Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

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Written By: J. D. Vance

Narrated By: J. D. Vance

Date: June 2016

Duration: 6 hours 50 minutes


From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.


  • Naveen Rondla

    I was born and raised in India. I came to US for graduate school. When I had conversations with fellow American students I was jealous of comforts they had during their childhood. But listening to the story of J. D. Vance I realized that there are many people here who are more unlucky than I was. Growing up we didn't have much money, our family was together though, and there was no substance abuse or violence in the family. That's what probably helped me to achieve my goals. The way J. D. Vance describes how growing up in such families impacts people psychologically. How some wounds may not be healed is really amazing. I would recommend this book to everyone so that they would appreciate many things they would take for granted. I like when the book is read by the author as he can put his feelings into narration.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful.

  • Tracey H

    Narration was absolutely perfect! Listened on a long trip, to the WHOLE book.. great connection to your audience.. simply fell in love.. Buckeyes are life ????

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful.

  • william Maddex

    Fascinating in depth look at a poorly understood cultural perspective. JDs forthright assessments of the human dilemma faced by the Appalachian people's is a compelling treatise. Well written well read.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • Anonymous

    this is point blank and addicts life.

  • Lisa T.

    So great, narrator was perfect. Well worth the time

  • Anonymous

    Loved it.. couldn’t stop listening. Highly recommend. I am agreeing with these other 5 star reviews as a scroll through them.

  • Brandy M.

    I grew up in parts of rural Georgia and this book really spoke to me. I really enjoyed listening to JD Vance narrate. I felt like he was just telling me the story of his life. I admire his candor about his life and also his ambition to become more.

  • Anonymous

    Amazing book, hit close to home

  • Samantha A.

    This is a powerful book. I don’t often read memoirs, but Vance’s candid, plain manner of writing and articulate delivery combine to give a poignant glimpse into Appalachian families. Their fierce love for each other is evident, as is their desperate dysfunction and struggle to survive.

  • Sterling LAMP

    Fantastic. I enjoyed every minute of this book!

  • Sherry T.

    The story itself was interesting but the commentary was boring and I stopped listening before the end.

  • Ezri S.

    Poignant and identifiable. A story of individual perseverance.

  • Patti B.

    I found this book totally enjoyable, sad, true and informative. Having lived in West Virginia all the author said about hillbillies is absolutely accurate. The author read the book which is always a boon because he knows where the tone and inflections belong.

  • James D.

    I enjoyed the book very much and could relate to the exodus of the families from Appalachia during the 1940’s as much of my family did. Not all families from the mountains are as dysfunctional as his seemed to be. The importance of family and its influences on one’s life cannot be underestimated. The author got off on a political tangent at one point and I almost turned it off. I made it to the end. Yes, I would recommend this book.

  • Kim F.

    I love it! I am a few hours into this new book. There are a lot of the stories I can really relate to. The media and politicians use it towards their own agendas, however, the author himself did seem unknowing of how politics could shape or alter this problem. The book reminds me of Educated, however, this memoir sounds more like stories I understand. I would recommend the book!

  • Anonymous

    I read many books about what effects growing up in poverty can have on a child's development, Hillbilly Elergy is the first to really make steong connections to what I experience today with families. I can't recommend this book enough for any educator.

  • Kristi T.

    Boring, not interesting at all. Did not make a point. Narration was very monotone throughout and was very 'read' without feeling. It's just another story of rags to riches, but nothing extraordinary or exciting.

  • Crystal H.

    Very good book!! I couldn’t stop listening to it when I started. A lot of it resembled my life.

  • Wayne I.

    I can’t say enough for this detailed, introspective analysis from an obvious expert. Since I am also an expert on the subject for similar reasons reasons, I attest to the genuine truth and unflinching perception J D Vance shares with those willing to understand.

  • Sandy M

    Narrator: JD Vance Hillbilly Elegy This book is read by the author, J.D. Vance. He reads in a dull monotone and I couldn't always tell when there was a paragraph or page break. Several colleagues really enjoyed this look at Appalachia, but I thought it was more of a foundation for his future Senate race.... I wish he'd hired an actor to read it aloud; it might have held interest.

  • Donna O

    This book was recommended to me. The only reason I listened to the end was for a point to be made in his tautological tale. The truly disturbing fact is I paid money to listen to the book. Most people have inter generational culture effects on their life; he is not unique. The book is the arrogant self congratulatory autobiography of an ordinary life. CORRELATION is NOT CAUSATION!! To overgeneralize to crises is absurd. Most authors should not narrate their own work!! J.D. Vance is a case in point. I kept checking my device to make sure I was not on 1.25 speed. I will admit that after I finished the book and no longer wanted to challenge him on his false/incompletencorrelations and perspective, I did reflect on my own inter generational culture.

