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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,795 Ratings  ·  291 Reviews
A landmark work of American photojournalism “renowned for its fusion of social conscience and artistic radicality” (New York Times)


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. Their journey would prove an extraordinary collaboration and a watershed literary event whe
Paperback, 432 pages
Published August 14th 2001 by Mariner Books (first published August 1941)
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"James Agee makes Faulkner look clear and concise.... He also shares every single thought to cross his mind, whether they have anything to do with the topic at hand or not... For some, this experience - and it is truly an experience - is enlightening, thought provoking, mind blowing. For others it is mind numbing, eye glazing and a total bore. For me, it was all of the above.... You leave feeling thankful for the moments he shared. And annoyed for all the babble it took to get there." -- Molly

Sep 21, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the third time that I've attempted this book and I do not lay books down easily. The best way I can describe it is to say that it is like reading the teenage poetry of William Faulkner. There is much about this book that borders on genius, but far more that obscures. Agee tries so hard to get to The Truth that he ends up with a lot of contextual melodrama. As a result, the book is not so much the story of three tenant farming families so much as it is Agee's opinion of how the families c ...more
Nov 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the women who helped raise me was herself the daughter of a Cherokee sharecropper and his African American wife. Nannie did not read or spell very well. She stood six feet tall and had the most beautiful cheekbones I've ever seen on a woman in real life. She taught me the meaning of dignity and the power inherent in having a good and pure soul; she taught me how to properly watch a thunderstorm, which is to say, quietly and with respect.
When I read this book for the first time, in my firs
Reading this book is like hanging on to the back of someone on roller skates racing top-speed down a steep hill, with no brakes. There are few books that explore with such rigor the impossibility -- and necessary ideal -- of perfect perspective, or have the audacity to admit melancholy as an action (albeit an insufficent one), not just a solipsistic response to the aesthetic sufferings of others. The maddening ambivalence of this book, and its self-consuming doubt and belief in what it is doing, ...more
Aug 13, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Well I managed to finish this just to say I'd read this so called classic,but the whole thing just annoyed the hell out of me. Talk about obscure writing, this guy was taking the mickey out of his readers.
And that's annoying. Very.
This from page 226 of the version that I read:-

"No doubt we overvalue the difference between life and lifelessness, but there is a certain difference, just as, in the situation we are speaking of, a difference is remarkable: the difference between a conjunction of time
Sep 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: usa, nonfiction
This is a story so intense and devoted to its subject, it is almost holy writ. It is a sermon preached by the prophet Jeremiah, who preached while weeping in the streets of Jerusalem. The style is florid and ornate, not a stream but a torrent of consciousness. Some sentences are pages long musings on philosophy and writing and life which might make Faulkner smile with approval.

It is an attempt to accurately portray, in words and pictures, the lives of Tenant Farmers in the South in the worst of
Sep 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Molly by: Referenced in "The Help"
Shelves: non-fiction
Let us now praise the fact that I have finished this book! It took me a month of pecking and absorbing and discarding and revisiting to get through it. A long, strange trip it was stylistically and unlike any journey I've taken before. Let me tell you about it.

James Agee makes Faulkner look clear and concise. He loves nothing more than to ramble on and explore every possible tangent his mind's discovery takes him. And he discovered a lot while living among a cluster of tenant farming families in
Aug 12, 2007 rated it did not like it
I wanted to gouge my eyes out many, many times. I can't believe I even gave it 2 stars. Yes, it is a super famous book and has gotten all kinds of acclaim over the past 70 years or so. But James Agee drives me nuts. His writing style gave me a migraine. I did, however, keep the book and may attempt it again one day in the very distant future, once I have forgotten how much it bothered me the first go-round.
Leonard Pierce
May 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
It took me forever to get around to reading this, but boy, am I glad I did. It's a moving and incredibly heartfelt look at the suffering of the poor during the Depression (and a rather effective defense of FDR's reaction to it), and one of the most deft blends of fiction and journalism I've ever read.
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stunned is the only way I can describe my immediate reaction to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It is not like any other book I have read and not at all what I expected. (And at times funny in ways I'm pretty sure Agee didn't mean it to be.) James Agee was 27 when he wrote it. Unbelievable.

