'We Hillbillies Have Got to Wake the Hell Up': Review of Hillbilly Elegy

A family chronicle of the crackup of poor working-class white Americans.



Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance, HarperCollins, $27.99, 264 pp.

Read this remarkable book: It is by turns tender and funny, bleak and depressing, and thanks to Mamaw, always wildly, wildly profane. An elegy is a lament for the dead, and with Hillbilly Elegy Vance mourns the demise of the mostly Scots-Irish working class from which he springs. I teared up more than once as I read this beautiful and painful memoir of his hillbilly family and their struggles to cope with the modern world.

Vance grew up poor with a semi-employed, drug-addicted mother who lived with a string of five or six husbands/boyfriends in the fading Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio. The only constants in his chaotic life were his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw. Vance nearly failed out of high school but eventually graduated from Yale Law School. That personal journey is in the book, but Vance's main story is about the ongoing collapse of hillbilly culture as seen through the lens of his own family's disordered experiences.

Before going on, I should make a disclosure: Like Vance, I grew up as a hillbilly. Neither of my grandfathers could read nor write. My paternal grandparents, Mom and Daddy Bailey, left the Appalachian coal country of McDowell County, West Virginia, around 1950 and bought a dairy farm 80 miles away in Washington County, Virginia. I grew up on that farm.

For most of my childhood, all six of my grandparents' adult children lived within 10 miles of the home place, as did my dozens of cousins. Every Sunday, a massive family midday "dinner"—somewhere around 40 to 50 people—convened at my grandparents' house. I left the farm at age 16, when my parents got divorced. I will spare you further details, but let's just say that the Baileys did not model their family life on the Waltons. Before I made my escape to the University of Virginia, I lived for a while with my mother and one of my sisters in a rented trailer.


Though he mostly grew up in the Rust Belt, Vance identifies as a hillbilly—his family's roots are in the hollers of Breathitt County, Kentucky. Vance's Papaw and Mamaw, like tens of thousands of other mountain folk, left coal country in 1947 to find work and their shot at the American Dream in the booming steelworks 200 miles north. As a kid, Vance would accompany his grandparents as they traveled back nearly every weekend to visit with family in Kentucky. Middletown was Vance's "address," but the town of Jackson in Breathitt County where his great-grandmother Mamaw Blanton lived is his "home."

Today hillbilly culture is scarred by spectacular rates of joblessness, single motherhood, drug addiction, crime, and incarceration. Vance places most of the blame for this on the hillbillies' own shoulders. Globalization and automation decimated the manufacturing jobs that many low-skilled workers leveraged into a middle-class lives in the mid-20th century, he argues, but that's no excuse for fatalistic victimhood now.

Throughout the book, Vance offers stories from family, friends, and neighbors that illustrate the growing cultural dysfunction among poor whites. For example, he takes a job at a floor tile warehouse for $13 an hour where one of his co-workers is a 19-year-old with a pregnant girlfriend. The warehouse owner gives the girlfriend a job as a receptionist. The 19-year-old and his girlfriend are warned about their increasingly frequent absences and tardiness, and eventually both were fired. The 19-year lashes out at the manager, saying, "How could you do this to me? Don't you know that I've got a pregnant girlfriend?"

At another point, Vance meets an old acquaintance in a Middletown bar who tells him he recently quit his job because he was sick of waking up early. Later, the same guy was complaining on Facebook about the "Obama economy" and how it had affected his life.

Hillbilly culture is suspicious of outsiders and enforces a violent code of honor. Vance recalls that boys who got good grades in school were considered "sissies" or "faggots," an attitude that keeps people ill-educated and isolated. As their hopes for achieving the American Dream have faded, his hillbilly relatives, friends, and neighbors have come to see the institutions of society, government, and the economy as rigged against them. This has engendered a deep and debilitating pessimism among poor working-class whites. Hillbillies are killing themselves so effectively with drugs and alcohol that their life expectancies are actually falling.

