Question for anyone who's read Hillbilly Elegy

(THIS POST MIGHT BE CONSTRUED AS SOMEWHAT INTELLECTUALY ELITIST. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.)

Not asking for advice on whether I should buy it, since I already did so a few days ago, mostly out of desperation due to a lack of interesting English-language material at my local bookstore.

I'm more wondering how urgently I need to dive into the book.

Is the guy's thesis basically just "Impoverished whites are driven to reactionary politics because of the loss of economic opportunities", backed up by personal anecdotes?

Because if that's mostly what it is, I don't think I'm gonna be especially blown-away by the book, even if I happen to agree with his overall point(*).

Like I say, I'll probably get around to reading it someday, but I'm not particularly inclined just right at this moment, especially if he's just restating things I've already heard.

(*) And having grown up in a milieu where reactionary and racist views were fairly commonplace, IME they are just as common among the economically comfortable as among the economically desperate.

Comments

  • No, it’s more in the line of books about the “culture of poverty”.
  • No, it’s more in the line of books about the “culture of poverty”.

    Thanks.

    I'm now trying to decide whether I should read that review before or after I read the book. I don't like to "poison the well" by reading something that might push my opinions in a certain direction before getting to the main work itself.

  • Perhaps I shouldn’t answer since you posed your question to those who’ve read the book. I haven’t, having decided I wasn’t interested in reading it after reading these two essays at The Bitter Southerner*:

    Hillbillies Need No Elegy
    and
    Keep Your “Elegy”: The Appalachia I Know Is Very Much Alive

    The first essay is by a co-editor of Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, and second essay is excerpted from that book.

    I completely get not wanting to poison the well, and these essays might do that, so I offer them either as essays you might want to read before or after reading Hillbilly Elegy.

    FWIW, which may be very little.


    * From the website: “We stand for a better South. . . . The Bitter Southerner has a single aim: to uncover the American South in all its truth and complexity—and in the process to break stereotypes about the region and its people by pushing out important, difficult, uncomfortable, irreverent, witty, addictive, and always enjoyable stories that turn myths about the South inside out. Every week.”

  • Thanks, Nick.
  • DooneDoone Shipmate
    Thanks from me as well; funnily enough it was on a kindle offer yesterday, so I bought it hoping it would provide useful insights.
  • Of recent entries in the genre (and of the books reviewed in that link I posted), the Arlie Hochschild one is probably the strongest, though because of that also the most question begging.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host, Epiphanies Host
    Probably a Heavenly thread. I’ll ask backstage.

    Barnabas62
    Purgatory Host
  • I listened to the book on Audile Books. I particularly heard how the author grew out of his hillbilly environment. He did cite several studies that supported his narrative. He had great respect for his grandmother's earthly wisdom, especially as he was moving into adolescence. In other words, this was mostly an autobiographical book. I would read it as such.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    It sounds a bit like Educated by Tara Westover. Have any other shipmates read that?

  • Enoch wrote: »
    It sounds a bit like Educated by Tara Westover. Have any other shipmates read that?

    Is that the one by the woman from the polygamous Mormon family who got her shit together and hit the Ivy Leagues and/or Oxbridge and now lives in Europe somewhere?

    If so, nope, haven't read it. But I long ago mastered the art of making myself look smart by reading book reviews and retaining key points.
  • Enoch wrote: »
    It sounds a bit like Educated by Tara Westover. Have any other shipmates read that?
    My wife just finished it last week.

  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    stetson wrote: »
    Enoch wrote: »
    It sounds a bit like Educated by Tara Westover. Have any other shipmates read that?


    Is that the one by the woman from the polygamous Mormon family who got her shit together and hit the Ivy Leagues and/or Oxbridge and now lives in Europe somewhere?

    If so, nope, haven't read it. But I long ago mastered the art of making myself look smart by reading book reviews and retaining key points.
    It's possible you'e thinking of the same book. Her parents were dissenting Mormons, but not active polygamists. Her father was particularly extreme, a scrap metal merchant who didn't believe in schooling, medicine etc very anti-government and very, very right wing. She managed to get away and be accepted by Brigham Young University - which for her was a liberating experience! She then went to Cambridge, the one in England not the one in Massachusetts, and eventually got a PhD there.

  • Enoch wrote: »
    It sounds a bit like Educated by Tara Westover. Have any other shipmates read that?

    Educated is a much better book, because the author is much more self-aware and doesn't attempt to over-generalise. There's quite a good interview with her on the Talking Politics podcast (the host was her PhD supervisor): https://www.talkingpoliticspodcast.com/blog/2018/81-educated
  • Enoch wrote: »
    stetson wrote: »
    Enoch wrote: »
    It sounds a bit like Educated by Tara Westover. Have any other shipmates read that?


