All the King’s Men
By Robert Penn Warren
- Date Finished: April 10, 2014
- Genre: Fiction
- Year: 1946
- Project: n/a
- Reading List: Spring 2014, Pulitzer Prize Winners, Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, Newsweek’s 100 Best Novels
- Grade: A+
- Thoughts upon reading:
I didn’t really know what to expect from All the King’s Men. I bought it awhile ago based on name recognition, but it just sort of sat there on my shelf for more than a year. It didn’t help that my fiction collection is arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name on my shelves (former bookstore employee here), and the end of the alphabet is stuck upstairs in my office, rather than downstairs with the rest of fiction. I would just forget poor Robert Penn Warren was there.
But I’m really happy I decided to read this book, because even though it’s a political novel – something to which I’m not normally attracted – it was supremely good. So, so good. The book won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize and it’s no wonder; Warren is a powerful and lovely writer, and what he manages to convey through All the King’s Men is so unexpected and awesome. All the King’s Men tells the story of Willie Talos, a Southern politician modeled off real-life demagogue Huey Long, and his right-hand man, cynical former reporter Jack Burden. Through Jack, we learn of the rise and fall of Willie, who started out as a man of the people but soon became obsessed with power. We also learn the tragic story of Jack himself, following him as he rationalizes his morally questionable position in Willie’s administration, confronts the idea of fate and God, and tries to be a better person.
This is a big story, and I was completely taken in. At first, the prose can be a bit challenging, but once you get used to it, it’s absolutely mesmerizing. It’s a long book – more than 600 pages, whew! – but I busted out the last few hundred pages in a few days after wrapping up a bunch of homework. It also didn’t hurt that I just love, love, love Southern literature, making this one of my favorite reads so far this year.