Does Vance offer any solutions for white working-class despondency and fatalism? "These problems were not created by government or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them," he argues. "We hillbillies have got to wake the hell up." He provides several examples of members of his extended family who have managed to leave poverty and family dysfunction behind. Tellingly, nearly all of them are women, got educations beyond high school, and married men who were not hillbillies.

"People sometimes ask whether I think there's anything we can do to 'solve' the problems of my community," Vance writes. "I know what they're looking for: a magical public policy solution or an innovative government program. But these problems of family, faith, and culture aren't like a Rubik's Cube, and I don't think that solutions (as most understand the term) really exist."

Well, there is at least one "solution." Vance observes that all of his successful friends from Middletown did one other thing: They got the hell out of Middletown. They moved to where the jobs are. Just as Vance's hillbilly grandparents left the impoverished hollers of Kentucky to build middle-class lives in Middletown, today's urban hillbillies could get on the highway to opportunities elsewhere. In the meantime, the government should stop paying poor people to languish in Appalachian and Rustbelt poverty traps.

Vance calls himself a "cultural emigrant." By leaving his hillbilly culture behind, he has been able to create and enjoy a better life. I made much the same journey from Appalachian poverty to what has been a fascinating and fulfilling life. Vance clearly has some regrets about his cultural emigration; I have none.

Despite all their failings, Vance fiercely identifies with and loves his people. He is also a natural storyteller who makes compellingly personal the statistics and news stories about the cultural and economic coming apart of America. It hits close to home.

NEXT: How Would You Detect a War on Cops?

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  1. Today hillbilly culture is scarred by spectacular rates of joblessness, single motherhood, drug addiction, crime, and incarceration. Vance places most of the blame for this on the hillbillies’ own shoulders. Globalization and automation decimated the manufacturing jobs that many low-skilled workers leveraged into a middle-class lives in the mid-20th century, he argues, but that’s no excuse for fatalistic victimhood now.

    Uh oh, John. Looks like somebody wants to replace Kevin Williamson as the object of your vast, seething, typo-flecked hatred.

    1. Kevin D. Williamson. Kevin Williamson is a labor MP from Scotland.

      1. I prefer to think of him as Kevin Dee Williamson, like Billy Dee Williams.

      2. Thanks for that bit of pedantry. Word to your biological mother.

        1. Anytime

    2. That’s one part of the other sort of Trump Derangement Syndrome (the John variant) that is incomprehensible to me.
      A) If it wa a black guy saying it about the equivalent sector of the black community with similar problems and vices, he would be lauding it as necessary honesty.
      B) John is AFAIK not white trash, he has no reason to take it personally at all.

      1. It is not possible to predict what John will or will not obsess over unless you can read other people’s minds, like he can.

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  2. Sounds like “cracker” culture. I have some familiarity with this, having roamed all over upstate NY growing up.

    1. Ha. My family has been in Kentucky since the 1770s, and then when I was four my father got a job in…. upstate NY. I was born to fail.

      1. Sounds like Vance needs to check his privilege.

        1. not sure how this got posted here. I’ll blame the squirrels instead of myself.

  3. So to save hillbillies they need to abandon hillbilly culture and flee. Success then will be the extinction of the thing.

    Not judging, just seems to me that whatever this hillbilly culture has become isn’t worth saving.

    1. I should read the book before commenting…I see a split between Real Hillbilly style/subculture (my grandparents’) and a commercialized Redneck style/subculture that’s displacing it. Dysfunctional families and “trashiness” occur in all cultures, in different styles. However, the Wal-Mart cheapness and accessibility of Redneck style make it especially appealing to people who couldn’t afford to follow some other styles.

    2. Correct. When your culture becomes hopelessly dysfunctional, the only way to survive is to change that culture, or abandon it. Too many people seem to think that “culture” is a wonderful thing in itself, and every culture should be preserved. Culture is only a means to the end of human flourishing; when it ceases to serve that purpose, it’s time to abandon it.

