Hillbilly Elegy is the second most read nonfiction book on Amazon and has been on the list for eleven weeks. J.D. Vance has written a compelling and eye-opening memoir that is stirring up a lot of controversy. A product of hillbilly Tennessee and Ohio J.D. maintains that the status of people in the community in which he was raised is directly attributable to the choices they make, and that their lives will improve only through better decisions. But for them to make better choices, they need to live in an environment that forces them to ask tough questions about themselves.

“There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society and the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day…What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives.”

He discovered that he and his sister suffered from “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs. ACEs are traumatic childhood events whose consequences reach far into adulthood. The most common are:

  • Being sworn at, insulted or humiliated by parents
  • Being pushed, grabbed, or having something thrown at you
  • Feeling that your family didn’t support each other
  • Having parents who were separated or divorced
  • Living with an alcoholic or a drug user
  • Living with someone who was depressed or attempted suicide
  • Watching a loved one be physically abused.

He claims that American working-class families experience a level of instability unseen elsewhere in the world. The question he had to ask was how much of his life, good and bad, should he credit to personal decisions, and how much was just the inheritance of his culture, his family, and his parents who have failed their children? Where does blame stop and sympathy begin? To have chance at success he believes his community needs to stop blaming government or faceless companies and ask what we can do to make things better.

J.D. escaped the poverty of his childhood through enlisting in the Marines after high school, going to Ohio State and then to Yale for a law degree. His story transcends race and political ideology and is an inspiration to anyone seeking a better life. I think we shall hear more of this young man in the future.