I gave it five stars not because I loved every minute of reading it but because of the effort and because of the way he gets across the plight and horror of sharecropping without sentimentality (though with a fa
A. Jesse
Nov 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
I give up, I can't finish this nor ever will. Walker Evans begins the book with a few dozen photos, most of which are mediocre at best, a handful of which are among the best photos ever taken. Agee's text, too, is a mixed bag, although the avalanche of dross so completely mires the gems that I found myself flipping through ten pages at a time, looking for a paragraph worth reading. Agee goes through convulsions of angst, trying to find some way to tell us about the lives of 3 poor tenant farmers ...more
Apr 27, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I know this book is critically acclaimed. It just really didn't work that well for me. The book is about a trip James Agee (Harvard-educated journalist for Forbes at the time) and Walker Evans (photographer) take to backwoods Alabama to see what the lives of sharecroppers are like. I don't think I'm ruining anything if I tell you this-their lives are hard. Harder than most people could imagine. Agee does an amazing job at describing the families he meets with. Evans' pictures are stark but soft. ...more
Jun 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ocitylibrary, 2010
This info describes the OC Library copy which I'm reading:

Cover: mud gray green with the title left margin reconciled like so:

Famous Men

with black lettering except the word Praise which is white -- authors name lower right above Photograpsher Walker Evans name

Hardcover; 471 pp

Copyrights 1939, 1940 James Agee; 1941 James Agee and Walker Evans; 1969 Walker Evans. Third Printing Riverside Press Cambridge Massachusetts USA

Rachel C.
This book contains a treasure trove of sociological data: it's an intimate look at three Alabama sharecropper families. Their possessions, clothes, their speech, education, daily activities, etc., all exhaustively detailed.

What makes this book timeless, though, is the prose. Agee clearly felt deeply and passionately about his subjects and had the literary firepower to etch them into history.

Maybe a little too much firepower. I believe Agee wrote most of this in his mid-twenties, and indeed it ha
Mar 17, 2008 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anders by: Sam
First published in 1941, James Agee's study of three Southern sharecropping families during the Great Depression sold a paltry six hundred copies. In the last few decades, however, the book has enjoyed increased interest and to date has been reprinted in a handful of updated editions. The book is packaged with about 30-40 black and white photographs taken by Walker Evans of the families described in the book meant to serve as a companion to the text, and in fact the book gives Evans co-authoring ...more
Nov 03, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This appears to be one of those books that inspires either love or hate. A good friend, who grew up the next county over from Hale County, and who is more focused on Southern history than I am, was unable to finish the book. I did finish, although I often did not want to continue. The book is ostensibly a journalistic account of the lives of three white sharecropper families. It fails as journalism. Agee inserts his own editorializing again and again. He presents as fact impressions drawn from h ...more
In summer 1936, James Agee and photographer Walker Evans went to spend a few months in Alabama amongst three tenant farmer families. Their goal was not necessarily to report or even understand these "beautiful" men and women, but to render them on the page in such a way that it does justice to their brillance, their largeness. The result is one of the most sensitive, pained, compassionate, utterly human pieces of writing I've ever read, second maybe only to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, who wa ...more
Dec 19, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is the musings of James Agee about a short period of time he spend wandering Alabama and living with three tenant families there. It is complemented by some wonderful, compassionate and compelling photographs taken by Walker Evans. I must say that I had a difficult time getting through this book. It was one of the slower reads I've had in a long time. I kept getting lost in the language. Agee uses lots of colons and very little other punctuation; also he speaks in a highly descriptive ...more
Aug 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: David Buth
Recommended to Julianne by: Neil Postman
Shelves: non-fiction
If this book review were to become so long that I would need chapter- and sub-headings, and if my chapter- and sub-headings turned out to be things like “(On the Porch: 1,” “Colon,” and “Intermission: Conversation in the Lobby,” and if I were to set some of them—but not others—off with left parentheses, and punctuate some—again, not others—with colons tending towards nothing but a thereafter empty page, you would think (aside from “Wow, this review is horribly and strangely long”) that I’d compl ...more
Easton Smith
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is no part of this book that deserves 4-stars. It's all fives or threes, the occasional two. 4-stars is a reduction, an average. Agee is either describing the world and its people with the poetic exactitude and finesse of Whitman, or he is pontificating in philosophical digressions that feel both dated and overwrought. In light of how much I detest the later, the 4-star rating is a testament to the former. In short, it's worth it (maybe just use this as as rule: if you are getting bored, j ...more
Not really what I was expecting - a portrait of three sharecropper families during the depression. It was more a practice in descriptive writing (there were entire chapters on what bedrooms looked like). It's a great display of Agee's writing, but I'd prefer his fiction.
Lisa N
Apr 07, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is unquestionably one of the most unique books I have read. In 1936, Agee and Evans were assigned to report on tenant families in the cotton belt. They traveled to Alabama and lived with three sharecropper families for about a month. Evans’ now iconic Depression-era photographs were shocking, revealing “a mode of life—in our rural slums—that was unthinkably remote and tragic.”