  4. The best thing about white working class post-mortems is that it’s a Rorschach for everyone to see their favorite hobby-horse in.

    So-cons can see the decline of faith to blame, neoreactionaries can blame feminism stealing meaning from men’s lives, the tariff crowd can blame globalization, yokels can blame the push for college for all demeaning blue collar work, drug warriors can blame drugs. It’s a grab-bag of political commentary!

    1. I blame the haunting melody of “Deliverance”

    2. Libertarians can blame Social Security disability scams and the failed War on Drugs for creating an underground meth economy when it should be above board by competent and professional pharmaceutical firms.

  5. I’ve only read excerpts, but Thomas Sowell’s “Black Rednecks & White Liberals” sounds like an incredibly interesting read. White redneck culture and black urban culture are incredibly similar in many ways. It’s a shame the right only blames black culture and the left only blames redneck culture, when in fact the cultures are similar and government policies can not help.

    1. I didn’t know about Sowell’s book, but as I was reading this article couldn’t help but think the same thing (white redneck culture’s similarity to black urban culture).

      1. Incredibly similar. Our local news is a litany of horror and murder, and I’m only hillbilly adjacent.

        1. A Litany of Horror: A Bedtime Story for Children, by SugarFree

          1. What’s surprising is just how often family members kill each other. Brother-sister, nephew-uncle, aunt-nephew, grandparent-grandchild. I mean intrafamily violence is not uncommon, but who shoots their grandma and why does it happen so often?

            And whole families dying in house fires.

            1. JACKSON COUNTY, Ky (LEX 18) A strange call in Jackson County ended with one man in jail and two deputies in the hospital.
              William Gross, 25, was arrested Thursday. According to his arrest citation, he called the cops around 6:30 a.m. from the inside of a home in Jackson County. He told dispatchers that there was a shooting at the home, but the citation says he called back and said he made it all up.

              When deputies arrived, they say another person in the house told them there was an unknown man locked in a bedroom.

              Deputies say they forced their way into the room and were attacked by Gross. After using a taser on him, deputies placed him under arrest.

              Deputies say that Gross told police he was high on bath salts and didn’t even know how he got there.

              The deputies were treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital.

              Neighbors tell LEX 18 that they weren’t surprised to see something suspicious going on.

            2. Darwinism works when the rednecks refuse to.

        2. I’m urban adjacent and everything in this article about the Hill Billie’s is the reportedly nightly about Philly.

      2. I didn’t know about Sowell’s book, but as I was reading this article couldn’t help but think the same thing (white redneck culture’s similarity to black urban culture).

        Yeah, same here. Gonna have to go check out that book now.

      3. Black urban culture at least has good music.

        1. Better than blue grass? You’re high.

          1. Of course better than bluegrass. How many bluegrass songs can you listen to in a row? After two, they all sound the same. Urban black music includes many forms including jazz. It’s sophisticated and has worldwide influence. Bluegrass you HAVE to be high to listen to more than two songs. And give yourself a week to cleanse the palate.

            1. Black urban culture *did* have good music, not it just has hip hop. I know of a few jazz bars in my city, none are in poor black neighborhoods. Black music has been on the decline since at least the 60s, imo. Now it’s as bad as country.

        2. Damn it feels good to be a gangsta

      4. They’re so similar because they have the same roots: the Scottish highlands.

        1. +1 Seed of Albion

        2. “Alright! “We’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks. But we don’t want the Irish!”

      5. In the most sympathetic way…I saw a *lot* of similarities between the problems facing poor young people in the mountains and in the inner city. (And I’ve wondered how much of the screaming about “race” has been drummed up to keep said young people from realizing that the problems and solutions have so much in common.)

    2. It’s an example of culture war.

      “*My* voters are salt of the earth folks who are put upon by the elite. *Your* voters are dysfunctional and their dysfunction is enabled by your policies.”

      1. Not at my web site, Fusionist. I see the salt of the earth in Appalachia and in Anacostia, and I see dysfunctions enabled (and enforced) by policies–specifically welfare!–in both places too.

