Vance's mega-bestselling memoir about his rise from a troubled Appalachian family to Yale Law School and Silicon Valley career is the latest conservative bible, preaching self-reliance and hard work over government dependence.
While Vance and a few other relatives achieve success, the book's prevailing story is the decline of a white working class family beset by social and economic changes in rural Kentucky and Ohio.
As Vance's mother, a trained nurse, succumbs to drug addiction and a series of unstable marriages, Vance finds stability with his feisty grandmother and the care of his older sister.
After a life-changing stint in the Marine Corps, Vance gets his degree at Ohio St. and is then accepted at Yale's prestigious law school, where he finds love and happiness despite his cultural differences.
The book's success has made Vance a conservative pundit who frequently appears on cable TV. Some believe that his book offers insights into the white anger that led to Donald Trump's election.
I'd recently finished "Hillbilly Elegy" when I saw the book at the Ted Kennedy library giftshop, evidence of its acceptance as a "centrist" cultural phenomenon.
After reading liberal dismissals of "Hillbilly Elegy," I was surprised to find the book not so bad. Vance's straight-forward writing style kept the narrative going, and his family members and acquaintances held my interest.
I was irritated at many of Vamce's comments. His complaints about food stamps and other federal programs struck me as pre-fabricated talking points from the conservative playbook. While castigating white working people for believing falsehoods about Barack Obama, his long discussions of the Obama myths betray his own acceptance of them.
Vance's harrowing, heart-rending and sometimes comic childhood experiences give dramatic validity to his message that white blue-collar workers have lost their sense of purpose. I don't know whether he gives that much insight into Trump's election. The people he writes about have lost their sense of political participation and willingness to support any candidate. I can see them responding to Bernie Sanders as well as Trump.
I don't accept Vance's message that government programs are the main cause of his community's collapse. The book gave me the opposite belief that they need improved government support for health care, education and jobs. I did agree with Vance that the white working class should quit blaming others for their problems and develop more self-discipline and community spirit.