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Run-on Sentence Summary

An Appalachian hillbilly passionately paints the struggles of the middle class through his personal story of battling adversity and barely beating the odds.


When Trump was elected, I was as shocked as anyone. Vance’s part-memoir part-sociology book could not be more timely for someone like me trying to make sense of what happened. Facebook has been filled with armchair anthropologists, and I’ve become acutely aware of how much of a liberal echo chamber my Seattle community can be. The Trump presidency must be great news for J.D. Vance’s publisher since so many privileged people like myself are becoming aware of this part of our society.

Vance’s perspective is personal, which is refreshing in a sea of intellectualizing. He talks of his abusive, unstable home life and low expectations growing up in the poor, hollowed out, post-industrial Middletown, Ohio. Thanks to his extraordinary and scary hillbilly grandmother, he aces the SAT, learns to adult in the Marines, and goes on to graduate from Yale Law- the first person in his family to ever get a college education. It is remarkable because you can feel how he hung on the precipice of becoming a high school dropout, doing drugs and perpetuating the cycle.

Vance takes a compassionate and balanced stance towards poverty. He doesn’t fall into the liberal trap of painting the poor as being victims of their environment, thus robbing them of their agency, but acknowledges that blaming them accomplishes nothing either. His mother has battled addiction her whole life, and he draws the analogy to how even though addiction has a genetic component, believing that addiction is genetic in origin drastically reduces one’s ability to overcome it. He acknowledges that no policy solution will magically save this section of society: poverty is just really, really hard.

Final Thoughts

I have extended family from Kentucky, and a grandmother that I call Mawmaw, just as Vance did. Perhaps if nothing else, this book has helped me understand my family more.

Favorite Quote

“Though I will use data, and though I do sometimes rely on academic studies to make a point, my primary aim is not to convince you of a documented problem. My primary aim is to tell a true story about what that problem feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck.”