        1. Ghetto culture is the same all over the world. Barrios of Brazil, ranchos in Venezuela, South African neighborhoods, Appalachia, East LA, Bed-Stuy.

    3. “…and government policies can not help.”

      I beg to differ… Government Almighty ***COULD*** help, but only if they funded a Manhattan-style project to institute a “gene drive” to drive OUT the human genes that foster dependence on Government Almighty!!! And replace them with genes that promote self-reliance and good neighborliness…

      1. Or just cut spending and make people learn self-reliance the hard way.

  6. So, I guess I’ll be the first one to say it; does anyone else see the obvious parallels here between more recent and widespread culture clashes?

  7. At some point, pride left the equation entirely.

    My maternal grandfather was extremely poor. He dropped out of 8th grade so that he could hunt full-time to feed his brothers and sisters. He was drafted into WWII and when he got back he took skills he learned as a sapper and trained as a master carpenter. After he was hurt on the job in his 40s, he built gun cabinets and other furniture at home to support the family. All of this with no public assistance.

    1. Is your family crest a roast-squirrel on a stick?

      1. Oh, man… the first time I stumbled on skinned-squirrels in the deep-freezer. They look exactly like fetuses and I was freaked the fuck out.

        1. Everyone knows you keep the fetuses in the jelly jars back of the smoke shed.

          1. I never ate squirrel, that I know of. I mean, I probably did. But I still think about his deer summer sausage. Delicious.

            1. Squirrel’s not bad. But most of them eat hot dogs now. The cheapest ones you can find at Family Dollar.

              1. Which are 50 percent squirrel, most likely.

            2. we ate (et?) squirrel (and possum and coon etc) often when visiting my ol’virginny family.

              not that THEY ate that shit, but we’d stop and get brunswick stew in south hill va, at a place which had “critter-free” and “extra-critter” varieties. I recall hearing that virgina has more-recently passed some sort of restrictions on the homebrew redneck brunswick-stew production, limiting the ‘open pot small-game-cooking’ to hunting-related fairs or seasonal festivals or some shit like that. Basically, they can’t serve it in restaurants year round… or something like that.

              (*this is a fuzzy memory of something mentioned the last time this came up, during an Independents thread)

              1. KY has a version of Brunswick Stew, Burgoo, which can be made with game, but rarely is. Elementary schools in Western KY sell it as a means of fundraising, making it in giant cauldrons over open fires, usually cooking it for days. And everyone gets to argue over which school makes the best.

                (Burr-goo, by the way… you hear anyone calling it “Burr-go,” slap the genitals clean off their body.)

              2. I love Brunswick stew, but I’m sufficiently suburban enough to only eat it when made with chicken.

                I’m not aware of any stew-suppressing legislation, though, again, I’m a suburban creature and no one around here is making it with critters.

              3. South Hill, huh? I grew up in Petersburg and even we thought South Hill was country.

                1. Petersburg is a strange city. It somehow manages to combine all the worst parts of both hillbilly AND ghetto culture.

            3. Actually, squirrel meat isn’t half bad used in a Bolognese sauce.

              1. Hey!

                Myself, I like cockroach stew, steamin’ hot, on a cold-cold day, while wearing my rat-fur coat…

      2. Close. Roasted flattened possum with a tire mark on its back.

      3. Gopher, Everett?

    2. No shame, no shame avoidance.

      1. The pride is still there, they are just now proud of how damn ignorant they are. Or how impoverished the family is and they still have a giant, brand-new dualie.

        1. Pride in that sense is useless. Shame can be useful.

        2. You say “giant, brand-new dualie” like there’s something wrong with that!

          1. When your roof is tar-paper and your children are filthy, I’m going to judge.

            1. Hey man, if you make money towing something, that brand new dualie is your ticket to actual shingles. But yes, my year with construction guys with brand new trucks and boats (with combined notes higher than my mortgage) and shithole trailers was eye opening.

