Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, (1960). Single volume, measuring 8.25 x 5.5 inches: xxii, 471, . Original full black cloth lettered in silver, original unclipped typographic dust jacket. 64 pages of black-and-white photographs by Walker Evans before text. Ownership signature of Hunter S. Thompson to front free endpaper. Spine lettering rubbed; light edgewear to jacket, expertly reinforced on verso; occasional stray smudge.
First expanded edition, following the 1941 first edition, of a landmark work of American journalism, from the library of Hunter S. Thompson. In 1936, at the height of the Depression, Fortune magazine assigned photographer Walker Evans and writer James Agee a feature on white tenant farmers in the South. Their month in Alabama inspired a sprawling, uncategorizable book of almost five hundred pages, opening with Evans’s austere documentary photographs of three tenant families and their surroundings. His rigorously composed images provide a counterpoint to Agee’s passionate, ambivalent account of the families themselves, and his own struggle as an outsider trying to do their hard lives justice. “it is not only their bodies but their postures that I know, and their weight on the bed or on the floor, so that I lie down inside each one as if exhausted in a bed, and I become not my own shape and weight and self, but that of each of them, the whole of it, sunken in sleep like stones.” Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was not a success upon publication in 1941. World War II was already underway overseas, and public interest had turned away from rural poverty in the United States. Agee’s experimental, immersive approach baffled readers who expected a straightforward treatment of Southern labor issues. This expanded edition, which contains all the photographs Evans had originally hoped to include, found a much more receptive audience in the 1960s. In particular, Agee’s decision to place his flawed subjectivity at the center of the narrative resonated with a new generation of journalists, including the owner of this copy, Hunter S. Thompson. The roots of Thompson’s gonzo journalism, which found full expression over the following years in Hell’s Angels (1966) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), run straight through Agee’s sleepless nights on the pallet of a sharecropper’s cabin. A near-fine copy, with a compelling literary association.