About a year ago, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis hit the scene and quickly became one of the most popular books of the last year. Written by J.D. Vance, a 33 year old former Hillbilly who grew up in a very broken family in Kentucky and Ohio, and who overcame immense family dysfunction and poverty to eventually join the Marine Corps, get a B.S. from Ohio State, and then eventually a law degree from Yale, the story is heartbreaking, hopeful, and above all, intriguing.
Part of the reason why this book is resonating so strongly with people on both ends of the political aisle is because Vance attempts to explain why his culture, the one that extends from Louisiana, up through the hills to upstate New York, has had such a hard time financially. It's a mix of broken families, culture-inherent conflict, mixed in an environment where the manufacturing factories & coal plants shut down during a major opioid crisis. This creates a scenerio where people feel there's no chance of getting ahead, and therefore many just give up.
The story is full of conflict. J.D.'s mother is in and out of his life, and many men are in and out of her life. His beloved and tough Grandma is the only solid parental figure that stays with him. Being so separated from the white-collar class, J.D. didn't even realize that one was to wear a suit to a job interview. He goes in-depth as to the many ways in which the Hillbilly culture is so separated from the rest of society, that it's hard for many of them to function well with diverse and more upscale cultures when they leave the hills.
If you want to read an interesting story about a fascinating American culture in crisis, I'd recommend Hillbilly Elegy. It reads like a good fiction tale, but one that turns out to be true, and gives you a deeper understanding of our nation.
Awhile ago I read the Frank Brady biography of America's chess champion. It was an intriguing read, to say the least.
Fischer grew up in a fatherless home; his mother was far too busy to spend much time with him, so he found love in the Brooklyn & Manhattan chess clubs, on the board. His home life gave him little chance of becoming a well-rounded human being, and the pain from his broken household negatively influenced the rest of his life, as he quickly became the best chess player in the U.S., and one of the best in the entire world.
Fischer was a huge component of America's Cold War battle against the Soviet Union. His 1972 World Championship match against Boris Spassky was much more than a battle of wooden pieces—its was a battle to see what side had an intellectual advantage. It took the news headlines away from the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race. It was that huge.
Fischer won the title, and then turned down over $15 million in offers to live in utter poverty in the Los Angeles area, dropping completely out of the chess world. Brady does a good job of following Fischer's life through the madness, giving us what answers he can. Yet, at the end, we're as frustrated as the rest of the world was, because we'll never know how great Fischer could truly have been. And above all, we wish a better human being would have represented the United States in that epic battle of the minds.
It's a fascinating journey of human exploration for chess fans, and non-chess fans alike. I highly recommend it.
Jon David Rosten, author of
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