            2. Not if they have a new blue plastic tarp over that tar-paper roof, keeping it from leaking you won’t.



  9. I grew up on that farm.

    This explains the sinister ties to Big Ag.

  10. Vance recalls that boys who got good grades in school were considered “sissies” or “faggots,” an attitude that keeps people ill-educated and isolated.

    While that contradicts many people’s narratives, I found it to be true of the working-class white suburban culture in which I grew up. Then the people who followed that culture instead of rebelling against it wondered why they didn’t achieve their shiny dreams.

    1. I think it’s common in working class cultures of all sorts. The sort of “what are you too good to be like everyone else?” attitude. What really amazes me is when parents take that attitude about their own children.

      1. DW & Z: As some of my relatives say about me: “He’s gotten above his raising.” They don’t mean it as a compliment.


        2. Ow, more savage than H&R comment thread.

        3. Sounds like Australia — chop off the tall poppies.

      2. I often wonder what caused my father’s generation to leave where they grew up. I think a lot of it had to do with their parent’s dying early. There were no expectations for the children, just survival.

        1. Depending on which generation your father was part of, a lot of the migration over the decades was inspired by U.S. Government sponsored trips to various wars.

          “How ya gonna keep em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Pa-reee.”

      3. My brother and I are very fortunate. My great grandmother insisted that her six children all go to college and all but one of them did. As soon as he graduated high school my grandfather hitch hiked from the farm in the hills of Catahoula parish where he grew up to Baton Rouge, no small feat in itself, and put himself through LSU to become a surveyor, and later a civil engineer. On his own fucking dime. Her children all did well for themselves.

        None of the other relatives did that and consequently are still dirt poor three generations later.

      4. See the film Rudy.

    2. If/when you’re swimming with the sharks in the city (from Gate City that’d be D.C., from a place like Jonesville Gate City might count), then the homefolks can be proud of your business or “career” or “government job.” If/when you’re still at home making other kids look bad, or come back home without becoming rich, then they can be vicious, yes.

      Before I posted anything about welfare-cheating or “Makers and Takers” online, some welfare cheats were hating me for trying to continue making a living instead of getting down in the pigsty with them. So I’ve posted freely about what I think of their lifestyle choice. Now they *really* hate me. I’ve been banned from stores!

  11. Where’s the shout-out to Warty?

    1. A whole book about misery and violence on the Appalachia/Rust Belt border? Warty is betwixt the lines, obviously.

      1. Last weekend, I summoned up all the courage of which I was capable and actually visited Warty. He has a palatial manor tucked between two hills in the Appalachians. By “palatial manor,” I mean the local use of the term, i.e. their outhouse is a two holer and they’re down to only three cars up on blocks. When I arrived, his wife was outside rooting up what would pass for potatoes in Chernobyl, and their children were gleefully showing each other how to count to twelve using their toes. They’re cute moppets in that McPoyle kind of way, I must admit.

        As I crouched down to see what the younger one had caught in her hands (it was making some piteous noises and I could see it wiggling in her clenched little fist), suddenly, things darkened as the sun was blotted out. A blood-curdling “WHYCOME JEW HERE?” came rumbling from the depths of the pale, hairy creature which loomed over me. “YOU KILL JESUS,” it grunted before I could even respond.

        1. The creature bent down, picked me up as if I were a kitten (I mass about 100 kg) and carried me into the trailer, which actually had a trap door. He grabbed the handle of the trap door with his prehensile toes and lifted it, revealing a rickety staircase and a dark space with some faint flickering light. I could hear moans from below, of the kind whose sound haunts your nightmares for the rest of your life. “DUNGEON. HAVE FRIEND.” He descended, with me still uselessly wriggling in his casual grip. The flickering light turned out to be from some kerosene torches (judging from the odor), and the light revealed a poor wretch duct-taped to the wall, from whom the moans emanated. “Oh my god, you poor man, who are you?” I asked. The wretch’s eyes suddenly lit up with useless hope and he rasped, “Before this ruination, people called me… Episiarch.”

