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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis Quotes

20 of the best book quotes from Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
  1. #1
    “Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Chaos begets chaos. Instability begets instability. Welcome to family life for the American hillbilly.”
  2. #2
    “We don’t need to live like the elites of California, New York, or Washington, D.C. We don’t need to work a hundred hours a week at law firms and investment banks. We don’t need to socialize at cocktail parties. We do need to create a space for the J.D.s and Brians of the world to have a chance. I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”
  3. #3
    “I was happy about where I was and overwhelmingly hopeful about the future. For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider in Middletown. And what turned me into an alien was my optimism.”
  4. #4
    “Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I’m some sort of genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today . . . Whatever talents I have, I almost squandered until a handful of loving people rescued me.”
  5. #5
    “There is nothing lower than the poor stealing from the poor. It’s hard enough as it is. We . . . don’t need to make it even harder on each other.”
  6. #6
    “In my immature brain, I didn’t understand the difference between intelligence and knowledge. So I assumed I was an idiot.”
  1. #7
    “Pajamas? Poor people don’t wear pajamas. We fall asleep in our underwear or blue jeans. To this day, I find the very notion of pajamas an unnecessary elite indulgence, like caviar or electric ice cube makers.”
  2. #8
    “I want people to know what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it. I want people to understand what happens in the life of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family encountered it. I want people to understand how upward mobility really feels. And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”
  3. #9
    “There are no villains in this story. There’s just a ragtag band of hillbillies struggling to find their way—both for their sake and, by the grace of God, for mine.”
  4. #10
    “Our eating and exercise habits seem designed to send us to an early grave, and it’s working: In certain parts of Kentucky, local life expectancy is sixty-seven, a full decade and a half below what it is in nearby Virginia. A recent study found that unique among all ethnic groups in the United States, the life expectancy of working-class white folks is going down.”
  5. #11
    “Studies now show that working-class boys like me do much worse in school because they view schoolwork as a feminine endeavor.”
  6. #12
    “So I think that any successful policy program would recognize what my old high school’s teachers see every day: that the real problem for so many of these kids is what happens (or doesn’t happen) at home.”

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  1. #13
    “There is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites.”
  2. #14
    “Psychologists call it ‘learned helplessness’ when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life.”
  3. #15
    “The old adage says that it’s better to be lucky than good. Apparently having the right network is better than both.”
  4. #16
    “But this book is about something else: what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It’s about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.”
  5. #17
    “Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it—not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.”
  6. #18
    “But what drove Mamaw’s initial dislike were the parts of him that most resembled her. Mamaw apparently understood what would take me another twenty years to learn: that social class in America isn’t just about money. And her desire that her children do better than she had done extended past their education and employment and into the relationships they formed. When it came to spouses for her kids and parents for her grandkids, Mamaw felt, whether she knew it consciously, that she wasn’t good enough.”
  7. #19
    “There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.”
  8. #20
    “For kids like me, the part of the brain that deals with stress and conflict is always activated–the switch flipped indefinitely. We are constantly ready to fight or flee, because there is constant exposure to the bear, whether that bear is an alcoholic dad or an unhinged mom. We become hardwired for conflict. And that wiring remains, even when there’s no more conflict to be had.”
Book Topics › poverty
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