A welcome and valuable resource for anyone studying or writing about this much-maligned region.



Appalachian writers and scholars rebut the “gross simplifications and stereotypes” of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (2016).

Often cited as a way to understand the working-class voters who helped elect Donald Trump, Hillbilly Elegy has been a longtime bestseller, will soon become an HBO movie, and has made Vance a media expert on Appalachia. Indeed, it is the most widely read book on the region. Now comes this thoughtful and provocative anthology of essays, poems, and photographs arguing for treatment of Appalachia as a “diverse and complex place.” Edited by Harkins (History/Western Kentucky Univ.; Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, 2003) and McCarroll (Writing and Rhetoric/Bowdoin Coll.; Unwhite: Appalachia, Race, and Film, 2018), the book ranges widely in its single focus, with contributors variously attacking, defending, or simply critiquing the book. All deem Hillbilly a biased work reinforcing stereotypes of the region’s people (snake handlers, mountain men) as understood by a conservative Kentuckian born into a poor, unstable family who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, attended Yale Law School, and became a venture capitalist. The result, writes Tennessee historian T.R.C. Hutton, is “a Silicon Valley millionaire [who] is now the most popular source for understanding twenty-first century rural poverty.” In other pieces, Kentucky sociologist Dwight B. Billings calls the memoir an ad for “capitalist neoliberalism,” and California law professor Lisa Pruitt, who is “from hillbilly stock,” finds it reminiscent of her childhood but filled with “ill-informed policy prescriptions.” Like others, she believes systemic societal problems—not only personal choice and accountability—help shape regional life. Vance’s defenders say he is entitled to his personal story and to his interpretation of his early social environment. Writer Ivy Brashear, a 10th-generation Appalachian, notes that the book lacks class, heart, and warmth. Others offer nuanced considerations of race, sexuality, and drug use.

A welcome and valuable resource for anyone studying or writing about this much-maligned region.

Pub Date: March 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946684-79-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: West Virginia Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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