Agee used an experimental writing style, combining complex literary passages, journalism, and poetry: “I must say t
David J. Bookbinder
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in people
James Agee and Walker Evans' book of lyrical prose and hard-edged images was one of three books I brought with me when I moved to NYC in 1974, and one of a short list that had a major influence on me as a young writer back then. This was the first book I'd encountered that looked and felt deeply about a group of people largely ignored by the rest of the country, and it directly influenced my own several-year project photographing and interviewing the people I encountered living or working the st ...more
Trevor Jones
Jun 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think it easy to dismiss books that immediately come across as pretentious, bombastic and extravagantly lyrical, but works that manage to overcome the weight of being so deserve some recognition. Agee's master opus is one such book, to which I would add the novels of Malcolm Lowry and Thomas Wolfe. People tend to love or hate this nosebleeding level of lyricism, and I think as a reader it may be most important to decipher when exactitude and floridity in language is disingenuous and forced, ve ...more
Mar 04, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the summer of 1936, the Farm Services Agency sent James Agee, writer, and Walker Evans, photographer to rural Alabama to document the conditions of white tenant farmers in prose and photos. This book is the result of that expedition. While I've always had an intense interest in the Great Depression and the 1930's, this book was a little disappointing. I had heard of it for years and just now decided to read it.

The photos by Walker Evans are great and one could spend a lot of time studying the
I've been 'currently reading' this book for months. Something about Agee's writing demands late night reading, when, lulled into a semi-conscious state by his languid or furious prose, the 'curious, obscene, terrifying and unfathomably mysterious' work he undertook as a journalist sparkles (p. 8).

Agee is fully present in the text. He does not stand behind the meaningless concepts of neutrality or objectivity because he understands his demeanor and actions influence the people with whom he lives
James Agee and photographer Walker Evans teamed up in the 1930s to portray tenant families as painfully honestly as possible. With Agee's knack for vivid description and Evans' talent of capturing ones humanity in haunting quality, this book (shelved as Sociology) takes three tenant families in Alabama in the middle of the Great Depression and describes their lifestyle, their work and their environment in brutal honesty.

While all components were solid - Agee's narrative, Evans' art - as a collec
Mar 28, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I went into this book thinking it was a documentary type novel about the plight of tenant farming in the deep south, and it some ways it was. However, most of it was not about the families so much as Agee's experience with the families. A subtle but important difference. Most of the book was about how he felt being around them and how they affected him. He presented a highly romanticized version of desperately poor people while including seemingly random stories (like his desire to "get a piece ...more
Sue Bridgwater
Aug 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There were times while reading this astonishing book that I wanted to rate it zero, and time when I wanted to rate it 10 - now I'd rate it 20 if I could.

It's a book I've heard of on and off for the last 40 years, and I am so glad I finally got round to reading it. It's a work I can't categorise or designate, it fits no genre and refuses to conform to whatever you might be expecting it to do or how you might be expecting it to develop.

Agee is good at using lists - lists of objects and things, li
Dec 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The greatest book ever written. Bar none. End of story. It changed my life, seriously - shatteringly beautiful and rich, stark, concise, extremely over-wordy at times, a portrait of a time and place you'll never forget: three sharecropper families in the poorest county in the poorest state at the height of the Depression. Portrays the families with great dignity, where it could have easily been pity. Photographs by Walker Evans (one of the 'Dust Bowl' photographers) that will leave you breathles ...more
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Paths to Wholeness: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men 1 9 Jan 03, 2017 07:58PM  
  • And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South
  • Bellocq: Photographs from Storyville, the Red-Light District of New Orleans
  • Going Native
  • Within the Context of No Context
  • The Sweet Science
  • What It Takes: The Way to the White House
  • A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton
  • Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment
  • The Professional
  • Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression
  • The Other America: Poverty in the United States
  • A Child of the Century
  • Unsafe at Any Speed
  • Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
  • Walker Evans: American Photographs
  • How the Other Half Lives
  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
  • Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West
An American author, journalist, poet, screenwriter and film critic. In the 1940s, he was one of the most influential film critics in the U.S. His autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family (1957), won the author a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

Agee was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, at Highland Avenue and 15th Street (renamed James Agee Street in 1999) to Hugh James Agee and Laura Whitman Tyler.
More about James Agee...
“Isn’t every human being both a scientist and an artist; and in writing of human experience, isn’t there a good deal to be said for recognizing that fact and for using both methods?” 897 likes
“For in the immediate world, everything is to be discerned, for him who can discern it, and central and simply, without either dissection into science, or digestion into art, but with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiation of what is.” 11 likes
More quotes…