54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 1997
Unfortunately, the synopsis left out that this book won the Pulitzer for Non-fiction in 1991. Maharidge and Williamson followed the footsteps of James Agee who had profiled sharecroppers during the Depression. They found their decendants, and showed that while cotton and sharecropping had died, rural poverty for these families had been passed down to new generations. The front section of the book is a series of photographs by Williamson, and they are tremendous. Moreover, in their reporting, they filled a gap left by Agee by finding a black family of sharecroppers to add to the others profiled. This is a tremendous book. It works on multiple levels, giving both the sweep of Southern social and economic history and bringing it down to individuals. Beyond that, the book is a metaphor for our own time. "If we understand the death of cotton," Maharidge writes in this book, "we understand many things about modern America." This is a tremendous work, highly readable and moving. The recognition these two craftsmen received for it is well-deserved
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 1999
First introduced to "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" by James Agee and Walker Evans through a PBS Documentary, which inspired a dash to the library to read the book iteself, it wasn't until years later I went back to the library to see if anyone had ever followed up on the story. Confronted with the then new computerized "card catalog" system, I wondered how I might search for any related writings when it dawned on me what a perfect title would naturally evolve from the verse the first book title was taken: ..And Their Children After Them. Imagine my amazement when I tried that title, and there it was! Maharidge and Williamson have followed in Agee and Evans footsteps to give readers "the rest of the story" of the tenant farmers' families and grandchildren, as well as the stories of Agee and Evans themselves. I congratulation them on an excellent book, and offer thanks to the families and their descendants for sharing their lifestories. Their lives did not take the path predicted for them by Agee: life refuses to be harnessed by prediction. Some went farther than anyone could have anticipated, while others came to a place, if possible, even worse than expected. As a second generation American, descended from Polish and Prussian immigrants who lived comparable lives, but who were blessed to own their own land, I identified closely with these stories, from the first page of "Let Us Praise" to the last page of "And Their Children".
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2007
For readers of the original Agee/Evans collaboration, "And Their Children" is well worth the time. The reporter and photographer tracked down the 116 living offspring of the pseudonymous Gudger, Ricketts, and Woods families, as well as those who were part of the original book (12 of 22 who appeared in "Let Us Now" were still alive when they began their research in 1986). Not all were willing to be interviewed or photographed, but many were.
As with the first book, the tale here is not a particularly happy one. The author begins by recounting the suicide of Maggie Louise Gudger, age 10 in 1936, a particular favorite of Agee's, and dead at age 45--the same age at which Agee himself died from drink. And yet there are varying degrees of hope in many of the stories, such as that of Maggie Louise's daughter Debbie and her children.
The structure of the book follows each family through different periods: 1936-1940; 1940-1960; and 1960-1986. The author also includes sections on one of the local landowning families (which was far from rich!) and an African-American sharecropping family. Along the way, we learn surprising things about the evil (and Faulknerian) Fred Ricketts, the fate of Clair Bell (she did not die at age 4, as Agee had feared she would), the struggles of George Gudger, and the families' views on Agee, Evans, and the original book. About the children and grandchildren, we find out about those who ran away (and usually came back) and those who stayed; marriages; children; the end of farming; attempts at succeeding at school and at work; closeness and bitterness. It's all grippingly told. And the photographs that allow one to compare the state of things in 1936 and 1986 are excellent. Several photos exactly re-capture the originals.
Quibbles: Naturally, I think, the sections on the two families who did not appear in the first book are less interesting. They could have been abbreviated. Also, the author's (negative) take on the state of America in 1986 is garden-variety journalism for that time. These sections are easily avoided, however, and do not detract from the writing about the original families.
Counter to the author's gloomy opinions, his stories indicate that many of these descendents of share-croppers emerged from the Depression to enjoy a slow but steady material progress. Maggie Louise's grandchildren, now in their thirties, should do even better over the course of their lives. One hopes that another writer-photographer team will venture to Hobe's Hill in 2036 to test that proposition.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2005
While I have Let Us Now Praise Famous Men on deck to read as well, the friend who loaned me the books explained she found And Their Children After Them first, and actually liked reading them in reverse order. So, I chose to follow her lead.
The book, even standing alone, is an intensely personal and touching look into the lives of people who many of us who enjoy the luxury of writing reviews on the Internet can never really understand. The backgrounds, upbringings and challenges were so vastly different, and the book does a good job of showing us something different, something very real.
I can understand the retiscence of some to participate in the book -- while reading passages in this book I often thought to myself what it would feel like to be the person being written about and to see the things about them in print. Like our society, there is a great deal of judgement in the book -- while they try to avoid it, it is there, and it's painful at times.
But it's all worth it, in my opinion, to uncover the many thought provoking things that relate to our world today, and that give me a better understanding of history and people's place within it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
After being mesmerized by the snapshot presented in "Cotton Tenants" (the publishing of James Agee's original Fortune magazine article detailing three Alabama cotton farming families in 1936 and the basis for his book "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"), I was compelled to find out what happened to those families after Agee's visit. AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM illustrates the depressing post-Agee lives of those families as well highlighting the destitution and racial divide that still languishes in the rural Deep South.
An advisory note: AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM may be best read after reading either "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" or "Cotton Tenants" rather than as a standalone read. This book is essentially a supplement/follow up to "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", a book in which Agee used pseudonyms for the three families he covered; this book uses those same pseudonyms. "Cotton Tenants", on the other hand, uses the actual family names. Considering my introduction to this subject matter was triggered by "Cotton Tenants", I found it somewhat confusing at times trying to tie the names from "Cotton Tenants" to those in AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM.