    Is that the one by the woman from the polygamous Mormon family who got her shit together and hit the Ivy Leagues and/or Oxbridge and now lives in Europe somewhere?

    If so, nope, haven't read it. But I long ago mastered the art of making myself look smart by reading book reviews and retaining key points.
    It's possible you'e thinking of the same book. Her parents were dissenting Mormons, but not active polygamists. Her father was particularly extreme, a scrap metal merchant who didn't believe in schooling, medicine etc very anti-government and very, very right wing. She managed to get away and be accepted by Brigham Young University - which for her was a liberating experience! She then went to Cambridge, the one in England not the one in Massachusetts, and eventually got a PhD there.

    We are absolutely thinking of the same book. And thanks for the clarifications, now I can look extra smart at the proverbial cocktail parties.
  • stetson wrote: »
    (THIS POST MIGHT BE CONSTRUED AS SOMEWHAT INTELLECTUALY ELITIST. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.)

    Not asking for advice on whether I should buy it, since I already did so a few days ago, mostly out of desperation due to a lack of interesting English-language material at my local bookstore.

    I'm more wondering how urgently I need to dive into the book.

    Is the guy's thesis basically just "Impoverished whites are driven to reactionary politics because of the loss of economic opportunities", backed up by personal anecdotes?

    Because if that's mostly what it is, I don't think I'm gonna be especially blown-away by the book, even if I happen to agree with his overall point(*).

    Like I say, I'll probably get around to reading it someday, but I'm not particularly inclined just right at this moment, especially if he's just restating things I've already heard.

    (*) And having grown up in a milieu where reactionary and racist views were fairly commonplace, IME they are just as common among the economically comfortable as among the economically desperate.

    There are many better books about Appalachia out there. A friend of mine, who advised me not to bother, said it'd've been a better book if the author had been more honest and said it was a personal memoir instead of a general statement about the entire region.

    I'd recommend a book titled "What You're Getting Wrong About Appalachia" as a better alternative.
  • In this vein, I'd highly recommend (and may have done here, previously) Dennis Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain. It starts as a memoir of covering an attempted murder trial in northern Mississippi and ends up being an examination of snake handler culture and his own connection with Appalachia. One of the best books that I've ever read.
  • Gramps49 wrote: »
    I listened to the book on Audile Books. I particularly heard how the author grew out of his hillbilly environment. He did cite several studies that supported his narrative. He had great respect for his grandmother's earthly wisdom, especially as he was moving into adolescence. In other words, this was mostly an autobiographical book. I would read it as such.
    Haven't read it, but from what I've read about it, it doesn't come across as an autobiography as much as a socio-political statement. Or rather, using autobiography to make that statement.
  • It's on Netflix - has anyone seen/read both?

    https://www.netflix.com/title/81071970?s=a&trkid=13747225&t=cp

    (Sorry, I can't find the url code shortcut ... )
  • An article discussing Hillbilly Eligy from an Appalachian
  • I watched Hillbilly Elegy on Netflix yesterday. I would say the movie followed the storyline of the book pretty closely, though there were a few segments that were not included like when, as a pre-pubescent, J. D, confessed to Manaw, that he might be homosexual and Manaw asked "Do you like to suck other boys' dicks?"

    I see that, by and large, the reviews of the movie were rather negative. But I thought it portrayed the Appalachian culture quite well: its poverty, the Northern Migration, the impact of drug and alcohol addiction and recovery on the family.

    It ended up on a positive note in the end.

    Roger Ebert has given a good summary of the movie
  • MiliMili Shipmate
    Enoch wrote: »
    It sounds a bit like Educated by Tara Westover. Have any other shipmates read that?

    This discussion reminded me I had planned to read 'Educated' once it had been out for a bit and was less expensive. Now I am halfway through and it is full on! It shows that hard work and religion is not necessarily the best way to a successful life. At least half the family receive terrible injuries in car accidents, because dad doesn't believe in seat belts, or at his no work place health and safety scrap metal business. And the dad also believed doctors were evil. I found it challenging to read about the long, unnecessarily painful recoveries from injuries and illnesses Tara and various family members went through in the 1990s. I'm relieved I'm finally up to where Tara goes to college, though that is painful to read in other ways. Still finding it interesting though, having previously read the blogs and stories of U.S. home schooled children who have chose a different life in adulthood.
  • I have started reading this book. People tend to refer to Appalachians as Scotch-Irish. Do they mean Scots and Irish, or Scottish people transplanted to Ireland at various times in the past?
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    I have started reading this book. People tend to refer to Appalachians as Scotch-Irish. Do they mean Scots and Irish, or Scottish people transplanted to Ireland at various times in the past?

