Seventeen essays and articles written by Agee for Fortune and Time magazines during the 1930s and 40s make up this...


JAMES AGEE: Selected Journalism

Seventeen essays and articles written by Agee for Fortune and Time magazines during the 1930s and 40s make up this engrossing, if occasionally riling, anthology. Long denigrated by admirers of his more consciously ""literary"" The Morning Watch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Death in the Family and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee's journalism nonetheless provides valuable insights into the attitudes and interests that shaped the longer works. Most successful are two articles describing the formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority. In them, Agce not only clarifies the immensely complicated workings of the monumental undertaking with an almost obsessive accounting of facts and figures (""1,100 errand boys and typists,"" ""ninety-eight cemeteries with over 6,000 graves,"" ""750,000 barrels of cement"") but, more importantly, as a Tennesseean himself, he captures the project's idealism and its impact on the dirt farmers of the Valley in touchingly human terms. Agee is less successful when he allows his egalitarian instincts to come in conflict with human foibles. Embarrassed perhaps by his ""upscale"" (read ""capitalist"") readership, he chooses some peculiar targets for his journalistic sniping. In ""Havana Cruise,"" for example, he takes a vitriolic look at the husband-hunting single women, a middle-aged ""Jew,"" (the epithet recurs with alarming frequency), and the elderly New York couples who make up the passenger list. In his introduction, editor Ashdown quotes Agee biographer Genevieve Moreau's claim that the ""unscrupulous tourist industry"" is the object of the author's scorn. If so, Agee's scatter-shot criticisms wound the bystanders more often than they hit his purported target. Agee's eye is truer when he investigates the implications of the rise of Italian fascism, the cultural impact of the US auto industry, industrial pollution, and the dropping of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. In the essays dealing with these topics, he is prescient and convincing. By and large, a welcome addition to the growing corpus of Agee studies.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Univ. of Tennessee Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1985