190 of 200 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I ever read. Don't miss it!
Born in Kentucky, Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) had a long and prestigious literary career, his huge body of work including poetry, essays, textbooks, history and novels. "All the King's Men", written in 1946, won a Pulitzer Prize and I can well understand why. First of all there are the words, lots of them, words that flow and caress and make liberal use of...
Published on November 14, 2001 by Linda Linguvic
194 of 201 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars great novel, bad edition
Yes, this is a great novel, though I personally think the last three pages were a big mistake. But this review is about the "new, corrected edition" by Mr. Polk, which, I'm afraid, is a literary and scholarly travesty. Readers will be well advised to stick with the original 1946 text.; the fact that it has been a force in American life for over 50 years, and that in the...
Published on March 19, 2003 by headband
Most Helpful First | Newest First
194 of 201 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars great novel, bad edition,
Yes, this is a great novel, though I personally think the last three pages were a big mistake. But this review is about the "new, corrected edition" by Mr. Polk, which, I'm afraid, is a literary and scholarly travesty. Readers will be well advised to stick with the original 1946 text.; the fact that it has been a force in American life for over 50 years, and that in the 43 years before his death Warren never gave any indication he was dissatisfied with it, should be reason enough. (A cynic would argue that the only reason for the new edition was to extend the copyright.)
Polk went back to Warren's original typescript draft to restore many of the passages, phrases, and stylistic features that were changed or deleted in the editorial process before publication (and approved by Warren); and he claims that his editorial decisions have created a superior novel. The first problem is that, except for a very sketchy 10-page essay, Polk gives the reader no help in judging for himself. A respectable scholarly edition would at the least indicate, at the bottom of each page or the back of the book, each instance in which the first edition text has been changed and where the change came from (the draft was edited by several hands, including Warren's). A reader who wants to assess Polk's work will have to have both editions in hand and scan page by page, and even then will not know whose decisions Polk has overruled. Thus Polk puts himself beyond criticism.
Polk's essay tries to justify his decisions, but his illustrations are merely anecdotal and offer no consistent editorial principles or methodology. I haven't the space here to go through a critique point by point; suffice it to say, I'm not convinced by any of his examples, including the reversion from Willie Stark to Willie Talos. Polk seems to be one of those editors who believes that the closer you get to the author's very first words on paper, the better or the more authentic your version will be, since then you are closest to the "white heat of creativity." But this is one of the silliest forms of romanticism still in existence. And I suspect it runs directly again Warren's own philosophy of history. Polk may think he has restored history, but in fact he has falsified it, for the history was the event of publication.
Polk writes: "Many may feel that Warren's at least tacit approval of the [original] editors' changes-indeed, his gratitude for them-should argue against a new edition. But his `approval' may have come from fatigue, from pressures of one sort or another, from the years of constant work on it. Indeed, his very closeness to the novel may have prevented him from exercising his own good judgment, and in any case this version indicates that he had written better than he knew." Ah, but surely Mr. Polk knows? No, these are the lamest of speculations, for which there is no evidence, and the surest signs that Polk's fantasies are in danger of effacing Warren's work.
190 of 200 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I ever read. Don't miss it!,
This review is from: All the Kings Men (Hardcover)
Born in Kentucky, Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) had a long and prestigious literary career, his huge body of work including poetry, essays, textbooks, history and novels. "All the King's Men", written in 1946, won a Pulitzer Prize and I can well understand why. First of all there are the words, lots of them, words that flow and caress and make liberal use of just the right tiny details to get to the essence the people he dscribes. Never have I seen such artful characterization and I found I was re-reading some of these descriptions just for the pure beauty of the way he used his words. And yet those words never got in the way of the story; they enhanced it. It is also a piece of history as the author brings alive the South of 1920s and 1930s.
The story is about Willie Stark, man of humble origin who rose to power as a governor of an unnamed Southern state and is supposedly loosely based on the life of Huey Long, the Governor of Louisiana. But the main character is really Jack Burden, the narrator of the story. He's a reporter when he meets Willie Stark early in his career and is there as witness his political rise. Later, he works directly for Willie and becomes a key player in the blackmailing and political intrigue that surrounds the Governor. We come to know Jack through the people in his life as well as his own internal introspections and watch the swirl of events that grow in depth and complexity. Nothing is quite what it seems at first, and there are multiple sub-stories that unfold as the basic action of the book moves along. And then, just when I think I understand it all, there is yet another and another layer of depth and meaning. Everything has an effect on everything else. I found the book impossible to put down, thinking about it all the time, not only as it related to the story itself, but also how it applies to my own life.
