of interest to anyone looking to learn more about a fairly insulated community.  I certainly enjoyed the read.

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