Vance talks with some bitterness about the elites in the cities on the Eastern seaboard and in California, who hold the working-class inhabitants of the 'flyover' states in contempt. He found himself the token hillbilly at Yale, where he was a source of greater fascination to the well-heeled faculty and students than any of the more-recognised minority groups at the university, and he describes a huge gulf in understanding between the lifestyle in which most of his classmates were raised and the circumstances of his own childhood. Vance transcended his upbringing because of a grandmother who provided him with a sanctuary amongst the violence and despair and who instilled in him a work ethic that many of his peers lacked. He discovered that Yale Law School, to which he won a scholarship, is a one-way ticket into the elite and he describes with fascination how he began to benefit from the connections and favouritism that ensure those who graduate from Yale have easy entry into their choice of high-paying and influential jobs.
The great divide in modern American society - and in all Western countries - it isn't so much about race or ethnic origin, despite what the political left-wing would have us believe. It is about a new form of class based on education, connections and political pull, and those who aren't part of the new upper class are increasing disenfranchised politically and detached socially from those who are. There was a time when an American working man could make an income that was sufficient for him to buy his own home and support a family in comfort. That is no longer the case, and the worst thing about it is that the elite know this and don't care - their sympathies aren't with the real working class but with those from preferred minorities whom they can enlist as victims in their political and social cause célèbres. This is why Donald Trump appeals to so many white, working class males - he is the only one on the political landscape who appears to give a damn about them.
American politics today is all about exploiting these divisions. Obama has spent eight years stoking the fires of racial, social and economic division and Hilary Clinton has jumped on the bandwagon with her new-found enthusiasm for left-wing causes. Trump is stoking the fires from the other end of the train. They both present their constituents' fortunes as a zero-sum game, setting Americans against each other in a fight for a "fair share" of the pie. Their supporters on both sides are too foolish to understand that they are being cynically exploited or that under both Clinton's and Trump's policies, everyone will lose. The biggest fools are the members of the elite who appear blind to the fact that they cannot continue to enjoy their cosy positions forever while tens of millions of Americans in the MidWest and South cannot make ends meet.
Vance has given a remarkable, first-hand insight into both sides of the divide that threatens to become an irreparable rent in American society. He does not set out to propose solutions and while his story reminds us that individuals can always transcend circumstances, he offers us no assurance that societies can do the same.