French writer and politician Alexis de Tocqueville was born in Verneuil to an aristocratic Norman family. He entered the bar in 1825 and became an assistant magistrate at Versailles. In 1831, he was sent to the United States to report on the prison system. This journey produced a book called On the Penitentiary System in the United States (1833), as well as a much more significant work called Democracy in America (1835--40), a treatise on American society and its political system. Active in French politics, Tocqueville also wrote Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), in which he argued that the Revolution of 1848 did not constitute a break with the past but merely accelerated a trend toward greater centralization of government. Tocqueville was an observant Catholic, and this has been cited as a reason why many of his insights, rather than being confined to a particular time and place, reach beyond to see a universality in all people everywhere.
"You will not read a more important book about America this year."—The Economist
"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal
"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for more than forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.'s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir, with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.
Democracy in America: Volumes I and II includes both volumes of de Tocqueville’s influential work. Volume I explores the factors that contributed to the success of democracy in the United States, as well as the possible future of democracy in light of the unique religion and socio-economic factors that existed in the United States at that time. Volume II continues Tocqueville’s exploration of the nature of democracy in the United States, including an analysis of American civil society.
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