J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy has spent a long time near the top of the Amazon bestsellers list. Readers have turned to the book to try to understand how we got to where we are, and sometimes more specifically, how Donald Trump got to where he is. There was a point after the election when Orwell’s 1984 was the zeitgeisty book of the moment as well—but that audience was smaller and more inclined to anticipate where we might be going, as opposed to where we stand right now. Much like the actual year, 1984 has since slipped behind us.
The timing of Hillbilly Elegy couldn’t have been better. That’s not meant to take anything away from its quality—we Amazon editors picked it as the #2 book of 2016—but when a great book hits at just the right time it becomes a phenomenon. So many people have read it, I thought I'd put together a list of books for those wondering what to read after they’ve finished -- provided they're not super depressed and looking for something completely different.
Hillbilly Elegy has precursors—books that looked at class struggle on a personal level. The Grapes of Wrath and The Jungle come to mind. But those read like historical documents now. What if you want to read something more contemporary?
So here's my list of books that would be good next reads after Elegy. It’s meant to be broad, so I’ve tried to divide the list into subcategories. There are many more books to read after Hillbilly Elegy. Feel free to recommend your own in the comments.
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles - A novel about a Russian count living under house arrest in a luxury Moscow hotel may seem counter intuitive, but I see this book as the anti-Elegy in a lot of ways. Which makes it a great complimentary read. While the Bolsheviks rally out in the streets, Count Rostov establishes a life of adventure, beauty, and meaning amid his imposed limitations. If you need a break, or just a different perspective, pick up this book.
Nonfiction - Economic and social distress
- Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones - It's as big a problem as you may think, and it's not going away.
- Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich - First published in 2001, this one is a classic.
- Evicted by Matthew Desmond - There's a business behind eviction, and it's taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us.
- $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin - $2 a day is the global measure of poverty, and there are a lot of people in this country living below that level.
- Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander - What happened to Lancaster, Ohio? Not much good.
- The End of Men by Hanna Rosin - As the economy changes, there are fewer classically masculine jobs like coal mining and farming. The workforce is changing.
- Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel - There's a personal and social cost to so many soldiers returning from war, and that can not be ignored.
Nonfiction - Politics
- What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank - Published way back in 2004, Frank chronicled our shifting political landscape.
- Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild - A Berkeley sociologist travels to the deep South to examine people on the right. She's a pro, but she's also got her set of beliefs. Be your own judge.
- White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg - Did Honey Boo Boo help to get Donald Trump elected?
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson - I've purposely steered clear of race in this list, but this book addresses race relations most directly.
- The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce - Populism is rising across the world and developing countries are experiencing more relative growth than the west. Think of this as the Hillbilly Elegy for the globe.
Nonfiction - How Bad Could it Get?
- Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam- The Opportunity Gap is (and has been) shrinking. What can we do about it?
- Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by by Martin Ford - This is really going to happen. Might as well learn about it.
- Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Pickety - A book that is more owned than read... the growth of capital outstrips the growth of wages. And the rich get richer.
- The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer - Packer looks at the lives of individual Americans to show how it's all coming apart at the seams.
Nonfiction - A Small Dose of Optimism
- Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas Friedman - A look at how technology might not be the end of the world after all.
- How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen - Is money everything? Maybe there's another way to measure success.
- Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream by Andy Stern - When we all lose our jobs, could that be the beginning of a brighter, more creative future?
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