Two books that make a wonderful replacement for the ill-advised strategy of trying to make sense of politics by reading your Facebook timeline, are The Unwinding and Hillbilly Elegy. For those who had already read these two books before the election, last November’s results stood a chance of being much less surprising.
George Packer, whose 2013 book, The Unwinding, won the National Book Award, is also a political writer for the New Yorker, and wrote a memorable and enlightening article leading up to the election where he followed the Trump campaign along several stops and interviewed voters, creating a nuanced depiction of the future president’s supporters.
The Unwinding goes back and forth among a number of stories that depict the state of Americana today. Packer hits on everything from Oprah, to Youngstown, to New Gingrich and Jay-Z, Silicon Valley, alternative energy, and the city of Tampa.
Hillbilly Elegy stays firmly put in the hills of Appalachia in Kentucky and southern Ohio. J.D. Vance has an incredible story to tell. It starts with his grandparents and moves along as the “hillbillies” he grew up with try to find work, keep families together, avoid the perils of the opiate epidemic and find ways to be fiercely religious, while at the same time being deeply suspicious or organized religion. Vance, miraculously, manages to find his way, and ends up a Marine, both a college graduate and Yale law graduate and a principal of a Silicon Valley investment firm.
There is a very good interview with Vance on NPR’s Fresh Air, which ran prior to the election. Since the election, Hillbilly Elegy became a manual of sorts for those wanting to understand how some of the poorest areas of the country voted for one of America’s wealthiest citizens.