This is perhaps the best book I ever read and I can't heap enough praise on it. It is clearly a masterpiece and I give it my very highest recommendation. It's a present to yourself to read it. Don't miss it!
83 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Absolutely Wonderful Book!,
It is extremely hard to sit down and write a review for any piece of classic literature for there is very little a reviewer can say that is new. Of course, for a book to be considered a classic most of its reviewers have to have had a favorable opinion of the work and all a new reviewer can do is concur or disagree. In this case, I couldn't possibly agree more with previous reviewers who have written rave reviews of this book.
This is not so much the story of Willie Stark, who was Willie Talos in the original manuscript, as it the story of Jack Burden, the man telling the story. It really seems to be the story of a young man and his road to maturity. That young man is Jack Burden and Stark seems to be just a convenient focal point around which Warren weaves his story. The plot is very well laid out and flows very well from beginning to end, which is quite an accomplishment when one considers all of the subplots to be found in this book. As Burden tells his story he often wanders down memory lane, recalling events which his story has recalled. Each subplot builds to it's own climax while also building toward the climax of the main story and the reader is swept along like a barrel on the Niagara River. Just as the reader feels as if he can put the book aside for a while, another subplot begins to ascend through the story and the reader is again swept along unable to pause. I got so caught up in one of the subplots that I was late for a very important appointment. I just couldn't stop until I found out what happened.
Stark is obviously supposed to resemble Louisiana Governor Huey Long and he very much does so. If one also reads T. Harry Williams biography of Long they will see just how strong the resemblance is. There are several morals and messages to be drawn from this story including thoughts on good and evil and past and future. In addition to the messages though, one has to admire the incredible amount of research Warren had to have done to write this book. Warren of course was alive and well during Huey Long's reign and that had to help him but in all events described his historical accuracy is uncanny. For example, one of the subplots involves Jefferson Davis in a minor way and even in delving in things well beyond his own memories Warren laces the story with many accurate details. In one passage, Warren relates that Davis missed the steamboat that was to carry him on the first leg of his trip to Montgomery to assume the Presidency of the new Confederacy. Warren points out that the boat left Davis Landing and then was halted out in the river while a smaller boat brought the new President out to get on board. A historical fact that would not be common knowledge but that is entirely accurate.
Many people avoid books that are considered to be top-flight works of literature. These people often assume that such books must be dull and so philosophical that they are beyond the average reader. In some instances this may be the case but not with this book. Warren has turned out a masterpiece that is not only fun to read but is so enjoyable that the reader will hate to come to the end. There are messages to be found here, both obvious and subtle but do not worry about the messages. They will come through on their own as you sit back and enjoy the ride over the falls.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars revised from original edition,
The one star is not really for the novel, but for this edition of it. If, like me, you have read this and are looking to purchase a copy, this has an attractive cover. However, it is not clear from the product description that this edition of the novel is in the form the author originally submitted to his editor, and not the edition originally published. Accordingly, Willie Stark is Willie Talos throughout this novel. Even though this may have been the author's original intention, I absolutely hate that it's a different edition from the novel I read and loved. I will be returning it and purchasing an older edition without this reversion.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great work of fiction,
Like a few other reviewers here, All the King's Men is my favority work of fiction ever. I first read it two years ago, and re-read it last month. I can't say whether I liked Robert Penn Warren's style or themes more - they both appealed to me. More on that in a second, however. I just want to say that, even after I finished it the second time, I kept on returning to the novel just to read select pages. This book alone accounts for three or four of my ten favorite passages.
Now, everyone seems to enjoy the style of the book. It's hard not to. But the themes of All the King's Men are equally poignant. Jack Burden, the main character, deals with lost love, disgust at the life he's led and still leading, and disillusionment with modern society. Willie Stark, the demagogic governor, presents themes regarding the nature of power - is it possible to attain power and still remain moral? Can morality survive as a means, or can man only try to, as Stark says, "make the good from the bad?" Is it necessary to pander to corruption to achieve good? Penn Warren not only presents all these questions, but knows how to argue them as well. This is rare for an author - many only fancy themselves stylists, not philosophers. Penn Warren is both.