  • Anonymous

    Insightful view into Appalachian culture. Appreciated author as narrator.

  • Tracy G

    Enjoyed the book and narration. Never knew much about the “Hillbilly” way of life, other than the stereotype. Being from Ohio, it was kind of eye opening to learn this was happening in my state. The realistic view of “Hillbilly” life that J.D. Vance portrays is both sad yet inspiring. He’s proof that the American Dream is attainable for even those who have great odds to overcome.

  • Adam D

    A great job in finding the center of the pride of coal mining and steel mill workers, mr Vance was lucky to get out of the rat race that holds a hard working person back, good luck on living with the memories of those that came befor you.

  • Jane L

    Great insight to Rust Belt

  • Lynette J

    Very interesting and enlightening portrayal of a cultural section of our country, but really would have preferred that Mr. Vance had someone else narrate.

  • Peggy S

    Brutally honest depiction of life in Appalachia and how he overcame his environment.

  • Diane M

    Great book - it reminded me of the many people I have come across while living in Kentucky and Louisiana. The book gave me more insight into the lives of those living in poverty. JD is a great story teller, tells it like it is and adds humor amongst all of the challenging events he encounters in his life. I highly recommend the book!

  • Christine M

    Not the kind of book I enjoy. Listening was boring.

  • Gudjon O

    Excellent social study, twined with a heartwarming story of gains and losses in a world where upward mobility becomes less and less possible.

  • Josh F

    The book gave a great inside perspective of the lower working class. I really connected with J.D and his family. Loved it.

  • shanea S

    wow!! his pure sound of emotion reminded me of route 66 Lebanon,Missouri

  • Judy L

    Liked narration.. Good story about the class structure in the USA.

  • Ron B

    A really good story. A if you liked The Glass Castle you will enjoy this. Sad and uplifting at the same time it will help you understand the disruptions tearing apart working class Amercans.

  • Shelly F

    Good book got caught up in some laboring details. Interesting perspective not sure it's any different than other poverty pockets in the country.

  • linda w

    well done

  • Timothy P

    Great book. Realistic and inspiring. Audio version was easy to listen to.

  • Perry C

    Very well done Mr. Vance. Having had similar life experiences your narrative spoke to me. Excellent read!!!

  • Samantha D

    Loved this book! Thank you J. D. Vance for being vulnerable and telling your story! It's not easy, but is an inspiration to someone like myself who also suffered many ACE's while growing up in a substance abuse home. Having to be the adult in many situations and often times no stable ground to stand on. I also couldn't have made it to who I am today without my grandmother. What an awesome thank you to her for her support. It's not easy to take the path less traveled, but you did it despite all of the road blocks. Congratulations!

  • Sharon W

    It was a very interesting book particularly since I live in Kentucky now. The life perspective of the author was intriguing.

  • Vivian Y

    Enjoyed the audiobooks.com, my first time using an audiobook! I will be using it a lot! I am a slow reader so this helped me to get through the book. This dysfunctional family taught JD to rise above. He needed to understand that he was raised within this hillbilly family that could have made him into one of them, but his decision to go into the Marines helped him to adjust and learn a more universal way of thinking. He was then able to gather all of the things he learned from his family and all of the things he learned in the Marines to mold himself into a prestigious lawyer. Kudos to Vance for achieving and overcoming the inevitable of many who can't get out of this type of trap.

  • melissa c

    A great listen while driving.

  • Terry P

    Great book with a lot statistical analysis that really made you aware of how difficult beating the odds of poverty are. I had preconceived notions on how poverty affected people but this book expanded on them. Poverty does not discriminate and it clearly has long lasting effects even if you're one of the lucky ones that rise above. I will listen to it again in the future as a reminder.

  • Eva S

    It took me a while to get used to the narration, I think it would have been a plus to have someone else narrate, pretty monotonous. I really got into the book as it progressed and it personally helped me understand the decisions and culture of people connected to me with similar backgrounds, that before seemed absolutely alien, highly dysfunctional and irrational.

  • Harry Ric B

    Fascinating memoir on how one Rust Belt kid beat the odds and succeeds, and a social commentary on why the odds are stacked against white working-class kids in typically dysfunctional families. As one teacher is quoted, "We are expected to be shepherds, yet the children we teach are often raised by wolves."

  • Jase W

    Excellent book with good characters. Enjoyed the audiobooks.com experience

  • Barb Silver

    I really enjoyed listening to this story, and felt that Vance offers insights grounded in real life experiences for those "just-pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps" types who don't understand how sociocultural barriers keep people in poverty, generation after generation. My only complaint is the flat narrative - the author should have let someone else read the book. Here is a man from Kentucky hillbilly country who speaks like the Yale law graduate he became - I wanted to HEAR what Mamaw really sounded like when she belted out all those profanities in a Kentucky accent. Probably better off reading the book rather than listening to it - then you can use your imagination and laugh out loud (or cry) at some of the great dialogue.

