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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  3,311 ratings  ·  359 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

Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very few books can knock me like Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Originally commissioned as a report back to the Northern seaboard’s intellectua-lites on the state of Southern affairs, ‘reporter’ Agee did something no one saw coming (including himself): he fell in love. In love with the people he lived with and among, the land, the architecture, crops, roads, bedbugs, clothes, patois, sky; the whole cosmic smear of life lived by fundamentally good people at its absolute barest and most brutal.

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
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 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 tim
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 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.
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A life altering read. The sort that very seldom comes along...
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
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
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.
Kate Savage

What is this?

What is this?

Why is it so beautiful?

And then dull?

And then arrogant? And then the most humble thing a Harvard kid has ever written?

Why do I want to make every ethnographer I know read it? Even though it aggravates me?
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
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
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

Julie Mickens
Not a perfect or easy work but a monumental one. Very affecting, even haunting.
This book was SO LONG that I honestly can’t rate it. It was sooooo winding and sooo beautiful. I am really stuck on the ethics of telling other people’s stories, Agee is so obsessed with the fact that he can’t give a full picture of the sharecroppers’ lives he ends up reducing them to just his characterizations.
Agee shouldn’t be blamed for the recent plague of self-indulgent texts by scholars obsessed with their own role as reader/writer and voyeur/sympathizer.
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
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
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Engaging book, and he clearly loved and had compassion for the people he was writing about, but wow! Could he have been any more sexual in the way he was talking about them? Not just the women, but the children too. It got to the point of creepiness at times. Maybe he was hammered while he was actually typing it, as he was a major alcoholic. I do enjoy some literature that can be sexually explicit, i.e. some pulp literature, horror, fantasy, sci fi, even backwards reactionary Bond novels, but it ...more
James Campbell
Nov 18, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loathe his book.

A 92 page (or some ridiculous number like that) description of a wooden shack.

This is a perfect example of experimental style over substance, and it's basically unreadable. The only redeeming quality is Walker Evans's astounding photography.

Never attempt to read this book.
Mark Palermo
Beginning on page 123, there’s a forty-seven-page description of a wooden shack. After finishing this section, I was shocked to discover that Agee was about to describe two more wooden shacks.
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
Kathryn Vargo
Jan 29, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
When I was a college freshman in 1974 my creative writing teacher highly recommended this book as the best literary work she'd ever read. I bought the book and it sat on my shelf for years. At some point I told my sister I wanted to read the book and somehow my copy had ended up with her. I was very disappointed in the book. The book was way to descriptive to the point where I got lost in what was being described. Oh well
Sep 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook-owned
I'm so conflicted about this book... on the one hand, I am here for a very post-modern take on a journalistic story. The writing style is poetic, to be sure, and I can see why people love this book. That being said, I just have misgivings over the author making this so much about him. I get that it's the project... but I'm just not that into that project. I also found the style to be somewhat alienating for non-fiction. Yeah, just mixed feelings all around and so I'll split the difference and ca ...more
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Paths to Wholeness: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men 1 10 Jan 03, 2017 07:58PM  

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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.

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