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Hillbilly Elegy: Book Reviews

The resource guide for the 2017-18 Common Experience book selection, J.D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy"

Hillbilly Elegy Reviews

In this section of LibGuide, you will find a number of book reviews on Hillbilly Elegy. Some praise the book, some challenge Vance's thoughts, and others offer a combination of both praise and criticism. Each article takes a different perspective on the book and speaks to key points the reviewer found interesting. Many times the review acts as springboard for the themes found in book and how they relate to current events and topical conversations happening today. As you read through the many selections found here, you might ask yourself how the author structured the review, what key points the review draws upon, what the reviewer felt about the book, whether or not the reviewer agrees or disagrees with Vance, and how the review compares or differs from other reviews on the page.

The left and right columns have orange clickable links that will take you to print reviews. The center column contains video reviews of the book by those found in the YouTube community.

Review: In ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ a Tough Love Analysis of the Poor Who Back Trump                                                                                 New York Times
Jessica Senior

Senior briefly summarizes Hillbilly Elegy and the ways in which Vance draws out points related to the current social-economic situation in the Appalachians. There are moments where Senior discusses political commentary, but the primary focus attempts to take a more up close perspective on Vance's upbringing and how this may have influenced the material in the book.

The Lives of Poor White People

The New Yorker
Joshua Rothman

Rothman reviews Hillbilly Elegy with an eye on poverty, culture, and the effect of globalization on the people and places Vance describes in the book. Along the way, Rothman poses several questions and arguments about the nature of social and economic conditions found in Hillbilly Elegy, concluding with a call to look beyond politics for personal advancement. 

“Hillbilly Elegy”: A Review

The Dartmouth Review
Marcus J. Thompson

Thompson positions the review of Hillbilly Elegy as one that draws the book's acknowledgment of disadvantage versus values. The review itself is laid out by key points in the book such as Vance's childhood, his time as a Marine, and then as a "cultural insider" surrounding the 2016 election.

‘Hillbilly Elegy’ made J.D. Vance the voice of the Rust Belt. But does he want that job?

The Washington Post
Karen Heller

Heller focuses on how Vance's life has changed since the release of Hillbilly Elegy, and positions him as a potential voice and advocate for the Appalachian population his book discusses. She also recounts how Hillbilly Elegy went from a family story to finding the encouragement it needed to become a best-seller.

What Hillbilly Elegy Reveals about Trump and America

National Review
Mona Charen

Charen takes a more political stance on how Hillbilly Elegy's timing fit the 2016 elections and what the book might reveal about some political views emanating out of the Appalachian region. Although the piece certainly stirs up political talking points, Charen chimes back to the review of the book itself and even draws out excerpts as points of examination. 

Hillbilly Elitism

Bob Hutton

Hutton breaks down his review in parts, each targeting specific key points such as the "white ghetto" and "blaming everyone but themselves" he feels Vance relies upon in Hillbilly Elegy. The perspective in the review is two-fold, observing how Vance notices a desperate and flawed situation in the Appalachians while also pointing out that many of Vance's points are built upon his own perceptions and experiences.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance review – does this memoir really explain Trump’s victory?

The Guardian
Hari Kunzru

Kunzru's review takes the reader through an expeditious synopsis of the book's themes while finding moments to pause and make parallels to Vance's perspective and style. The article sums up these notes by acknowledging Vance as a Republican and the identity dynamics that come with various political identities. Kunzru leaves the reader with the notion that Hillbilly Elegy speaks to class, mobility, and economic disparity, but that it falls short of offering a mapping any political ways in or out of such maladies.  

J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America       
New Republic                          
Sarah Jones

Jones takes a critical look at Hillbilly Elegy, observing many of Vance's claims as myths and criticizing its concentration of blame on the people rather than governmental or the social-economic environment of Appalachia. In many ways, she offers that the book only incites frustrations directed in the wrong places, particularly in line with Trump's line of reasoning. Jones' article serves as a good counterpoint to Hillbilly Elegy and an article worthy of discussion.

Video Reviews

































Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

The London School of Economics and Political Science
Peter Carrol

Carrol's review outlines Hillbilly Elegy while paying close attention to the way Vance addresses the many issues found inside the book. Carroll not only highlights the points Vance makes, but also the highlights counterpoints where they may exist. Carrol does well in examining Vance's language with a critical eye and offers the reader a chance to find and challenge perspectives laid out in the text. 

Review: Another Take on ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

The Daily Yonder
Bill Turner

Turner writes that Hillbilly Elegy's assertions of poverty and lack of power not only speak to situations involving poor whites, but also echo those of Appalachia's black community. Although Turner does acknowledge that Vance describes many hardships in the region, he offers that Vance fails to take note of many forms of isolation and disenfranchisement faced by black Americans in the region. He goes on to warn that books such as Hillbilly Elegy only lead to cursory programs and agendas that will likely fail both the white and black poor of the Appalachians.  

Review: Lamenting ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

The Daily Yonder                                                                                                          
Jim Branscome

Branscome offers a critical view of Hillbilly Elegy, observing the book as something of a self-vindicating narrative that shows how he achieved so much from so little. Branscome alludes to the idea that Vance's success likely came more from the social networking he did at Yale than from the sheer work ethic he preaches in the book. Also, the review makes it clear that Vance leaves out many demographics and perspectives when constructing the book--ones that might mislead readers as the true composition of the Appalachians. Overall, Branscome feels the book is both "awkward" and "absurd".

Author too Removed from the Culture He Criticizes 

Lexington Herald Leader                                                                                             
Brandon Kiser

Kiser pulls no punches in his criticism on J.D Vance's Hillbilly Elegy as a largely caricatured version of Appalachian "hillbillies." Kiser questions Vance's identity as a "hillbilly" and further questions his authority to act as the voice of this culture. At the heart of Kiser's argument is a question of life experience and geography on Vance's part, a dart thrown at the 31-year-old author who lived a good portion of his life outside of the heart of the Appalachians while in the Marines, at Yale University, and in Middletown, Ohio.  

Book Review: J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

Cool Cleveland
Mansfield Frazier

Frazier takes a much closer, personal look at Hillbilly Elegy by noting the quality of characterizations, style, and inspirations behind the book. The review seems to give a since of what it's like to take part in the experience of the book and to draw parallels to the people and places effected. Frazier ends with a short mention of Vance's plan to return to Ohio and gives a nod at the opportunity for Vance's future nonprofit goals to create "spillover effect" into the black community. 

Trump, hillbillies, and the forgotten men and women of America

Carson Holloway

Holloway digs deep into social and political frameworks involved in culture, community, and family--especially those within the Appalachian region. This particular region is where the review places itself and the workings of the book. Holloway uses Vance as a driving force to explain some of the aforementioned frameworks, but also offers dichotomies as they spring up around points of tension. Certainly, layers of issues can be peeled back in this review and placed next to the book for discussion.