HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

All the king's men by Robert Penn Warren
Loading...

All the king's men (1946)

by Robert Penn Warren

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,90790936 (4.1)270
Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 270 mentions

English (89)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (90)
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
I don't remember this book all that well, it has been a few years since I read it. I do remember liking it though, but not loving it. So.. 3 stars. ( )
  thefamousmoe | May 1, 2016 |
Like I mentioned a little while back, apart from my bookworm tendencies, I'm also a big fan of movies. I remember watching the Sean Penn movie version of this novel and (like many critics for what was supposed to be an awards-bait picture) walking away deeply unimpressed. I didn't even really remember the plot of the story, except that the main character was supposedly based on former Governor of Louisiana Huey Long and that it was "about" political corruption.

As it turns out, the actual novel is only partially about political corruption. Politics is mostly a framing device for the real story. The meat of the book is about how actions have consequences, and that there's no getting around that. Reporter-turned-political-staffer-type Jack Burden (it's hard to describe what it actually is he does for Willie Stark, the Huey Long analogue referenced above, and don't think for a second that surname isn't symbolic) burned out of his Ph.D. program when he uncovered a story that made the consequences of heedless actions too real, and tries to hide behind inaction to save him from having to deal with that kind of responsibility. His work for Stark means that he mostly doesn't have to make decisions, until it intersects with his personal life in a way that starts forcing him to do just that and refusing to let him slip quietly away from the results.

That central conceit, though, isn't really clear until you get about halfway through with the story. The first part of the story feels very much like a standard issue dramatic story about yes, politics and corruption. We learn the story of Willie Stark, how he made it from a bumpkin, to a young political appointee fighting a shady, kickback-laden county contract, to a stooge goaded into running for Governor by people using him for their own purposes, to a morally questionable Governor himself. That part of the novel is interesting and easily digestible enough, but the real power of it comes from the later, more philosophical part that shifts Stark's story into the background and brings Jack's story up front.

The storyline wrangling and plot development is masterful, but where the real beauty of this book is are the words. Robert Penn Warren won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel, but he also won one for poetry, and you can tell. Picking out a highlight quote was torture...I read this on the Kindle and digitally underlined about half the book because I was so in love with the language. It's a page turner, but not in a suspenseful kind of way. You just want to keep reading it to keep basking in the glory of the writing. I was sad to put it down when it was over. ( )
  ghneumann | Apr 26, 2016 |
First read this when I was nineteen. I was intrigued by the Huey Long/Willie Stark story. Loved the writing and the bittersweet Jack Burden-Anne Stanton romance. I'm not a fan of the 1949 film. I didn't think Broderick Crawford captured the cunning of Willie Stark. He just came as a loud-mouthed demagogue.
  Bill.Dawson | Mar 18, 2016 |
Willie Stark
The central character of Willie Stark (often simply referred to as "the Boss") undergoes a radical transformation from an idealistic lawyer and weak gubernatorial candidate into a charismatic and extraordinarily powerful governor. In achieving this office Stark comes to embrace various forms of corruption and builds an enormous political machine based on patronage and intimidation. His approach to politics earns him many enemies in the state legislature, but does not detract from his popular appeal among many of his constituents, who respond with enthusiasm to his fiery populist manner.

Stark's character is often thought to be inspired by the life of Huey P. Long, former governor of Louisiana and that state's U.S. senator in the mid-1930s. Huey Long was at the zenith of his career when he was assassinated in 1935; just a year earlier, Robert Penn Warren had begun teaching at Louisiana State University.[4] Stark, like Long, is shot to death in the state capitol building by a physician.

In his introduction to the Modern Library edition, Warren denied that the book should be read as either praise for Huey Long or praise for his assassination. However, Warren did not deny that Long served as an influence or inspiration for Stark:

One of the unfortunate characteristics of our time is that the reception of a novel may depend on its journalistic relevance. It is a little graceless of me to call this characteristic unfortunate, and to quarrel with it, for certainly the journalistic relevance of All The King's Men had a good deal to do with what interest it evoked. My politician hero, whose name, in the end, was Willie Stark, was quickly equated with the late [US] Senator Huey P. Long....

