Vance’s account of his childhood and adolescence in a self-described “hillbilly” family in a languishing Ohio mill town opens a window onto a world that Americans need to see and understand more clearly. When European immigration to the United States essentially ended after 1924, both African Americans from the South and whites from Appalachia were recruited by manufacturers to fill expanding factories. The decline of industrial employment in the last few decades has left both blacks and whites bereft of jobs and subject to the forces of social decay, made worse in both communities by habits of violence and the presence of drugs. Vance’s tale of how he made it to Yale Law School (via the Marine Corps and Ohio State University) is a moving human story in itself; it will also help nonblack Americans look at the problems of urban poverty through fresh eyes, undistorted by the prism of race. This isn’t a story with an obvious political agenda; Vance does not conclude with a ten-point plan for a new War on Poverty. Readers, however, are likely to come away with the feeling that although it may be harder to address the needs of American communities left behind by the economic transition than people once thought, it is more important than ever to try.
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