Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families Paperback – Sep 1988
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Just what kind of book is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men? It contains many things: poems; confessional reveries; disquisitions on the proper way to listen to Beethoven; snippets of dialogue, both real and imagined; a lengthy response to a survey from the Partisan Review; exhaustive catalogs of furniture, clothing, objects, and smells. And then there are Walker Evans's famously stark portraits of depression-era sharecroppers--photographs that both stand apart from and reinforce James Agee's words.
Assigned to do a story for Fortune magazine about sharecroppers in the Deep South, Agee and Evans spent four weeks living with a poor white tenant family, winning the Burroughs's trust and immersing themselves in a sharecropper's daily existence. Given a first draft of the resulting article, the editors at Fortune quite understandably threw up their hands--as did several other editors who subsequently worked with a later book-length manuscript. The writing was contrary. It refused to accommodate itself to the reader, and at times it positively bristled with hostility. (What other book could take Marx as the epigraph and then announce: "These words are quoted here to mislead those who will be misled by them"?) Response to the book was puzzled or unfriendly, and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men sputtered out of print only a few short years after its publication. It took the 1960s, and a vogue for social justice, to bring Agee's masterwork the audience it deserved.
Yet the book is far more interesting--aesthetically and morally--than the sort of guilty-liberal tract for which it is often mistaken. On an existential level, Agee's text is a deeply felt examination of what it means to suffer, to struggle to live in spite of suffering. On a personal level, it is the painful, beautifully written portrait of one man's obsession. In its collaboration with Evans's photographs, the book is also a groundbreaking experiment in form. In the end, however, it is more than merely the sum of its parts. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is, quite simply, a book unlike any other, simmering with anger and beauty and mystery. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Agee's textual portraits and Evans's photographic records of three sharecropper families in the South instantly became, when published in 1939, one of the most brutally revealing records of an America that was ignored by society--a class of people whose level of poverty left them as spiritually, mentally, and physically worn as the land on which they toiled. Time has done nothing to decrease this book's power. This handsome edition sports the original text plus 64 new archival photos.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Agee is understandably distressed by the inability of language to adequately express the plight of the families he portrays. However, he does not merely acknowledge this and move on, he rather writes an entire book about his inability to write. For someone interested in theory this might be interesting, but for someone interested in better understanding tenant farmers in the early 20th century, this is not the place to go. Although his intentions may be good, Agee's angst becomes primary in the text, even to the point of superseding the families' troubles. In the end, Agee is more concerned with how he is affected by his subject than by his subject in and of itself. See Orwell's THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER for a superb treatment of a similar topic.
But just adding a review to point the curious to a 1989 followup, And Their Children After Them, by Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson, which traces what became of the Gudgers, Woodses, Rickets, and their descendants (they keep the pseudonyms, though the names are elsewhere widely known - Burroughs, Fields, and Tingle (or Tengle)).Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Starts out with a long discourse that is not easy to read, but soon becomes a detailed and moving description of three tenant famer families. Depressing, but valuable. Read morePublished on April 10 2004 by J. Jacobs
This book is indeed a landmark in the (rather young) field of American ethnography; it is a one-of-a-kind work, and a very brave effort by two immensely talented, well-intentioned... Read morePublished on March 13 2002 by SRK
I would recommend this book for highschool kids who can handle more difficult phrasing and literary styles.. Read morePublished on July 30 2001
I'm surprised that no one has yet to write a negative review of this novel. I personally love it, but it would seem like an easy one to hate. Read morePublished on Sept. 30 2000 by Tyler Massey
In one of the most edifying ways, James Agee illustrates the life of the Southern tenant sharecropper in the Great Depression. Read morePublished on Jan. 27 2000
I don't agree that the writing is fantastic. I think that at times it bogs down and can be very boring. Read morePublished on Dec 12 1999 by Lynette Canepa
Living only 3 miles from the site where this book was born, I can easily still see the horrors of what Agee and Evans witnessed. Read morePublished on Aug. 4 1999
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