This equation led, in different quarters, to quite contradictory interpretations of the novel. On one hand, there were those who took the thing to be a not-so-covert biography of, and apologia for, Senator Long, and the author to be not less than a base minion of the great man. There is really nothing to reply to this innocent boneheadedness or gospel-bit hysteria. As Louis Armstrong is reported to have said, there's some folks that, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em... But on the other hand, there were those who took the thing to be a rousing declaration of democratic principles and a tract for the assassination of dictators. This view, though somewhat more congenial to my personal political views, was almost as wide of the mark. For better or worse, Willie Stark was not Huey Long. Willie [Stark] was only himself....

[T]he difference between the person Huey P. Long and the fiction Willie Stark, may be indicated by the fact that in the verse play [Proud Flesh] the name of the politician was Talos — the name of the brutal, blank-eyed 'iron groom' of Spenser's Fairie Queene, the pitiless servant of the knight of justice. My conception grew wider, but that element always remained, and Willie Stark remained, in one way, Willie Talos. In other words, Talos is the kind of doom that democracy may invite upon itself. The book, however, was never intended to be a book about politics. Politics merely provided the framework story in which the deeper concerns, whatever their final significance, might work themselves out.[5]

[edit] Jack Burden
Jack Burden is the novel's narrator, a former student of history, newspaper columnist, and personal aide to Governor Willie Stark.

His narrative is propelled in part by a fascination with the mystery of Stark's larger-than-life character, and equally by his struggle to discover some underlying principle to make sense of all that has happened.

In narrating the story, Jack commingles his own personal story with the political story of Governor Stark. His telling of these two stories side by side creates a striking contrast between the personal and the impersonal. While his wry, detached, often humorous tone suggests an attempt to stand apart from the other characters' passions and intrigues, the highly personal content of his narrative suggests an awareness that he cannot truthfully remove himself and his own history from the story of Willie Stark, because his own story has paralleled and helped shape the tragic outcome of Stark's story.

Jack's overall character development might be roughly described as a journey away from an amoral perspective on human history as a chain of uncontrollable events, toward a belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of all of history. In other words, he might be said to trace a path from refusal to acceptance of personal responsibility. On the other hand, one defining trait that remains a constant throughout Jack's development is a passion for discovering the truth of history.

"And all times are one time, and all those dead in the past never lived before our definition gives them life, and out of the shadow their eyes implore us. That is what all of us historical researchers believe. And we love truth." [p. 342]

[edit] Anne Stanton
Anne is Jack Burden's former lover and the daughter of Willie Stark's political predecessor, Governor Stanton. Many of the novel's passages recounting Jack's life story revolve around memories of his relationship with Anne. Like many of Jack's friends, Anne disapproves of Willie Stark. However, in the wake of a devastating revelation regarding one of her father's moral lapses, she has an affair with Stark.

[edit] Adam Stanton
Adam is a highly successful doctor, Anne Stanton's brother, and Jack Burden's childhood friend. Jack comes to view Adam Stanton as the polar opposite of Governor Stark, calling Adam "the man of idea" and Stark "the man of fact".[6] Elsewhere, he describes Adam's central motivation as a deep need to "do good".[7] Governor Stark invites Adam to be director of his pet project, a new hospital and medical center. The position initially strikes Adam as repugnant because of his revulsion to Stark's politics, but Jack and Anne ultimately persuade him to accept the invitation, essentially by removing his moral high ground. Adam's sense of violation as a result of his entanglement with Governor Stark proves violently tragic when he is informed by Lieutenant Governor Tiny Duffy that Stark has been sleeping with his sister. His pride demolished, Adam finds the Governor at the Capitol building and shoots him point-blank. To the extent that Willie Stark's story may have been loosely based on real-life events, the inspiration behind Adam Stanton's character would have been Dr. Carl Weiss.

[edit] Judge Irwin
Judge Irwin is an elderly gentleman whom Jack has known since childhood, a man who is essentially a father-figure to him. Willie Stark assigns Jack the task of digging through Irwin's past to find something from the past with which Irwin can be blackmailed. Jack investigates thoroughly and finds what he is looking for: an incident many years ago when Judge Irwin took a bribe to dismiss a lawsuit against a fuel company, resulting in the personal destruction of a man named Mortimer Littlepaugh. Jack presents the incriminating evidence to Irwin, and before he has a chance to use it against him, Irwin commits suicide. Only at this point does Jack learn from his mother that Irwin was his father.