          (to be continued)

          1. “How did you end up here?” I asked. He let out a sob and then I noticed… his legs were missing below the knees. “I got an email one day where Warty invited me to visit his rape dungeon and join the fun. I came running (I could still run then) and suddenly, I was engulfed in a mass of pale flesh, coarse hair, and muscle mass. I tried struggling but as you have found, struggle is useless against his superhuman strength.”

            At this retelling, Warty let out some snuffles which resembled the sound of mating locomotives. I shook with fear.

            The wretch continued, “He made me promise to stay in here and be his friend. I agreed, of course, anything to loosen that death-grip. So he put me down and I tried to run.” At this point, the wretch started sobbing. “I wasn’t fast enough. No human can be! I suddenly was back in his grasp and I felt the most horrible pain you could imagine. HE HAD BITTEN OFF MY LEGS!” Warty started laughing, a horrifying noise that conjured thoughts of giant hyenas being flayed alive.

            (more later)

            1. I heard some clattering noises and looked at the murky floor. I wish I hadn’t. The first thing I saw was a head, somehow still animated, rolling around on the floor, jaws working furiously. I crooked my ear and could hear it trying to scream. “Goddamn Jews, you fucking Hebes, you did this to me!” it hissed. With a start of recognition, I realized that this was MNG. So that’s what happened to him. “Warty is one of yours, that fucking Jew sasquatch!” I started to reply that Warty was pureblooded inbred Scots-Irish hillbilly, but then realized whose head I’d be trying to explain this to.

              As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw a pile of old dried bones, with merely a few scraps of dessicated flesh still attached. I wondered, which commenter was this who had been so viciously lured into this pit when I saw hanks of dyed red hair. “Oh, no! Jennifer!” I gasped.

              (more later)

              1. I noticed that the skull’s teeth were missing and started wondering about that, when my question was wordlessly answered by Warty picking up the skull and inserting his furred and ampalanged Cock of Doom between the palate and the mandible. “HUH HUH HUH HUH,” at which point he furiously ejaculated a brown soupy semen. The head of MNG continued to roll around, hissing curses.

                I could not help but thing, “So, this is how it all ends for me,” when I heard a familiar noise, sounding like the farts of a hundred Mexican angels. It was… a shofar! I heard voices in unison chant, “T’KIYAH!” A glow permeated the dungeon and suddenly twelve bearded old men clad in robes dropped through the trap door and landed next to Warty. “Unhand him, Shaygetz, before we unleash the wrath of Yahweh upon your shtarker keppel!” they shouted in unison. Reuben, Levi, and Judah formed a circle around the anthropoidal form of Warty, then picked up several femurs from the piles of scattered bones on the floor. “KHAZAK, KHAZAK, V’NITKHAZEK!” they boomed and started beating the creature with assorted femurs. It dropped me, whereupon Naphtali and Ephraim pulled me away and started lifting me out of the dungeon of doom, the final unresting place of so many commenters.

                1. Is that what’s known as a Jew ex machina?

                  1. Doubting Jew Magic is how you get destroyed by Jew Magic, boy.

                2. You lived, which makes the story pretty damn far-fetched.

                3. I should probably be offended by this and retreat to my safe space, but actually I chortled…it might even have been audible if a live band weren’t tuning up just outside the cafe.

  12. Hey, it’s my people.


    1. Gee – maybe the English correctly identified the Scots and the Irish as their “lessers”.

      It’s in the DNA

      1. No way. The Scots are better engineers, and have an affinity for freedom. At least in Braveheart they did.

        1. The English have bad teeth and mark their history by which king they were subservient to at the time.

  13. Just another ploy to bring forth free college and 15 bucks an hour to flip burgers.

    1. Legalizing marijuana would help them far more.

      1. It would kill them. Maryjane is the number one cash crop in Catahoula parish. More than once I have politely asked people to please remove their crops from my land over to adjacent timber company land.