Pseudonym vs. Actual Family Name (used in "Cotton Tenants")
Gudger = Burroughs
Ricketts = Tengle (or Tingle)
Woods = Fields
Dale Maharidge and Michael Williams basically continue the story that started in 1936. Agee's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" could be viewed as an appetizer for a meal that was never intended to be served (as Agee died in the 1950s). While the written observation of the three families was thorough and thought-provoking enough, Walker Evans' accompanying photos are what beg readers to ask "I wonder what ever happened to them?" Those photos generate a curiosity similar to National Geographic's captivating photo of the Afghan refugee girl. AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM finally gives readers that main course ... fifty years later. In many ways, Maharidge and Williams make Evan's classic still photos come alive as well as providing us new angles of interpreting Agee's words.
The authors have graciously organized the book into sections that cover specific time frames (1930-1940, 1940-1960 and 1960-mid 80s) and the three families Agee originally covered are given their own chapters within each section. In addition to the original families, the authors profile two more families that were not fully represented in Agee's book: a black family and land-owning family. I found the detailing of these families through the decades a particularly miserable journey. While the Second World War may have brought prosperity to the majority of Americans, the cotton tenants in the Deep South still languished in a seemingly unbreakable cycle of generational poverty. The authors reference Agee's original observations and predictions throughout the book and for the most part, his bleak view of their futures was spot-on. Even in the mid-1980s, the offspring of one family were still urinating in buckets and defecating in the weeds surrounding their dilapidated shack dwelling. Sadly, the one child Agee had pegged as having the will to break away from poverty and having a bright future becomes a tragic, sacrificial figure in the end (even though her children manage to break the poverty cycle). The lives of the offspring are not uplifting and pleasant, but mostly wretched. The book tends to uphold the stereotypical terms describing small towns in the rural Deep South: poor, apathetic and racist. A large collection of updated black-and-white photos at the front of the book are hauntingly reminiscent of Walker Evans' classic 1936 photos. The photos alone encapsulate the continuing misery of generational poverty and emphasize the cliché: "the more things change, the more they stay the same".
AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM is an eye-opening and depressing read. "Cotton Tenants" may have triggered my interest in learning more about the plight of these poor farming families, but this book completely ended my curiosity. The emotions I felt while reading were tinged with sympathy, frustration and disgust. Frequently, the heart-wrenching futility exhibited by the impoverished families was offset by their lethargic acceptance of their predicament. Although AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM was written almost thirty years ago, it is a fulfilling read that satisfactorily ends the story James Agee started over seventy years ago.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2012
I enjoyed this book. It is interesting to see how the same economic conditions/systems have been in place for generations and generations. The pictures in the book do an excellent job of updating the work of Evans and of making the text more personal.
on December 17, 2014
It's all here. If you want an easy reading real life story-telling description of southern poverty in America I don't know of a better one than this. If you are a narrow minded conservative . . . or a narrow minded liberal . . . well never mind. But then again as the author says - books about the poor are not bestsellers. They weren't in the late 80's for sure. There is no description I can give of this book that hasn't been already given. It won a Pulitzer Price and still who has even heard of it? It's a hardly heard of book following up a semi-hardly heard of book 50 years later.
And it has big implications. Slavery and Cotton are not some far off evil that is long gone. America is still paying for the sin of slavery. Both the Northern Merchants and Southern Plantation owners made big livings off of slave produced cotton. Our country let slavery grow through most of the 1800's to pay for the party. The Civil War interrupted. Exploitation and domination took over where slavery left off. What to do with the thousands of poor whites and millions of poor blacks aka "collateral damage" of the deal? Keep them going with the hope of next year's profits. Keep them in need due to this year's failures. Sure let them try the city and the North. But they'll be back, if they survive. And when all else fails blame the blacks for everything and if you are black, blame yourself or your immediate boss.
Now it's been 25 years since THIS book. Most middle class jobs have been lost overseas. The biggest migration in human history - 100 million Chinese moving from farm to manufacturing has turned the world's economy around, spurred on by US economic policy and Wal-Mart. The biggest job growth area in the US is now the South. Where the unions don't exist and wages are lowest.
For me this book is a profound illustration of the downside of capitalism without morals. Do we really still believe that as long as something is profitable that it is good? Yeah I think we do. As long as we feel like money is good however we get it . . . stocks . . . bonds . . . companies that exploit natural resources without consequence, companies that exploit Third World Countries with no child labor or health laws whatsoever.
In the end of course we all end up in a mostly forgotten cemetery . . . with or without a tombstone. Both books dwell on this point. But this book finally has a more angry edge about it all. It's not fair. No. But then again everybody dies. If I didn't believe in God I think I would be pretty depressed after reading this. As it is I am sad and angry and hopeful.
on March 12, 2014
As my title says, this is a must-read for all fans of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. I am a slightly bigger fan of investigative journalism than of poetic prose, so having just re-read Let Us Now, this book was like opening the doorway to a secret attic and relishing its secrets as they--rather neatly--fell together. Maharidge is a detailed investigator and does much more than just lay out a Let Us Now Part II. He gives us reasons why these people lived the way they did beyond the fact that they were poor farmers during the Great Depression. I stepped away from And Their Children After Them feeling like I understood more about the lives of James Agee's acquaintances, while also having learned detailed histories of farming, economics, and slavery. And the photos are masterful. Thanks for producing such a great work, Maharidge and Williamson.
on July 16, 2013
This book won a Pulitzer for its treatment of the topic of poverty in Alabama. The follow-up to the Agee and Evans work of 25 years previous was detailed, focused, and the conclusions, based on the evidence presented in the book, seem to be reasonable and accurate to me, an Alabama survivor.
on October 8, 2013
What happened to the families of the 1930's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men? This work with honesty and respect offers the rest of the story. We cheered them and cried along with their struggles to resolve the legacy of poverty.