(My review on goodreads)
In the interest of partial disclosure (the best kind of disclosure), this brief review replaces a much longer, rambling, incoherent, intemperant, and enraged review that I posted a few days ago after reading the first half of Hillbilly Elegy. I have still only read the first half of the book, but I’ve had a bit of time to reflect. So now, just a few observations:
Vance was born into and raised by a family of psychopaths, so whatever generalizations he, or the reader, wants to make about his experience has to be tempered by that fact.
There are a number of internal contradictions in the book. For example, at various points Vance wants to make the case that “hillbilly” culture is due to the prevalencce of “Scots-Irish” ancestry, yet in other places he concedes that the culture is regional and unrelated to ancestry. He wants to make the case that laziness and poor work ethic is responsible for the situation that “hillbillies” find themselves in, but elsewhere acknowledges that the hollowing out of manufacturing in the region has been a major factor.
Vance relies on anecdotes to make his various points. As any statistician will tell you, the plural of anecdote is not data.
It bothers me a little that Clinton Democrats seem to have used this book to buttress their notion that Trump supporters are a “basket of deplorables,” and, in reviews on Goodreads, complain that Vance does not delve into the supposed (or actual) racism that pervades “hillbilly” culture. The reason this bothers me is that the hollowing out of manufacturing in the region was largely a function of the neoliberal economic polices that Democrats have pursued since the 1970s (with a big assist from Republicans since Reagan, of course). And likely the biggest reason that white working class voters turned away from the Democratic party in droves in the past 25 years is that they recognize the extent to which the DP has turned its back on manufacturing workers and on the labor movement. None of this is Vance’s fault, of course.