By February 3, 2010 0 Comments Read More →


In my continuing effort to understand the photography of Dorothea Lange (see my comments on January 4th about her biography), I was led to a book from 1938 called Land of the Free by poet Archibald MacLeish.

Published in the middle of The Great Depression, this book is illustrated with photographs mostly from the Resettlement Administration collection and includes some of Dorothea Lange’s work.

With the photographs as an inspiration, poet MacLeish wrote a free verse responding to what was happening in the country and the images chosen for the book.

What is eerie about this work is that it really echoes what is happening today in our country.  The same emotions that are expressed both visually in the eyes of the subjects in the photos and in the tone of the words chosen by MacLeish exist today as we struggle with our own economic crisis.

What it appears to come down to is how individual people are treated in times of stress.  When MacLeish writes his refrain, “We are wondering,” he means whether the basic assumptions of liberty and justice exist when basic needs are not being met.  The questions become “we wonder…we don’t know…we’re asking.”

This would be a fabulous book to use for a book discussion.  Its historical nature may deflect the pain of today but no one could read and view this book without seeing today’s headlines.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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