At the age of seven, Loren Schmidtberger was assigned to a beginner's cow—the gentlest cow in the herd and the easiest for a child just beginning to milk. As he learned to milk with the help of the cow, he also learned the art of living from the unforgiving reality of the Dust Bowl years tempered by the steadfast resilience of his Volga German community.
After he left the family's isolated Kansas farm and throughout his teaching career, Schmidtberger's life was filled with ever-present memories of family and community. Now he offers us those memories in stories told with wry humor and gentle grace. These tales span the decades with a clear-eyed gaze, reflecting a cultural legacy that laid the foundation for a life well-lived, and illustrating the deep cultural changes between America in the 1930s and the America we know today.
Loren Schmidtberger born in 1928 and raised on a farm near Victoria, Kansas. He attended St. Fidelis Minor Seminary in Herman, Pennsylvania, before earning his BA from Fort Hays Kansas State University and his PhD from Fordham University.
Dr. Schmidtberger taught at Saint Peter’s University in New Jersey for fifty-one years, specializing in American literature, especially the works of William Faulkner. He was appointed the Will and Ariel Durant Professor of Humanities in 1991. He is currently Professor Emeritus of English at Saint Peter’s University.
"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.
The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn’t stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural Virginia coast with cameras and camouflage. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. The arsonist seemed to target abandoned buildings, but local police were stretched too thin to surveil them all. Accomack was desolate—there were hundreds of abandoned buildings. And by the dozen they were burning.
“One of the year’s best and most unusual true-crime books” (Christian Science Monitor), American Fire brings to vivid life the reeling county of Accomack. “Ace reporter” (Entertainment Weekly) Monica Hesse spent years investigating the story, emerging with breathtaking portraits of the arsonists—troubled addict Charlie Smith and his girlfriend, Tonya Bundick. Tracing the shift in their relationship from true love to crime spree, Hesse also conjures the once-thriving coastal community, decimated by a punishing economy and increasingly suspicious of their neighbors as the culprits remained at large. Weaving the story into the history of arson in the United States, the critically acclaimed American Fire re-creates the anguished nights this quiet county lit up in flames, evoking a microcosm of rural America—a land half-gutted before the fires began.