    I think it means Scottish protestants who were shipped off to Ireland as part of a population transfer. Not sure of the dates or the precise reasons.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Re-reading the relevant wikipedia articles, I think they are basically synonymous with "Ulstermen". And most of the migration seems to have taken place in the 17th Century.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited December 22
    stetson wrote: »
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    I have started reading this book. People tend to refer to Appalachians as Scotch-Irish. Do they mean Scots and Irish, or Scottish people transplanted to Ireland at various times in the past?

    I think it means Scottish protestants who were shipped off to Ireland as part of a population transfer.
    Yes, that’s what they mean. The Wiki on Scotch-Irish Americans. They were a significant group in the settlement of North Carolina and of much of Appalachia.

  • Cheers to both of you.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Scotch-Irish sounds like a hybrid whisk(e)y.
  • I'll drink it.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    edited December 24
    stetson wrote: »
    ... I think it means Scottish protestants who were shipped off to Ireland as part of a population transfer. Not sure of the dates or the precise reasons.
    Not quite. 'Shipped off' and 'population transfer' are misnomers.
    1. Scotland and Ireland aren't very far apart. There's always been regular and frequent movement between them. There's not much genetic difference between them.
    2. The reason why the Western Isles speak Gaelic is because they were taken over the Irish c 500 AD.
    3. Both areas were also attacked and partially settled by Vikings.
    4. Throughout the middle ages Irish chiefs made a habit of employing Scots mercenaries to fight in their wars for them.
    5. At the time of the Reformation English influence in Ireland was largely centred in Dublin. English influence in Ulster, the northern of the four provinces, was weak.
    6. At the Reformation, most Irish, including many English settlers in the south remained Catholic.
    7. There was warfare all through Elizabeth I's reign as she tried to subdue Ireland - usually with little success. One expedient, though, was to encourage Protestants to settle in Ireland.
    8. In 1603, Elizabeth died and was succeeded by James VI and I who was already king of Scotland.
    9. In 1607 the Irish Earls in Ulster didn't like having to fit in with an English rule they found oppressive and fled the country.
    10. As a counterbalance to a disaffected population, James encouraged Protestant settlement still further, and offered land there on favourable terms. A lot of Presbyterians from Scotland moved to Ulster. This is the background to the Northern Irish troubles in the form that has bedevilled my lifetime.
    11. A lot of Ulster Protestants later emigrated to North America. Most are probably now still Protestant but I don't think still have links to Ireland.
    12. The Protestant part of the population of Northern Ireland is split approximately 50/50 between Church of Ireland (like the Church of England) and Presbyterian (like Scotland). There are strong and active links between Northern Irish and Scottish Presbyterians.
    13. I think a lot of Ulster immigrants to the US settled in the interior, e.g. Appalachia.
    14. Later and particularly from 1845 until the 1920s a lot of Catholic Irish emigrated to North America, to places like Boston and New York. They predominantly remain Roman Catholic and have an emotional sympathy with Irish nationalism, Sinn Fein etc.

    Sorry. That's quite long. Is it any help?

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Enoch:

    Excellent.

    Yeah, I think I realized after I had posted that it wasn't a forced transfer. But, as you say, encouraged in order to advance the government's agenda.

    Thanks again.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    I'll add to the summary that the Scotii were an Irish group who invaded the lands north west of Hadrian's Wall in the 5th or 6th century.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited December 25
    Enoch wrote: »
    11. A lot of Ulster Protestants later emigrated to North America. Most are probably now still Protestant but I don't think still have links to Ireland.
    Yes. I’m a descendant of that group on my mother’s side. In my experience, most people of Scotch-Irish (the old term, still used by some)/Scots-Irish (the newer term)/Ulster Scots (the term preferred by many within the group) descent think of themselves simply as being of Scottish descent. The “Irish” or “Ulster” part is seen more or less as a temporary stop between Scotland and what is now the US, but there is not generally any feeling of Irish heritage.

  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Enoch wrote: »
    11. A lot of Ulster Protestants later emigrated to North America. Most are probably now still Protestant but I don't think still have links to Ireland.
    Yes. I’m a descendant of that group on my mother’s side. In my experience, most people of Scotch-Irish (the old term, still used by some)/Scots-Irish (the newer term)/Ulster Scots (the term preferred by many within the group) descent think of themselves simply as being of Scottish descent. The “Irish” or “Ulster” part is seen more or less as a temporary stop between Scotland and what is now the US, but there is not generally any feeling of Irish heritage.

