More Cowbell - What to Read After "Hillbilly Elegy"

HillbillyJ.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 But those read like historical documents now.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.


  • MoscowA 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



Nonfiction - Politics


Nonfiction - How Bad Could it Get?



Nonfiction - A Small Dose of Optimism




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Comments (1)

I would highly recommend Paul Theroux's Deep South. This writer has traveled the world, but in DS he travels in his own country and discovers blight, sadness, and decay -- but also a rich sense of what has been happening in America.

In the area of fiction, I would also recommend two novels by Melanie Forde -- Hillwilla and On the Hillwilla Road. The books chronicle the life of a woman who has moved to hillbilly country in West Virginia. A fish out of water, she struggles to fit in. Funny, a bit profane, courageous. Fine writing.

Posted by: Jessie Thorpe | Wednesday June 21, 2017 at 10:37 AM

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