All the King's Men
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Why read it?
5 authors picked All the King's Men as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
The early ‘30s were marked by the rise of Huey P. Long, Louisiana’s populist governor, senator, and cult leader whom FDR called “the most dangerous man in America.” In All the King’s Men, the character of Willie Stark is based on Long and gives us a richly detailed look into the labyrinthine politics of the times. Fiction, but painfully true, not just to Long and the ways he corrupted decent people but to our own political times, as well. Favorite quote: “Politics is a matter of choices, and a man doesn't set up the choices himself. And there is…
At my first paid reporting job, one college summer for the Lake Charles (La.) American Press, a veteran reporter told me that if I wanted to cover politics, in Louisiana or anywhere else, I had to read Penn Warren’s novel, a classic based on Huey Long’s life. I got a copy – and was hooked from the opening, when Sugar Boy, the boss’s chauffeur and gunsel, whipped their Cadillac around an oncoming gasoline truck and stuttered, “The b-b-b-b-bas-tud . . .” Penn Warren, a poet, brought to life the realpolitik and machine politics I’d studied. He showed me, through…
Warren is so well known as a literary critic that this fast-moving, brilliant novel is sometimes overlooked, despite winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1947. It is set in the American South, by implication Louisiana in the 1920s and 30s, with central character Willy Stark based on the historical populist politician Governor Huey P. Long. A framed tale, it moves between 1922 and 1939, told by cynical educated “upper-class” public relations and newspaperman Jack Burden. It is deeply relevant to recent American politics, with politician-of-the-people Stark in fact being an unfalteringly manipulative, corrupt, and personally cruel pragmatist, and his supporters and…
It’s hard to think of a more penetrating look at early 20th-century American life than this 1946 masterpiece. The rise of a populist governor, based loosely on Huey P. Long, is charted with deadly accuracy and poetic beauty. Read this for profound insight into the workings of the human heart, the way history is conceived and told, and the moral dilemmas of family and community. I’ve read it twice and loved it both times.
Another contender for The Great American Novel? All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren is the classic tale of the Louisiana populist governor who climbs from a hardscrabble farm to the statehouse and incredible power, there are two messages. Each is wrought with lyricism and luminous imagery: the first, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely; and the second, the incredible river-like power of time.
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