HILLBILLY ELEGY: A Critique

Updated: Apr 20, 2021


I picked up the book by J D Vance at the suggestion of a friend. I was writing a chapter of my memoirs, “The Silent Minority,” based on a paper I presented to the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, March 1978. My friend had suggested Elegy might be informative in my research on the plight of Appalachia and useful as a reference. It was neither. Nor was it worthwhile reading with the exception that Vance has a good writing style, albeit boring. I would not recommend Elegy to anyone studying the authenticity of the Appalachian diaspora. The book is not well documented and reads more like the ramblings of a dysfunctional family anywhere in the United States forced into “Appalachia” by the author. Not in anyway to belittle his service to his Country, but Elegy becomes a non-believable, fiction-like novel as Vance changes directions midway in the book, switching gears as he abandons his white trash hillbilly Appalachian background to undergo a miraculous total personality/life change by joining the Marines and subsequently graduating from Yale Law school. “What?” “What just happened,” the reader asks? It just smacks of “from trash to pretension.” Essentially the book is two books: the dysfunctional family USA and the perfect pretentious Yale lawyer.


I was also offended by the artificial and unnecessary insertion of Vance’s political position, lecturing the reader on the virtues of democratic liberal drivel.


I would recommend readers go to less biased, popularized, far more authentic, sources on the plight of Appalachians, such as: “The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats,” by Jim Goad, 1997; “White Trash” by Nancy Isenburg, 2016; “In Defense of Rednecks” by Edward Abbey. Perhaps the classic non-fiction, fiction description of the plight of Appalacians in the industrial Midwest is “The Dollmaker,“ a NY Times Bestseller by my friend, Harriett Arnow.


In summary, I would not recommend the book to anyone. There are far more in-depth, more accurate, not popularized books documenting the history of hillbillies and their struggle as the silent minority.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Critique©️

A Critique by Tom Tenbrunsel 6/16/17

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