        1. You know, I’ve always wanted a reason to tell someone to git off my land. Did you make the most of your opportunities?

          1. Y’all are trespassin’ now. Illeeegally.

            Ala Rat in Fantastic Mr. Fox.

          2. This seems appropriate. (NSFW: language)


    2. From the articles I’ve read, no.

  14. I expected an entire comment section in all-caps. You all disappoint me.

    I mean,


  15. Huh.

    I just got off of the phone with my father. We had a lengthy discussion of our own hillbilly family history, most of which inspired laughter.

    One great uncle got sued once so he signed all of his land over to his mother before it could be taken from him. He was a moonshiner and got tangled up in a moonshine war with another family. The other family put a bounty on him so he carried two 32-20 pistols (I have one of them in my collection) and a sawed-off double barrel everywhere he went. One day riding from Nebo to Whitehall a load of buckshot came out of the bushes and took him off of his horse. No one ever found out who did it. (This is my go-to story for advising people not to get into feuds. If someone wants you bad enough, they are gonna get you.) Then his mother died.

    So her heirs got the land instead of his, meaning his children all got a much smaller slice of that pie than they were due. That set off two generations long fighting and squabbling and the bitter feelings from it are still alive today, nearly 100 years later.

    No point to this story, just thought I would tell it.

    1. Thanks. As a Kentucky hillbilly, I appreciate your telling.

    2. My grandmother told me a story once about how her grandfather, a rural Georgia farmer, was murdered, shot in the back while out for a nice summer afternoon of fishing on the Ocmulgee River with his wife and children. It was over a land dispute, naturally.

  16. Well, there is at least one “solution.” Vance observes that all of his successful friends from Middletown did one other thing: They got the hell out of Middletown. They moved to where the jobs are. Just as Vance’s hillbilly grandparents left the impoverished hollers of Kentucky to build middle-class lives in Middletown, today’s urban hillbillies could get on the highway to opportunities elsewhere. In the meantime, the government should stop paying poor people to languish in Appalachian and Rustbelt poverty traps.

    Sounds like some people I know who grew up on the Indian Reservations and left to make a life for themselves. Everyone who stays back there just languishes- but at least they still have their pride, for not selling out to The Man!

    1. Opportunity moves. Its great if you don’t have to move, but lots of people do. Sometimes everybody. And then, one day, those hollers will be a half-day’s drive from somewhere people make a fuckton of money, and they will enjoy a renaissance.

      1. People in some of those hollers in eastern West Virginia are now fretting about gentrification. Of course, there, as in many other places, “gentrification” is in part a code word for “gays.”

        1. Most people cannot willingly accept change, even good change.

          My own family’s experience was miserable enough that they almost all left the Virginia/Kentucky border for greener pastures. There are a few still back there, but they’re mired in the past.

        2. I thought that it was a code word for “whitey” in most places?

          Obviously, that wouldn’t apply in Appalachia, but in general….

        3. Next thing you know, they’ll have decent coffee, better variety at the grocery store, and a place to eat brunch on Sundays. All employing locals.

      2. You are correct Brett.

        If any of them are wise enough to hang onto their land the land will eventually skyrocket in value. It is already happening to us. My grandfather and father bought up all of the family land from heirs and we have had it now since the early 40’s.

        I can hardly believe the prices that land is commanding today.

        1. I can hardly believe the prices that land is commanding today.

          Well, they sure ain’t makin’ any more of it.

          1. what I always suspected would happen has finally happened. The hunting leases are worth as much as the timber. Hopefully this is the last time we will cut timber.

            1. In South Texas it has gone circular. People buying hunting leases recently logged like the access and game trails, loggers like to wait 15 years and come back around. The owners make a guaranteed income for really not doing a whole lot besides not burning down everything.

