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Hillbilly Elergy by JD Vance

Through drawing on the support in his life, critically analysing what was going on around him.  Accepting the challenge from those who loved him.  JD Vance shows all of us to reach for our talents, our capabilities and make the most of what life can offer.

This book fired up my curiosity and delivered.  I think partly as we knew it was going to cover issues that has led to a surprising US Electoral result in 2016.  I was happy to understand what it was like to walk in Vance’s shoes, how he made a success of his life.


JD’s family moved around in search of a better life.  His mother’s initial enthusiasm and his grandmother’s subsequent emphasis on education, creating a path together with working hard and taking responsibility for your own future.

Vance grew up in Hillbilly Country, which finds itself declining over decades, post WWII.  Caught up in a cycle of unemployment, alcohol, drugs and violence.  The author makes no excuses for this, recognising the pain and the reality of the decline.


The book explores issues like generational poverty, low levels of education.  Areas declined as people left areas in the rust belt.  Hillbilly culture, Vance believes, in response to the challenges, many avoided working hard and made excuses for their situation.  Hesitant to speak about their uncomfortable truths from an early age, leading to an alternative reality, ignoring their problems.

Ingrained mindsets are explored – escaping a working-class life does not mean that they escape the working class. Despite doing well, JDs grandparents originally negligent attitude towards their children, only to realise the error of their ways.  Changing to work hard to support them and their grandchildren.


With his own unstable upbringing, his parents divorced at 6, both later remarrying.  We follow his mother’s life descending into greater disarray over time.  Her breakdowns, her relationships, her substance abuse and her violence meant that JD alternately lived with his father, mother and grandparents.  His personal life impacted his sister and his schooling over time.

This instability, he learnt that he could only rely on himself.  Over time, re-establishing relations with his father, who introduces him to religion.  The search for a father figure, the only consistent male was his grandfather.

Living the final 3 years at school with grandparents. The significance of his grandmother purchasing an expensive calculator, reinforced the need to apply himself.  Working at a local grocery store, he realised different behaviours of people and how they used money and welfare and discovers Golf.  Upon finishing school, he joined the Marine Corp, which of course provides some great stories of a character testing nature.  Surviving and thriving in Boot Camp, he proved to himself, that could achieve anything.

Resilience and Success

The passing of his grandmother compelled him to go to Ohio State University, where he excelled, working different jobs and socialising.  In taking charge of his life and applied to Yale Law School.  Meeting his future wife, who sustains him through law school.  He was unable to deal with conflict in his relationship with her, leading to realising that he had to investigate the impact of his childhood.

Thus, he found himself struggling with his childhood trauma.  The impacts of which can include cancer, obesity and lifelong underperformance.  He relied on the positive people in his life, to stop him falling into the cycle of helplessness, those who believed in him and fought for his upbringing.  Despite this, many Hillbillies are not so fortunate.

Wikipedia: “Hillbilly” is a term for people who dwell in rural, mountainous areas in the United States, primarily in southern Appalachia and the Ozarks.


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