Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

J.D. Vance And "Hillbilly Elegy" On Thursday's Access Utah


The New York Times bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” 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, perhaps, 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.

J.D. Vance has become a chief explainer of this demographic in the national media as income inequality, class warfare, and above all, the plight and anger of the white working class, have become hot button issues in the 2016 Presidential election.

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 Appalachian 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 shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is a meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of the country.

J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.