    2. And it’s not just that you move to more opportunity, but that costly kin network stays behind as well.

    3. And do you support the for-profit ventures of your kin on the reservation?

  17. Vance recalls that boys who got good grades in school were considered “sissies” or “faggots,” an attitude that keeps people ill-educated and isolated.


  18. I probably will read this book, but the subjects of the book are my people so I won’t learn much. A good cry now and then is not a bad thing, though.

  19. And all the Rust Belt cities are full of hillbillies whose grandparents moved up to work in the mills. Middletown is hardly unique or uniquely dysfunctional.

    Despite its sickening poverty and filth, one of my favorite places in the world is Ashtabula County, Ohio, up on the lake next to the PA state line. So many West Virginians came up to work for Union Carbide that the county still has a distinct Southern accent. I’ve always found that fascinating.

    1. You know, looking back, I wish I could’ve been a hillbilly with a PhD in Physics.

      1. You’re not???

        1. Not everybody is. We’ve talked about this.

        2. Not quite. I’m akin to the hillbilly, but, sadly, lack the near-clone-like genetic similarity.

          Law and physics, of course, are practically the same thing. Why, employ the law of gravity quite often!

          1. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Q.E.D.”

            1. Exactly. My law. Natural law. Or maybe Nature Boy law.

              1. Or maybe Nature Boy law.

                Also appropriate

                Good night for reals.))))

                1. Apes don’t read philosophy.

                  1. Yes, they do. They just don’t understand it.

    2. They’re in Cleveland now too. It is often said that Akron is the capital of West Virginia. It’s pretty weird actually. Growing up, the idea of a white ghetto seemed otherworldly to me, but there are now what my dad always called ‘hillbilly neighborhoods’ in the Cleveland city limits.

      Kind of annoying, I’m going to have to move all the way up to Toronto to get away from that damned southern drawl (I’m a northerner, so asking me to distinguish between southern and Appalachian is like asking me to distinguish Mandarin from Cantonese)

  20. Years ago, I purchased a property in rural West Virginia. When cautioned about the “hillbilly” neighbors, I said there wouldn’t be anything I hadn’t experienced growing up in the American West.

    I was wrong.

    1. No Mormon missionaries in West Virginia, huh?

      1. Could have been, but I can’t say for certain what was bubbling in the cauldron.

  21. You could just as easily write the same book about poor urban blacks…

  22. For the record: I went from Gate City, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., at 17; had a business (and foster child) in my twenties, was married to a diplomat in my thirties, came home as a widow around age forty…and have been poor ever since, in the financial sense. Underpaid. *Cheated.* *Ripped off.* But it’s good to be home!

    My Significant Other is from the actual town of Appalachia (very few people are), worked in a coal mine before being shipped to Vietnam, and spent some time in Ohio afterward. One thing we have in common is having done the homesick-hillbilly-singer shtick.

    1. If there were a prize for “ye with the greatest hillbilly credentials”, you would win.

      My brothers roomate at UVA was from Bluefield, and i think he was the first in 3 generations to ever leave town, much less go to college

  23. Dey took ar job! Took rrrrr job…

  24. Hudson . true that Chad `s blurb is flabbergasting… last week I got a gorgeous Alfa Romeo after having made $5229 this last 5 weeks and-over, $10k this past-munth . it’s actualy my favourite work I have ever had . I started this three months/ago and immediately started bringin home at least $80, per-hour . pop over to this website .

    ????????? http://www.maxincome20.com

  25. “These problems were not created by government or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them,” he argues.

    Speaking from deep inside hillbilly Appalachia: yes, this is true, but government has been a huge enabler.

    Well, there is at least one “solution.” Vance observes that all of his successful friends from Middletown did one other thing: They got the hell out of Middletown. They moved to where the jobs are.

    This. The Sam Kinison economic model. Government programs, from SNAP to WIC to SSI to all the various make-work grants and social programs that Appalachia receives just encourage people to sit in Appalachia and wait for the government to “bring jobs to the area.” Well, it ain’t happening. It is never going to happen. If you’re not making it here on your own, leave.

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