Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: All the King's Men


Robert Penn Warren won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for All the King's Men, his fictionalized account of Louisiana's legendary governor Huey Long. In the novel, Long is Willie Stark, an idealistic country lawyer who takes on the political machine in his state and achieves meteoric success, only to be compromised by the same system he railed against.

This book has been on my list of Top 10 favorites since I read it in the mid-1990s, shortly after law school. Robert Penn Warren's combination of beautiful writing, compelling story, and political shenanigans wholly beguiled me.

Now, getting close to 20 years later, I wanted to re-read it to see if it still packed the same punch. It did, but in a quieter way. Either because I am older now or because I was familiar with the story, the political side didn't grab me, but the personal stories of Stark's family and the narrator, Stark's operative Jack Burden, struck me even harder with their heartbreak.

Warren was a poet first and a novelist second. His writing is full of metaphor, long descriptions, philosophical musings, and some long digressions away from the central plot. All these things, if not done right, can ruin a novel for me, fan of a good yarn that I am. But Warren does it right. It is definitely a book you have to settle in to and let it lead, but it is worth the dance if you do.


on Vapour Trails

If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


All the King's Men is listed on the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and the Time Magazine list of All-TIME best novels

This counts as one of my Pulitzer Prize choices for the Battle of the Prizes, American Version.  This challenge runs through January 31, 2012, so there is still time to enter -- books read since February 1, 2011 count.

A revised edition of All the King's Men was published a few years back, to little fanfare and a small dustup between Noel Polk, editor of the "restored" edition,  and Joyce Carol Oates.  It is much longer and, inexplicably, Willie Stark is called Willie Talos, which in itself would make it impossible for me to read, Willie Stark being such an icon of American fiction.


  1. My parents belonged to Book of the Month Club when I was a child, and I remember this book on their shelves for years afterward. Sadly, I didn't read it, but now I think I will.

  2. Oh, what a wonderful book. Though I only read All the King's Men a few years ago, it's left enough of an imprint on me to know that I'll eventually have to reread it (though hopefully I'll get to it within a shorter timeframe than twenty years).

    I also find myself wondering what kind of impact it will have once the political plotline takes backstage... I would love to have a second chance to get close to Jack Burden. What a character!

  3. You've convinced me--this sounds like a wonderful book. I too like to be beguiled by a writer, and the story is interesting in and of itself. I've been wanting to read more 20th century literature, and this seems like a good step on that road.

  4. Barbara: What a great book memory! It's definitely worth reading.

    Biblibio: I definitely was more interested in Burden this time around, when the first time through, it was all Stark.

    Jane: It is excellent. Really one of my all time favorites. Enjoy!

  5. My review of All The Kings Men

  6. Thanks for linking this in to Books You Loved. Have a great week.


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