Tom MacWright

I read Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance on


There have already been good takedowns of Hillbilly Elegy: New Republic, What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, The Mythical Whiteness of Trump Country.

They’re all right. Having read the book, though, the thing that sticks out is that it’s only, maybe, ten percent of the book that’s dedicated to arch-conservative diagnosis and its rehashing of the Moynihan Report with the characters swapped out. Reading it made me wonder why: did Vance really write this detailed memoir just to serve as the toast on which his stupefying reckons are the butter? The connection between the two faces of this book - the mostly interesting, blow-by-blow account of a childhood, and the uninteresting generalizations - are so thin that they feel like pieces of separate works, sewn together at the last moment.

Vance’s half-baked excuses for racists and self-reliance recommendations for the poor don’t merit another dissection. This book escapes the single-star rating because its autobiography was interesting to me. But if you’re interested in what’s going on with whiteness, read Settlers instead.