Customer Review

234 of 243 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars great novel, bad edition, March 19, 2003
This review is from: All the King's Men (Hardcover)
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.
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Tracked by 7 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 15, 2010 4:23:09 PM PDT
"Polk may think he has restored history, but in fact he has falsified it, for the history was the event of publication."

Ha! Sounds like Jack talking.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Posted on May 11, 2010 8:01:54 AM PDT
MonkGroupie says:
Thank you for the *great* review! This is the kind of information that we have so often forgotten to pay attention to. This idea that it is OK to "improve" on what the original artist had created is so infuriating!
Like the abridged editions of great literary works that allow lazy readers to pretend they have read a book by skipping passages.
I wish I new if this other version
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (November 7, 2005)
ISBN-10: 015101163X
ISBN-13: 978-0151011636
was the one butchered by Polk or not.

Posted on Sep 26, 2010 2:20:37 PM PDT
Thanks for your review. Generally, I'm a sucker for "authentic" editions but I was dubious about this one, for most of the reasons you give. I was initially put off by the lack of annotations, but above all by the change from Stark to the absurdly melodramatic and unlikely Talos. Anyone who thinks that's an improvement over Willie Stark is, well, about as smart as Sugar Boy. As for "white heat of creativity," methinks the editor has confused Warren with Keroauc [not that I don't admire K. too].

Posted on Apr 28, 2011 7:56:55 PM PDT
A. Stamm says:
Thank you. This is surely one of the finest reviews I've ever read on Amazon. I'm often confused about which particular edition to purchase when buying a classic book (various Shakespeare plays have been a particular problem for me, though I think I'm going to stick with the Folger Library editions). The pointed and methodical explanation given by the reviewer was immensely helpful.

Posted on Jul 22, 2011 4:37:19 PM PDT
A good review that warns readers away from a travesty. Warren wrote an insightful introduction to All The King's Men for the 1953 Modern Library edition that gives a detailed history of how the novel came to be written; in it he makes abundantly clear that the final, penultimate version of ATKM as far as he was concerned was the one he pubished in '46. Polk's later "revision" was the work of an academic with too much time on his hands and should be avoided at all cost.

In reply to an earlier post on May 16, 2012 12:40:50 PM PDT
Cal Engime says:
"Penultimate" means "next-to-last."

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 24, 2012 9:47:07 AM PDT
This is a very helpful review with respect to which edition of the novel to purchase, however it is hard to believe that Mr. Polk has turned a 5 star work into a 1 star travesty.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2014 7:24:24 AM PST
Sounder says:
I think that the reviewer's point is that Polk had no business doing anything to change that same 5 star work. I am in agreement with that sentiment.

Posted on Mar 1, 2014 9:25:52 PM PST
Steve C. says:
The main reason I read reader reviews is to help me decide whether to click [download] or whether to skip. It's rare to get a definitive answer to that question, as readers have such varied, and often well-argued, opinions. Thank you for providing an answer in this case. ATKM is one of my favorite novels, and I would have loved to have had a copy to read on my Kindle, but I'll pass on the version that doesn't even get the name of one of the seminal characters in contemporary American fiction correct. Warren (and his editors) produced a great American novel. It didn't need a facelift, and it definitely should have said no to the collagen lip implants as well.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 5, 2014 8:45:49 AM PDT
Based on the reviewer's text, I agree with the one star. Sadly, this Polk version appears to be the only Kindle edition.
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