My Thoughts About Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Book Review #139)

Imagine reading a book that spoke to you on a lot of levels. Not because you have the same level of hardships or have that same experiences as the author but because you have that shared dream, a dream that he has already achieved. This book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, is so inspiring that I can’t help but reflect on my life after I finished reading it.

This review veers away from all the political shadows that people throw at this book. I am not interested with analyzing it politically or if this indeed is a book that catapulted Donald Trump to presidency which according to a few articles that I read, this book fueled his campaign. But rather, I will focus on how this book connected to me. I want to view this book on a different light, focusing on the books positive message.

This book has been on my radar for quite a while now. Aside from being on the New York Times best-selling book for over a year now, this book also frequented the list of being one of the best non-fiction books of the past years. And if you’ve been following my blog for quite a while now, you know that I’m not that much into reading non-fiction books. The reason being is, with some nonfiction book, I find it to be like reading a school textbok and so I tend to be picky. The last nonfiction book that I read and enjoyed was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates.

I remember when I first read the synopsis of this book and by that time I know I have to get a hand of this book. In a nutshell the book is about a child who came from a troubled neighborhood but eventually winning all the adversities in life and became a lawyer. And I was like, “Now that’s something I could get an inspiration from.” And in an effort to also diversify the books that I read, I decided to start this one. This is the first memoir book that I read. And by luck I found a copy at a second-hand bookshop. Now that’s what I can call as fate.

The book is all about the author’s transformation and not because of an extraordinary deed. This book is a deeply moving memoir of a man, his family, and his community. It follows how that man grew up, questions things, become passionate, and ascended the social ladder breaking the cycle of addiction and poverty that haunted his roots for years. He became the symbol of a person ascending the social and economic ladder by hard-work, patience, determination, and grit.

J.D. Vance was reared in Middletown, Ohio but spent most of his time with his grandparents in Jackson, Kentucky. Growing up, he experienced quite a few emotional traumas. There’s the problem with alcoholism and abuse in the family, drug-depressed, under-educated and violent community and his unstable mother’s history of drug addictions and endless number of live-in boyfriends and short-term husbands. He and his sister constantly moved places, while keeping up with his drug addicted mother, with different father figures that come and go in their lives, until his grandparents took him in. His grandparents became his guardian who urged him both to study and do well. That change in environment allowed him to leave his town, join the army for a tour of Iraq and to attend Ohio State University and eventually Yale Law School where he met his wife and now lives in Cincinnati where they now enjoy a more comfortable life.

“Psychologists call it “learned helplessness” when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life.”

This book made me thankful of what I currently have. The book highlights the importance of having that stong support from your family and your community in achieving ones dreams. This book made me appreciate the people that surrounds me especially my family. The book talks about the value of appreciating the people that helped you along the way towards the achievement of your goals. This book made me treasure all the hardships and problems that I was able to overcome in the past. This book made me value loyalty, honesty, perseverance and being ernest.

Alongside his personal aspect, that author raised some social questions and the one that struck me the most is the responsibility of his family and people for their own misfortune which really made me think. Here’s that paragraph from the book:

“How much of our lives, good and bad, should we credit to our personal decisions, and how much is just the inheritance of our culture, our families, and our parents who have failed their children? How much is Mom’s life her own fault? WHERE DOES BLAME STOP AND SYMPATHY BEGIN?”

This book referred a “Hillbilly” to the poor, white people of Scots-Irish descent whose ancestral roots come from the remote and rural mountainous areas of the Appalachian Mountain region in the United States. An elegy, on the other hand, is a poem, usually written to praise and express sorrow for someone who died. If I were to interpret the meaning of the title of this book, this book laments the struggle and pessimism of his community. This book laments the attitude of his people towards seeking a brighter future. For me, the author hopes that by writing this he can trigger change in both his community and the government. Vance’s love for his family and his fellow hillbillies is very imminent in this book. Despite being proud of where he’s come from, he acknowledges the flaws that they have and that there are aspects in his community that needed change.

Overall, this a well-written and easy to read piece. The author was able to balance the personal history and societal and political commentary sides of the book without giving the readers information overload. The book is both emotionally compelling and informative.


Author: J.D. Vance
Format: Hardbound
Source: Bought
Release Year: June 2016
Publisher: Harper
No. of Pages: 257 pages

About the Author:

J.D. Vance is an investor, a political and public policy commentator, and a bestselling author. Raised by his working class grandparents in Middletown, Ohio, J.D. graduated from Middletown High School in 2003 and then enlisted in the Marine Corps. He deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After graduating from Ohio State University where he studied Political Science and Philosophy, he studied at Yale Law School. Vance earned his law degree in 2013.

He serves as a principal at the leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm Mithril Capital. He is a partner at Revolution and works on Rise of the Rest, a nationwide effort to work closely with entrepreneurs. He returned to Ohio to found “Our Ohio Renewal,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the state’s opioid crisis.

Vance splits his time between Columbus, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. He is married to one of his former law school classmates, Usha, an Indian-American who is a law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. The couple has one son, Ewan, born on 4 June, 2017. (Goodreads)

One thought on “My Thoughts About Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Book Review #139)

  1. I really enjoyed this book too! It was definitely a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of story with a powerful message about personal accountability.


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