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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families [Paperback]

James Agee , Walker Evans
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Dec 2001
The clasic that became the prototype of the modern nonfiction novel. A watershed literary event at its first publication in 1941, LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN is an "unsparing record of the harsh existence of three Alabama families, and a poetic meditation on the terrible beauty of their lives," recognized by the New York Public Library as one of the most influential books of the century.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families + A Death in the Family
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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Trade); 1st Mariner Books Ed edition (12 Dec 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618127496
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618127498
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 79,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Authors

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Product Description

About the Author

JAMES AGEE (1909-1955), a poet, screenwriter, and journalist, won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel A Death in the Family. His other books include a volume of poems, Permit me Voyage, the novel The Morning Watch, and several collections of correspondence, reviews and film scripts.

WALKER EVANS (1903-1975) is best known for his striking Depression-era photographs. He served as an editor for both Fortune and Time and was a professor of graphic arts at Yale.

Blake Morrison was born in Skipton, Yorkshire, in 1950.His non-fiction books include And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1993), As If (1997), Too True (1998), Things My Mother Never Told Me (2002). His first novel, The Justification of Johann Gutenberg was published in 2000. Blake Morrison lives in London.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
It is late in a summer night, in a room of a house set deep and solitary in the country; all in this house save myself are sleeping; I sit at a table, facing a partition wall; and I am looking at a lighted coal-oil lamp which stands on the table close to the wall, and just beyond the sleeping of my relaxed left hand; with my right hand I am from time to time writing, with a soft pencil, into a school-child's composition book; but just now, I am entirely focused on the lamp, and light. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed reaction! 19 Aug 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A chance to experience a much-praised classic. The book begins with 64 pages of Walker Evans' pictures, as pithy and full of impact as the day they were taken. There then follows Agee's text, 411 pages of the most tortured, convoluted, pretentious, rambling verbosity I have read in a good long time. One can assume from the fact that Agee struggled to find a publisher, and that the planned parts 2 and 3 were never written, that even at the time his work was considered barely readable, and it has aged very badly. But the book is still worth buying for the pictures!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Rather than reading, I mounted an assault on this indescribable and demanding "cooperative human effort". Agee's torrential prose is outrageous, arrogant and desperate as he issues a rally cry, and displays a railing anger against the fabric of society (teachers are described as at best being "servants of unconscious murder") as he describes the lot of Alabama tenant farmers in the 1930s. The book's consideration of existence is made all the more resonant through the haunting photography of Walker Evans. Half exposition of a new form of writing, and half explanation of the exposition, the author demands much as he sets out his grandiose ambition - "by consuming all that is within you into the never relaxed determination that this shall be made different, and shall be made right". Influenced heavily by his communist views and his religious background, this unsettling and unique book has made an impression - to live more carefully and more cooperatively and consider responsibilities more fully.
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3.0 out of 5 stars It's OK 12 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this was something I had wanted to read for quite a few years....to be quite honest it was disappointing..a mish-mash of text jumping about all over the place....not enough of Evans' photographs..or am I missing something?......is it a precis?.......I'll give it another read this weekend.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a classic.... but not as simple as that 12 July 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
when agee set to work on this with walker evans, he hoped to document three tenant families in the american south during the 1930's... what he did however is a mix of first person and third person prose, poetry, images and every type of writing conceivable. Not particularly easy to read, but there are many gems hidden in here. Not your average american "classic" to say the least. Agee was arguably a creative genius, although at some points he comes out as a mumbling drunkard. Evans' photos are terrific and the book is very touching... a ground breaking book without doubt.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
114 of 117 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible, but widely misunderstood work 13 July 2003
By jmm38 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Many people argue about Agee's complex text. The entire body of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is written in a kind of highly emotional euphoria in which Agee combines his own thoughts and perceptions with exhaustive description of the world around him. His intense feeling causes the writing to be, by conventional grammatical standards, virtually unreadable. Once the reader gets past his chapter-long sentences and widely varying themes, however, the book emerges as one of the greatest written accomplishments of the 20th century.
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.
58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I thought I hated it at points, but I've never been able to get it out of my head. 22 Sep 2005
By Mike Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is an amazing work of art. At times it's baffling, and at times almost impertinent--like when the author decides to describe every object in an entire home, and yet in all these things and in all the conflicting emotions it evokes, it creates a mood and a feeling and a setting that will seep into your skin and fog your brain for months.
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.
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Famous Men Revisited: and other comments on James Agee 28 Jan 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In one of the most edifying ways, James Agee illustrates the life of the Southern tenant sharecropper in the Great Depression. Agee's writings coupled with the eloquent photography of one notable Walker Evans, distinguishes the book in a elite category unparalleled by few if any whatsoever. The circumstances the sharecropper endured during the Depression not only working the land but also at home with family was rigorous and was additionally exposed very thoroughly in Agee's writings. The book is a must read for anyone interested in the History of the Great Depression era/New Dealism. One other book of notable mention for those interested is Larry Nelson's- KING COTTON'S ADVOCATE.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Puzzle to be piece together.... 12 April 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
James Agee's book on the sharecroppers of the American south during the great depression is a book not to be taken lightly. I read this book for a college english class and I can honestly say that most people in the course including myself are confused by Agee's intent and purpose. Agee's highly lyrical and philosophical tone allows a deep analysis into the question of human existence in the depression south. Yet, the very scope and difficulty of his subject is expressed in his confused, perhaps confusing writing. There are lonely moments of insight stacked alongside pages of seemingly irrelevant and baseless speculation. I say seemingly because each time I re-read the passage I find that Agee's words have quite a bit more meaning than I had originally found. This book is not a novel, not journalism but a puzzle which Agee could not piece together. Only with time and care can the reader hope to understand the frustratingly complex yet real message of Agee's work.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful! 5 Aug 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Living only 3 miles from the site where this book was born, I can easily still see the horrors of what Agee and Evans witnessed. Rual Hale County, Alabama is still a place slow to develope, but with still as much pride and hope as was seen in the Depression years. The book is, at times, unequelled because of the direct accurancy describing the people, smells, conditions, and lifestyles of the three families. It is simply a work of art. The families are still around, and PBS even shot a piece on the book; however, the reminders of what was can still pierce the souls of all who live in our area. We have come a long way, but there are "miles to go." It is a work of art. Powerful! It needs to be followed up- yet I doubt that there could ever be such a quality work to follow that of Agee's.
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