Book Recommendation: Hillbilly Elegy

I grew up in an area of fairly rural Alabama, and lived there until I left to go to college in North Carolina. My mom lives in Wetumpka, which had a population of 4,000 or so when I was growing up and now is slightly larger (thanks to the construction of a popular casino), and my dad lives in Slapout, Alabama, which has a population of about 200–and where he moved after Wetumpka became too much of a bustling metropolis for him.

Before my generation (my brothers and cousins), no one went to college on either side of the family, and for many many more generations, people generally stayed in the same geographic area for their entire lives. Most of my family belongs to the white working class demographic who voted for Donald Trump.

JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is the most accurate portrayal of demographic and the environment that I’ve read to date. I’m late reading it and I know it’s been recommended elsewhere, but I think it’s worth seconding.

It could have easily been about my hometown and family. I roll my eyes when anyone suggests that New Yorkers are out-of-touch liberals who don’t understand the rest of the country because nearly everyone I know in NYC grew up in the rest of the country and we’re all too familiar with the subject. But I’d still recommend Vance’s book even to Middle American natives because his analysis of the structural problems that have landed us here, and the way rural working class people now view personal responsibility (spoiler: it largely applies to other people) is sharp and incisive. He is compassionate but doesn’t let anyone off the hook, either.