All the King's Men

All the King's Men

Book - 2001
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"Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this classic book is generally regarded as the finest novel ever written on american politics. It describes the career of Willie Stark, a back-country lawyer whose idealism is overcome by his lust for power."--Goodreads.
Publisher: San Diego : Harcourt, c2001
Edition: Restored ed., 1st Harvest ed
ISBN: 9780151006106
Characteristics: 642 p. ; 24 cm


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"Challenged at the Dallas, TX Independent School District high school libraries (1974)." from American Library Association

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May 17, 2020

"All the King’s" Men by Robert Penn Warren

"All the King’s Men" by Robert Penn Warren tells the story of Willie Stark - a southern country lawyer who beat the system and became Governor.

Stark began as "Cousin Willie from the country". His first entry into public life was to fight against a back-room deal that handed a school construction project to an undeserving contractor - a deal that resulted in the deaths and injury of dozens of children when a fire escape collapsed a couple years later. Willie continued his fight against the political establishment and eventually became governor. But, as he accumulated more power, he lost the idealism of his youth. Eventually, he became known to all his associates as "The Boss".

Willie was charismatic and popular because he championed the common man. But he was also brutal and would not hesitate to destroy his enemies. He often resorted to bullying, bribery, and blackmail to accomplish his goals and maintain his power. He built and presided over his own political machine.

Eventually, Willie encounters problems against which he is powerless.

But "All the King's Men" is not just the story of Willie Stark. It is as at least as much about Jack Burden - Stark's friend and right-hand man and the narrator of Warren's novel. Like Willie, Burden abandons his ideals as he carries out Willie's plans - ignoring the consequences of his actions.

And the book is very much about the consequences of actions. Neither man has trouble rationalizing his choices. Stark believes that the ends justify the means - that it is ok to accumulate power by any means necessary because he is doing good with that power. He is convinced there is only evil in the world, so he must use that evil as a tool to make good. Stark is not a bad man. But, in his quest to do good, he ends up causing bad things.

Burton, in contrast adopts a nihilistic attitude in which he ignores any results of his action. He lives much of his life through Willie and abandons his own sense of responsibility.

Even many of the minor characters in the novel compromise their principles at least once - invariably with negative unintended results.

This is a novel about the corruption of power and the hypocrisy inherent in American politics and the consequence of using the end to justify the means and the limits of that power once obtained. Although written in 1947 and chronicling a fictional southern state governor (presumably based on Louisiana governor Huey Long), one can find parallels in the current administration.

Feb 29, 2020

This (and any) political season is a good time to pick-up this great American novel. Truly excellent and compelling writing.

Jan 02, 2020

A fabulous book! Nominally a story about the Kingfish, it is a story about corruption, not just of those for whom power corrupts, but about those corrupted by proximity to power. The novel was published in 1946, in a bowdlerized version, because the publishers did not think readers would accept some of the language and characterizations. Our Tulsa Library copy of the restored version had been damaged and I had to resort to Mobius to avoid the politically correct one otherwise available. Although the novel tells the story of a politician, the real story is that of the narrator, Jack Burden. Camus published “The Stranger” in 1942, and I have to believe that Warren consumed that book. Jack Burden is not the American avatar of the central figure in that book, but Jack frequently reflects the anomie of Camus’ character. It is impossible for me to give fair critique of this novel; I enjoyed it too much. The language is often unpleasant, the treatment describes the attitudes of the deep South during the 20s and 30s, and some of Jack’s steam-of-consciousness self-analysis is challenging, but this novel is easily one of the best I’ve ever read.

Apr 26, 2016

The library should offer readers the original 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning edition and make a clear distinction between that one (approved by Warren) and the later edition that was changed after his death.

Aug 27, 2015

Warren has mastered the art of vernacular prose better than any writer I know, and he puts it to good use, seamlessly blending small-town deep south patios with the polished lyricism of an accomplished poet, thereby creating a compelling sense of time and place.
This is a story of self-discovery, conflicting values, loves that go disastrously awry; and above all, it's about the many blurred lines between good and evil, as men's pursuit of their goals drives them to increasingly desperate actions, spiraling into violence, mayhem and ultimately into a degree of corruption no better than that which they initially sought to overcome.
A true American classic, unmatched by any political novel I've read, except for "Advise and Consent".

Oct 10, 2014

This is the "restored" edition from Warren's original manuscripts. It is not the edition that was published in 1946, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947. The editors at that time made a number of changes to make the book more palatable to the times. Bawdy passages were eliminated and crude references were softened. The narrator was made more sympathetic. The name of the hero was changed from Willie Talos to Willie Stark, to make the name sound less foreign and confusing. The editors adopted the publishing house style which negated much of Warren's stylistic flair. All of these changes have been removed for this restored edition. Still it would be nice if EPL had the original edition for comparison.

Nov 01, 2010

This book contains the most beautifully written poetic prose I've ever read. Not surprising: I discovered that the author was a poet and the first poet laureate of the US. You will reread sentences and paragraphs to marvel at their beauty and sensuality. The author has both an ability to capture a sense of place and a sense of character; you know these people. There are twists and turns in the plot that are not predictable. The book is considered one of the finest fictional accounts of politics ever written. Not surprising that it won a Pulitzer. The original movie based on it in the 1940's won best picture. I am now seeking out other books by this author.


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