I could write for days on the style of All the King's Men. Suffice it to say it's wonderful. A touch of nostalgia, a whiff of fatalism, a little cynicism here and there...since the novel is written in the first person, the writing provides the best way to get to know the narrator, Jack Burden. Because of the strength of the writing of All the King's Men, Jack Burden may be one of the most detailed and complex characters in all of american literature.
I can not state this any more clearly; All the King's Men is my favorite work of fiction ever. If you haven't read it, please, please do.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Burden of the Past,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The release of the new movie (disappointing) drove me back to the book, which I probably read thirty years ago. The book was a revelation. It's astonishingly good - a great American novel - but not for the reasons I remembered. If asked, most people would say All the King's Men is about the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a country lawyer who becomes the near-dictatorial governor of a poor southern state. Willie's story is based fairly closely on the life of Huey Long, the populist governor of Louisiana during the Depression. Willie is certainly a central character in the story. In fact, his attempts to bring economic justice to the poor people of his state through the imperfect vehicle of a corrupt legislature have led many critics to call All the King's Men the best novel ever written about American politics.
But Willie's career is chronicled by Jack Burden, and ultimately this is not Willie's story, it's Jack's. Born into privilege, Jack rejects his upper-class background and goes to work for Willie because he believes Willie is trying to do good for the people who have been kept down by Jack's ancestors and childhood associates. Jack accepts that the means to Willie's ends aren't always pretty or pure. As Willie's right hand man, Jack spends a lot of time digging up the dirt that Willie uses to bury his political opponents. During the course of the novel, some of this dirt spatters on Jack in direct and very painful ways.
What make the novel astonishing are the workings of Jack's consciousness and the prose that Warren uses to describe that consciousness. Jack is a classic American type, the cynical idealist. Jack thinks he can remove himself from his own history, only to find himself lacking the optimism and conviction he needs to fully inhabit the present. The real struggle in the novel is not Willie's attempt to soar above gutter politics, but Jack's effort to know and accept his own heart.
Jack is both a romantic and a wise guy, and Warren's supple vernacular captures the full range of his expression, from soaring perorations on the moral confusion of Southern history to crude jibes at hack politicos. Jack's insights about the haphazard constructs we assemble into a self are forward looking for 1940s when this novel was written, and give this Depression era story a curiously postmodern feel. Beyond the tragic and almost gothic machinations of its plot, this novel reveals some fundamental truths about the American character. Americans are a strange blend of idealism and cynical opportunism. We're born to believe we can flee our past, right up to the point we run out of land and run out of excuses. It's only when Jack turns around and retraces his steps that he finds what he needs to go forward.
36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best work of modern American fiction,
Calling anything "the best" is a dicey proposition, but in my opinion, this magnificent novel deserves the billing. I've read it more than a few times, and it has never failed to deliver an emotional punch, and Warren's poetic prose has never failed to lose its luster.
On one level, of course, "All the King's Men" is a fictionalized account of the life of Huey Long, the machine politician who rose to state and national prominence as the iron-fisted governor of Louisiana, a man strong enough to seriously offer FDR a challenge in the '30s before his (Long's) assassination. As a hard-nosed political novel, "All the King's Men" delivers the goods. Warren's Willie Stark develops absolutely believably from a laughably naive idealist to a ruthless politician who has convinced himself that the political ends justify the brutal means.
But beyond this, Warren's novel is a profound meditation on the limits of power and the nature of our understanding of the world. Its narrator, Jack Burden, is one of the most complex creations in American fiction, a man at once supremely self-assured and wracked by the most essential of doubts about himself. On the one hand, Jack, who becomes Willie's number-one assistant, is as hard edged a realist as his boss. On the other, he is a wounded romantic, lamenting a long-lost love and the disappearance of a world that offered the simple pleasures of boyhood and none of the ambiguities a complex world in which nothing -- politically, socially, or romantically -- is as it seems.
Finally, the novel is a voyage of self-discovery for Jack, and in this, "All the King's Men" continues the great tradition in Western literature we trace back to Oedipus. The novel explores the fundamental theme of self-identity, as Sophocles did, and it succeeds brilliantly in creating a complex, multi-layered story that achieves its thematic goal.
