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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: The American Classic, in Words and Photographs, of Three Tenant Families in the Deep South Paperback – August 14, 2001
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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
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
While the nominal subject of the documentary is an in-depth exploration of three tenant farming families during the Great Depression, the real project (and Agee himself admits this in his remarkably confessional prose) is the documentation of his own experience living with those farmers for several weeks--sleeping in their vermin-infested beds, eating their home-cooked food, and interacting with them on a human level. In addition, Agee self-consciously writes the text and explores the act of writing, both during his stay with the farmers and several years later, when he completed the vast majority of the book.
The final product is a patchwork book pieced together from Biblical prayer, Evans's photographs, Agee's flawless descriptions (which, in several cases, may be more accurate than Evans's probably manipulated prints) and meditations on writing, poverty, art, and day-to-day human experience. Two things make this work remarkable: Agee's honesty (he never claims to be objective or non-judgemental) and his innate talent for description. I approached this book with an open mind, and found it to be one of the most thoughtful and rewarding works I have ever read.
The writing is beautiful, the story it tells--of poor, sharecropping, depression-era families--is heartbreaking, and the experience of reading about it all is like a baptism by fire. This book just might re-wire your brain.
I think this is a much better read than Agee's "A Death in the Family," and that one won the Pulitzer Prize. Read this, for sure.
I read it on a bus trip across Guatemala, and the way Agee's descriptions of the old southern poverty fit the poor little towns full of Guatemalan coffee pickers was uncanny.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and let us start with James Agee.
UPDATE: It's years later, and this book has never stopped haunting me. I think of it almost daily. If I were to review it today, I would definitely give it Five Stars.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I was disappointed in this book and have to admit I didn't finish it which is something I rarely do once I start a book. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Norma Hayes
A very good book. Along with Cotton Tenants, one gets a very good look at the families lives. There are more pictures in this book.Published 8 months ago by Steve
University of Illinois Professor Rich Martin begins chapter eleven of his 2011 book, "Living Journalism: Principles & Practices for an Essential Profession," with a passage... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Sal Nudo
The product was in good shape but the book is very difficult reading.Published 10 months ago by Rhonda Crowdis
I was assigned to read this book in college. Historically, I've loathed anything I've ever been REQUIRED to read; I prefer to come to the decision as to whether or not I am going... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Cadence S.
The photos by Walker Evans in "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" are, in my judgment, American classics. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Rev. Ralph
Social commentary has changed a lot since this was written, but this is still an excellent first-person account of rural life in the South.Published 15 months ago by Edmonds Kathy