COME HOPE OR HIGH WATER is the biography of AgWest CEO Steve Knuth penned by Candi Cross, and very far from just another tale of business success. Knuth, a hardworking Nebraska farm worker for many years, was a functioning alcoholic with a difficult home life until he fought a long-running battle to reach sobriety. The book pulls no punches on Knuth’s difficult early years, exploring 40-hour gambling sessions during which he’d sober up and become drunk again several times over, confessing to countless cases of drunk driving between rural Nebraska towns, and exploring the difficulties that his relationships–including several marriages–suffered as Knuth struggled to stay on the rails.
Beneath it all, though, Knuth is clearly intelligent and deeply invested in what he does. His troubles with alcohol cause chaos in his life, but that chaos is underpinned by a drive to understand the world around him, particularly the complexity and influences that govern issues like food prices and crop purchasing and the how to use that information to assist a community he feels is not well-treated. That, of course, is how his company AgWest and their trading approach came to be. What it all adds up to is a deeply personal portrait of rural America, and in particular the ‘breadbasket’-type farming life. Knuth is probably not typical, of course, but his stories paint a picture of closely-knit communities that help each other through the worst. There’s also a sense of a hardworking ethos that permeates the culture, taking joy in production despite its hardships–weather, and hard manual labor, in particular.
The book is told in short chapters, crammed with a sense of emotion, and the battle with alcohol always raging beneath the surface. Knuth dives into the symbolism of his own trips to rehab (in particular around a purposefully broken and reassembled cup), the things that drove him to break his sobriety in the early days, and the night of high-stakes gambling that pushed his friends and the local community to ‘call time’, in a sense, on his days as a functioning addict. Knuth’s still a gambler, in a sense, but of a different, more risk-informed company-leading type, and it’s clear that his ‘close to the ground’ experience of Nebraska farm life and mentality play into his modern every day.
Biographies work best when an interesting subject is willing to reveal just about everything and in the short, select chapters that snapshot Steve Knuth’s life, Candi Cross has laid down a witty, no-holds-barred story that’s raw, stark and full of memorable lessons that feel embracingly whole.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader