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on February 14, 2017
This is an astounding chronicle, in equally evocative words and photographs, of life in the rural South amid the Great Depression. I purchased this as research for a stage production of To Kill a Mockingbird, which takes place in that time period in fictional Maycomb County, AL. I had never read the book before, although I was familiar with some of Walker Evans' photographs. I am completely blown away.
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on August 22, 2014
This work is touted by some as "one of the twentieth century's greatest pieces of literature." I wouldn't go that far, but the photos are incredible and I have to say the reader is placed right inside the tenant farmer's (Alabama) house and in the fields he tends. The time is the mid-1930s, in the depths of the Great Depression. Tenant farmers down South are struggling with deepening debt, chronic illnesses in their families (NO health care), land that is not arrable, and the hopeless, grinding poverty much of America suffered through in that era. The author, at times, sounds like he is attempting to imitate William Faulkner. The writing in places is highly complex, stream of consciousness stuff in some places. I like the book a lot but the reader must be very patient and willing to read methodically. It's not a breezy kind of style. It will also break your heart. The tenant farmer certainly had a rough go of it. Makes you wonder how much of this country is still in such dire straits.
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on July 28, 2017
It's hard to explain the power of this book. It's a cultural snapshot, but it's also a personal accounting of the coming-together of two cultures, one sophisticated, the other less so. It is the "less so" that is compelling. Highly recommend.
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on January 5, 2017
Book is excellent but very deep. I found myself re-reading from time to time.
Reader be prepared for the author's projection of how he views the world and at times not so much about the subjects in his observations.
I think his advantage is being a New Yorker allowing him to see a world that is so foreign to him. Whereas a Southerner as myself would view more as not being odd or abnormal.
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on June 29, 2015
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 to read something on my own. However, I was very much hooked on this book within the first thirty pages or so. Now, having read it twice, it is easily in my top 5 favorite books ever.

While the book explores the day to day lives of some of the poorest to come out of extreme rural Alabama, the presentation is rather depth of content is what keeps me reading. Agee's words manage to mix more perception and mental connection than a journalistic account of what he and Walker experience. If you pace your reading and reference the photos as they are featured in the text (because they are grouped together in the middle, or at least they were in the edition I have), then it provides insight into Agee's level of perception...almost like when you ask someone if you can borrow their prescription glasses.

I can't recommend this enough. I can't assure you will enjoy it, because it is a lot more than what it looks and reads like at first...but it is certainly in no way a waste of your time and money to experience.
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on May 24, 2010
Yes, their assignment was to document depression era sharecroppers, but that's not why you should read it. You should read it because James Agee, uniquely in my experience, gets drunk on American language the same way the Delphic sibyl got drunk on methane and babbled worship worthy Greek. I first fell in love with him through Barber's setting of Knoxville, Summer 1915, then I read his posthumous novel (which won him the Pulitzer) A Death in the Family. No other American writer writes like this. It is seductive, it is teasing, it s sometimes so convoluted and knotted it gives Henry James AND William Faulkner a run for their money. But in the end, the poetry blazes with a fierceness and an honest that makes me forget to breathe. Many reviewers refer to what they felt the book was trying to get them to do, as if it were, somehow, coercive. I just hear the great poet and the great poetry of Knoxville, Summer of 1915 coming, twenty years away, with such a deafening roar that I'm glad I'm alive, if only for the privilege of dying in the presence of such American greatness.
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on November 26, 2013
Photos by Walker Evans and text by James Agee...how could this not be excellent! Incredibly moving. Let us honor those merely trying to survive and feed their families .... for them, a meal is the ultimate trial. Agee and Walker's work centered around the working, and literally dirt poor in America, which should be a bounty of opportunity, some 70 years ago....and this is still a timeless story, there are STILL too many families living on the edge their entire lives. I hope this remarkable work never goes out of print, it's difficult to find now, thank goodness for Amazon.
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on May 23, 2014
Once you get acclimated to Agee's writing it's great. I have all the photos that are in the front of the book in another book of Walker Evan's photographs but the text really fleshes them out. Excellent book, you will feel like you're there.
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on October 26, 2009
So many words written about this wonderful evocation of rural hardship, need I add more. A dab of Whitmanesque enthusiasm, a nother of Joycean stream of cosciousness(replete with a'Molly Bloom' sense of 'yea saying' in the final paragraph) There's a poignancy to the descriptive powers of the author that beckons the photos. It's as if the prints of the day's photography had arrived and Agee had paused over them before committing his pen to his diary. Regrettably, the photo section of my volume too easily broke from the spine of the book on opening it for the first time. However good these photos are, in a sense, they are made subsidiary to the marvels of the written word, demonstrating the power of an awesomely equipped author over the visual artist. He rambles, he meditates, he anguishes over his imposition as outsider author,and its this close to the bone marriage of inspection to introspection which will take hold of a suitably sympathetic reader until the book's final breath(check the ruminations on the patterns of a cross-cut saw on woodgrain on p 128. Admittedly there are ethical questions regarding this anthropological enterprise, but he chooses to absolve his anguish about them by raphsodising and elevating the stricken mood of the place and the people; canononizing them in ways the photos never reach for. This is accomplished by bringing an attentiveness to every scent and scratch in such tedious detail that no casual user or rural occupant would contemplate. Such slumming in the poverty zone would rankle political correctness these days, especially given the supple muscle of enriched vocabulary far beyond the comprehension and scope of his subjects. But, in literary terms, if p.c were to censor such a voice, all of us would be impoverished.
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on March 17, 2017
Great photobiography of an extremely difficult time in our nation's history. Everyone should read this book!
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