Instaread Summary of Hillbilly Elegy A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance
Five out of five stars
When reading this summary I was reminded of the article I read in “Time Magazine” that contained the term “pillbillies.” It was a reference to a segment of the United States based in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, where addiction to prescription painkillers is rampant.
Vance grew up in a family from Appalachia that moved to Ohio in order for the adult males to find work in the factories. Addiction to pills and alcohol is very common in his family, yet he was able to succeed in college after a stint in the Marines and then moved on to Yale law school.
From this summary, it is clear that the book contains two fundamental tracks. The first is the personal story of someone that was raised in difficult circumstances, yet was able to achieve success. Such stories can be inspirational and educational, but they are of course individualized.
The second track is one more fundamental to the changing economic conditions of the United States. Decades ago, almost any man that wanted to work could find a job in a factory. They may have to relocate, but the jobs were there. The massive loss of industrial jobs due to globalization has led to an altered mindset among many of the working class. Most of them live around or travel daily by factories that are closed and decaying. Many used to work in the buildings that now just look spooky.
In general, they feel abandoned by the business and political class, leading to the very unusual political situation in the United States. Their visceral fear and anger comes through very clearly in this summary. There is also a significant lack of optimism for the future, and with justification. Furthermore, as is correctly pointed out in the summary, this has led to the rise of a new form of politics that largely rejects both parties. Particularly the Democrats, the party that used to be the primary political home of the working class whites.
This book was made available for free for review purposes.