Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Three Tenant Families

Book - 1988
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With its signature photographs reshot from archival negatives, an elegant new edition of the "most realistic and most important moral effort of our American generation" (Lionel Trilling) Published nearly sixty years ago, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men stands as an undisputed masterpiece of the twentieth century, taking its place alongside works by Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman. In a stunning blend of prose and images, this classic offers at once an unforgettable portrait of three tenant families in the Deep South and a larger meditation on human dignity and the American soul. In the summer of 1936, James Agee and Walker Evans set out on assignment for Fortune magazine to explore the daily lives of sharecroppers in the South. There they lived with three different families for a month; the result of their stay was an extraordinary collaboration, an unsparing record of place, the people who shaped the land, and the rhythm of their lives. Upon its first publication, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was called intensely moving, unrelentingly honest. It described a mode of life -- and rural poverty -- that was unthinkably remote and tragic to most Americans, and yet for Agee and Evans, only extreme realism could serve to make the world fully aware of such circumstances. Rejected by Fortune as too unwieldy, it was published for the first time in book form in 1941. Today it stands as a poetic tract for its time, a haunting search for the human and religious meaning in the lives of true Southern heroes: in their waking, sleeping, eating; their work; their houses and children; and their endurance. With an elegant design and a sixty-four-page photographic prologue of Evans's classic images, reshot from archival negatives, the new edition reintroduces the legendary author and photographer to a new generation. Both an invaluable part of the American heritage and a graceful tribute to the vibrant souls whose stories live in these pages, this book has profoundly changed our culture and our consciousness -- and will continue to inspire for generations to come.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [1988], c1960
ISBN: 9780395957714
0395957710
Characteristics: xi, 416 p., [61] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: Evans, Walker 1903-1975

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lukasevansherman
Dec 09, 2013

James Agee didn't see 50, but wrote a few celebrated and influential works on which his reputation rests: "A Death in the Family," the screenplay for "The African Queen" and this non-fiction book. In 1936, he and photographer Walker Evans (his photos preface the book) went to the South to report on tenant families and this was the result. In its fusion of Agee's idiosyncratic and spirited voice and reportage it forecasts the New Journalists, as well as the Beats. You won't learn much about the farmers, who remain ciphers, but you'll learn a lot about Agee. His self-involved, turgid and seemingly unedited prose (drawing from Faulkner and Wolfe) overwhelms the grim subject matter, rather than offering any insights or sympathy. Here's the most obnoxious sentence: "I could not wish any of them that they should have had the 'advantages' I have had: a Harvard education is by no means an unqualified advantage." Yeah, it's really tough going to Harvard and God forbid any of these farmers get a world class education. Jerk.

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RainCityLibrarian
Dec 06, 2013

My Desert Island Book #2: this one literally blew my mind when I read it, many summers ago. It isn't an easy book to read, but this powerful testament, this monumental witness to suffering and human dignity has an amazing, mesmeric kind of power. Agee was sent down South to write an article, but what happened to him there, the transformation that took place for him that led to an entire book, was remarkable. Like the best journalists, he does all he can to help us to see and understand these people, but ultimately what it became for him was something far deeper - a religious sacrament, a dark night of the soul, and a searching, searing quest for meaning that awaits any reader with ears to hear, with eyes to see.

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