    I note, many Scots moved into the mid-south and deep south in the early 1800s. Many of them were trappers. Quite a few Native Americans from that area have Scottish
  • Gramps49 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Enoch wrote: »
    11. A lot of Ulster Protestants later emigrated to North America. Most are probably now still Protestant but I don't think still have links to Ireland.
    Yes. I’m a descendant of that group on my mother’s side. In my experience, most people of Scotch-Irish (the old term, still used by some)/Scots-Irish (the newer term)/Ulster Scots (the term preferred by many within the group) descent think of themselves simply as being of Scottish descent. The “Irish” or “Ulster” part is seen more or less as a temporary stop between Scotland and what is now the US, but there is not generally any feeling of Irish heritage.

    I note, many Scots moved into the mid-south and deep south in the early 1800s.
    Yes, but the bulk of Scottish immigrants came here (North Carolina) in the 1700s.

  • Enoch wrote: »
    stetson wrote: »
    ... I think it means Scottish protestants who were shipped off to Ireland as part of a population transfer. Not sure of the dates or the precise reasons.

    2. The reason why the Western Isles speak Gaelic is because they were taken over the Irish c 500 AD.


    It's not really accurate to refer to the folk of Dal Riata as "the Irish". They were Gaels. You might as well refer to the Anglo-Saxons as "the Germans". Gaelic was the dominant language in most of Scotland by the 14th century. It's still spoken in Eilean Siar because English hasn't (yet) succeeded in displacing it. With little inward migration until recent years there was little to force the use of English as a community language (which is why the government started to force it in the education system). BTW dismissing Gaelic as "the Irish tongue" has a long association with some fairly toxic unionist, English-supremacist attitudes.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    edited December 25
    I'm almost finished and it is a very interesting and worthwhile read. I see it as a genuine attempt to offer insight into the experience of poverty, an experience I suspect you can only know from the inside. I suspect the range of experiences are broad, and the book focuses on the author's because that's what he knows. But there are different ranges of experiences and outcomes offered in the book through his relatives. I don't think hillbillys are unique in their typical experiences of poverty at all. I don't think Vance's experience of poverty are even uniquely American. But I understand from a few comments my social-worker MIL made when we were touring that part of America that hillbillys form the core of some very important studies into poverty.

    I thought his insights into social capital were interesting, when he was comparing how Yale undergraduates get jobs with how others do, in terms of the networking people do. But I actually think he misses a trick. He thinks that people in his home town don't work networks like rick folk do, but in reality the networks in his home town had become redundant. The big employers left his home town, the ones who used to have policies of recruiting whole families of people from Kentucky. The influence his grandparents could pull to help him succeed were now of little utility. His parents' generation had moved to find work elsewhere and build new networks, like his estranged father who had extensive networks available in ConEvo circles. I think he failed to see those networks because of his dysfunctional childhood, and by the time he realised his need, the ones he found were Yale networks, the best available.
  • MiliMili Shipmate
    My dad has a copy of the book so I decided to give it a read. I was already a bit surprised by the claim that most of the Appalachian white population were from protestant Ulster backgrounds and on reading Vance's description of this heritage I became even more questioning. The way he writes it has a whiff of mythology and it seemed unlikely that in hundreds of years of settlement people of various European backgrounds, particularly from England and Scotland wouldn't have intermarried with people from Northern Ireland, as the have in other parts of the U.S. and countries such as Australia.

    Sure enough it is a myth made up by outsiders to explain why the white people in Appalachia are so poor, backward, lazy and big drinkers, unlike the 'superior' white protestants of the rest of the U.S. It was decided that it was because they were Celtic and Irish (but of course Scotch Irish as they were not Roman Catholic).

    This article by Wilma A. Dunaway (an Appalachian of Irish and Cherokee ancestry) is long, but explains why and how the myth was developed and came to be taken up by even local scholars and historians in Appalachia. She argues that while there is some 'Scotch-Irish' ancestry in Appalachia there is more English ancestry, as well as ancestry from many other parts of the U.K. and Europe. Of course there are also non-white people in Appalachia and she argues that their cultures have also influenced the culture of Appalachia, rather than the myth that the culture there is unchanging and homogeneous Scotch-Irish. https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/faculty_archives/appalachian_women/legacy.htm

    I have protestant Irish ancestry too however I don't know much about my heritage there, beyond a couple of generations, as many of the protestant records were destroyed. However I do know some of the settlers during the plantation era in Ireland were from Northern England so Ulster protestants migrating to the U.S. likely had some English ancestry. Also the culture of Appalachia today would hardly be the unchanged from that of 18th century Ulster, even if it was a homogeneous 'Scotch-Irish' culture there.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited December 29
    I once saw it reported on wikipedia that the word "hillbilly" originally meant someone who lived in the hills, and was an admirer of King Billy.

    I'm pretty sure that factoid is not true, though I don't know if it was just made up by someone to post on that particular article, or if it had a prior existence.
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