There is really no describing the richness of the experience you will find if you read this novel, but be forewarned that it is a novel that demands much. If you are willing to submit to the experience, Warren's great work will reward you many times over.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Deserving of the Pulitzer,
Let's get this out of the way: having just finished this book, I feel confident in ascribing "All the King's Men" the status of one of my all-time favorite books. My words cannot begin to describe just how good it is, but I shall try...
This book is primarily sold as a political novel. I think this is somewhat of an inaccurate pitch, because while Willie Stark is certainly a politician,and the book's real main character, Jack Burden, is one of stark's pundits, to limit ATKM to the political realm does it a disservice. This book is truly about so much more than politics. Sure, one of the main themes of this book is how politics are present in nearly every aspect of our lives, but this book is also about ideas, the ties that bind, the search for self, the human condition at its best and at its worst, the driving force of passion, and the intricacies of morality. It has romance, mystery, scandal, suicide, murder, and some fairly awesome speeches.
Sound dense? It is. At nearly 700 pages, ATKM is a true epic, but not one word of it is superfluous. Warren deftly spins multiple storylines into an intricately tangled web. His prose is deceptively simple, the strong Southern voice of the narrator belying some of the stark truths. He selects and arranges his words so that you feel the full force of their meaning as it resonates within you. After reading this book, you will understand with fierce clarity how this book won the Pulitzer prize
This book is a testament to what fiction should strive to be, for there is more truth in these lines than fantasy. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wants the ultimate reading experience, and I daresay that this is one of those books that only improves upon re-reading. This book rocked my world, and I can only hope it does the same for you as well.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where history and politics intertwine,
The New York Times blurb "The Definitive Novel About American Politics" on the cover of "All the King's Men" is somewhat misleading. This novel is only barely about political process and instead focuses on the quest of a man to uncover the past and how his discoveries lead to the undoing of a state of grace.
The man (and narrator) is Jack Burden, who starts out as a local newspaper reporter in a thinly disguised Louisiana. A young, temperate, idealistic county treasurer named Willie Stark comes to Burden's attention during a minor scandal. Stark refuses to give in to a kickback scheme involving a contract for a schoolhouse construction project and is promptly ousted from his position. Burden's reporting of Stark's honesty starts Stark on a path toward a political career. After years of developing himself as an orator and demagogue, Stark becomes Governor and hires Burden to be a sort of right-hand man in his administration.
During his political rise, Stark transforms from a naive idealist into a cynical imperialist, as his relationships to his wife and son grow distant. He is the manipulative type of man who will slap a friend reassuringly on the shoulder while browbeating and intimidating members of his administration (the "king's men"), such as making them write resignation letters that he personally will date when he wants to get rid of them. Especially symbolic is the possum incident at the end of Chapter 1: The Willie Stark political machine crushes anything that gets under its wheels.
Stark commands Burden, who is a former history student with experience in research, to dig up dirt on a political dissenter who happens to be one of Burden's lifelong friends. In doing so, Burden uncovers a revelation that shatters not only his own life but the lives of several people close to him. The novel ends with the weight of a Shakespearean tragedy, where the line of responsibility weaves directly and indirectly through several major characters.
Robert Penn Warren writes in a style that alternates between straight hard dialogue and poetic philosophical musings. It's not easy to see where the novel is going after reading only the first couple of chapters; Warren takes his time unfolding the story to allow the reader to develop a genuine interest in the characters and appreciate the wealth of ideas presented.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The seminal work in American political fiction,
By A Customer
All the King's Men is perhaps one of the best works of American fiction of the twentieth century. As an historical work, it gives us an incredible insight into the way Louisiana functioned under Huey "the Kingfish" Long. The story line is riveting, certainly, but the most remarkable thing about Penn Warren's book is the beauty of his writing. That might be why this work has become a classic: one doesn't need to be a political junkie to appreciate it.
The other major work of fiction using Long as inspiration, Adria Locke Langley's A Lion is in the Streets, doesn't even come close to the greatness of All the King's Men. Anyone who read (or thought about reading) Joe Klein's Primary Colors should read Penn Warren's book to see what a quality "novel of politics" is like.
To be honest, I was surprised to note the number of negative reviews of this book on Amazon. Fair is fair, and everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, but how a mature reader of fiction could not enjoy this book totally escapes me.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (Hardcover - November 7, 2005)
Used & New from: $0.17