  • Dawn Eggenberger

    A good story of overcoming adversity and coming of age in the Rust belt.

  • Harry Lockhart

    Vance provides a compelling look at his life that reflects the experiences of many of our fellow citizens. Between heartbreaking anecdotes and insights that can also bring a smile we get a glimpse of the edge that many are slipping toward and where to find rescue ; Within ourselves. Of all things it sheds a new light for me on the Jimmy Carter "malaise" speech - a message I resented greatly but now considering prescient.

  • Amy O\'Connor

    Hated this book. I think it is ridiculous that we are supposed to listen to his story and feel sorry for him. His story of pulling his self up by the boot straps and making it in this world despite significant diversity is nothing new. The only thing that is new about this story is that there is a white guy now trying to claim he is as equal as any other person of color because him and his family were poor. Also, if people are trying to read this book in order to understand "Trump Voters" don't bother unless you want to be even more baffled by the people who voted for someone like Trump.

  • Joan Levis

    As I listened to this book, I was thinking, now I need to read it. It has such broad implications for the issues which plague our society today. From psycho-social, political, educational, and the familial structure and its affect on our American culture. Taken in context, the book speaks to one group's crisis, yet it speaks to a much broader problem in our society today. I loved the way Vance interweaved statistics and studies into his narrative. Some of the narrative was a bit monotone, but otherwise I was mesmerized. Cheers to Vance overcoming the adversity, and also working on changing the behavior patterns he learned as a child. That takes a strong man, a strong wife, the will to do better, and patience.

  • Jo Ann Sawyer

    Did not enjoy this book. Deadpan narration. You. Really wanted some more interesting information.

  • Ed Minica

    Very smooth tone, great insight.

  • Dean Cardenas

    Very interesting read and solid account of JD's life and how he overcomes adversity.

  • Becky Faber

    Thank you JD for sharing your experiences. Here's to participating in the world and resisting retreat form it!

  • David Stoddard

    Great book. A portrayal of an American culture experiencing social problems with no essy solution. This book reinforced my belief that the quality of family life can either make or break a society. American is not doing very well in that regard. This book supports the idea that our success in life is directly related to our family life and that generationally modeling continues from one generation to another.

  • Lauvenia Maggard

    I found the story and the characters both loving and neurotic! Vance did a beautiful job of storytelling current political events, and narration.

  • george Flint

    I honestly don't remember why I ordered this book, but, as a retire history teacher, I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised.

  • Amanda Lang

    Not much meat in this story.... I didn't find it his story telling interesting

  • Debra Feller

    I come from the same Hillbilly background. My grandparents home was just one county to the east of Jackson; JD Vance's story spoke to me. Although I was one of the lucky kids because my mom escaped the poverty at age 16 and married into a upper-middle class family from "Kendal-tucky" Indiana. The 11 siblings and their children left behind in KY did not. Poverty, alcohol, substance abuse and sorrow is a cloud over my Mother's side of the family. I have vivid memories of Prater Holler. We traveled the Hillbilly highway every other weekend in the summer. I was 10 years old when my grandparents built a bathroom with running water and a toilet. I tell people that the poverty and welfare state was such and institution in the coal country during the 1970's that I was 12 years old when I learned that Food stamps were not Kentucky's "state money". JD's insight into the root causes of the white working class problems and their mindset is spot on. I found myself agreeing out loud with him throughout the book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who comes from our background. It will make you feel less like an outsider.

  • Heily M

    A bit slow...the content was not very interesting to me:(

  • Malinda Moore

    I loved hearing JD Vance's voice narrating his insightful book with the same objective clarity with which he wrote Hillbilly Elegy.

  • Hilary Keim

    I loved the message this book gives.

  • Joseph Baines

    This was well written. It gives a look into a culture and lifestyle that rarely gets attention outside of the region.

  • Clyde Alexander

    Enjoyed the book.Told how it was to grow up in a poor time and having to work for what you got. Over coming obstacles.

  • Jeffrey Kashner

    Very good indeed. I enjoyed it very much, and a topic that is rarely discussed.

  • Coral Negron

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Well written and fascinating. I couldn't stop listening.

  • Matthew Chapman

    Excellent. A voice that is ripe for the time. Heart wrenching and funny.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

by J. D. Vance

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J. D. Vance
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This title is due for release on June 28, 2016.

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This title is due for release on June 28, 2016
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