[edit] Cass Mastern
One of Jack Burden's first major historical research projects revolves around the life of a 19th century collateral ancestor, Cass Mastern, a man of high moral standards and a student at Transylvania College in Kentucky (Robert Penn Warren's native state). Cass's story, as revealed through his journals and letters, is essentially about a single betrayal of a friend that seems to ripple endlessly outward with negative consequences for many people. In studying this fragment of Civil War–era history, Jack begins to suspect (but cannot yet bring himself to accept) the idea that every event has unforeseen and unknowable implications, and that all actions and all persons are connected to other actions and other persons. Jack suggests that one reason he is unable to complete his dissertation on Cass's life is that perhaps "he was afraid to understand for what might be understood there was a reproach to him."

[edit] Themes/imagery
One central motif of the novel is that all actions have consequences, and that it is impossible for an individual to stand aloof and be a mere observer of life, as Jack tries to do (first as a graduate student doing historical research and later as a wisecracking newspaperman). Some attempt to do so by living vicariously through a messianic political figure like Willie Stark, but this will ultimately fail. Thus, Stark fulfills the wishes of many of the characters, or seems to do so. For instance, his faithful bodyguard Sugar-Boy, who stutters, loves Stark because "the b-boss could t-talk so good"; Jack Burden cannot bring himself to sleep with Anne Stanton, whom he loves, but Stark does so; and so on. Ultimately Jack realizes that one must "go out of history into history and the awful responsibility of Time."

The novel explores conceptions of Calvinist theology, such as original sin ("Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption, and he passeth from the stink of the dydie to the stench of the shroud," says Willie when told that no adverse information about an opponent would be likely to be found. "There's always something"); and total depravity ("You got to make good out of bad," says Willie when his ruthless methods are criticized. "That's all there is to make it with.")

Another motif in the novel is the "Great Twitch." When Jack Burden unexpectedly discovers that the love of his life, Anne Stanton, has been sleeping with Governor Willie Stark, he impulsively jumps in his car and drives to California to obtain some distance from the situation. Jack's description of his trip contains overt and indirect references to the notion of Manifest Destiny, which becomes somewhat ironic when he comes back from it believing in the "Great Twitch."

The "Great Twitch" is a particular brand of nihilism that Jack embraces during this journey westward: "all the words we speak meant nothing and there was only the pulse in the blood and the twitch of the nerve, like a dead frog's leg in the experiment when the electric current goes through."[8] On his way back from California, Jack gives a ride to an old man who has an involuntary facial twitch. This image becomes for him the encapsulating metaphor for the idea that "all life is but the dark heave of blood and the twitch of the nerve."[9] In other words, life is without meaning; everything is motivated by some inborn reflex action and nobody is responsible for their choices or even their own destiny. The emotional distance permitted by this revelation releases Jack from his own frustration stemming from the relationship between Anne Stanton and his boss, and allows him to return to circumstances which were previously unbearable.

Subsequent events (including the tragic deaths of Governor Stark, his life-long friend Adam Stanton, and Judge Irwin, Jack's father) convince Jack that the revelation of the "Great Twitch" is an insufficient paradigm to explain what he has seen of history. "[H]e saw that though doomed [his friends] had nothing to do with any doom under the godhead of the Great Twitch. They were doomed, but they lived in the agony of will."[6] Ultimately, he grows to accept some responsibility for his part in the destruction of his friends' lives.

The book also touches on Oedipal imagery and themes, as Jack discovers his father's true identity after having caused his death.

The theme of one's father's identity and its effects on one's own sense of identity is explored twice in the novel, first through Adam and Anne's painful discovery that their father (the late Governor Stanton) once assisted in the cover-up of a bribery scandal. Then Jack discovers that his biological father is Judge Irwin, not, as he previously believed, "the Scholarly Attorney." In each case, the discovery catalyzes an upheaval in the character's moral outlook.

Time is another of the novel's thematic fascinations. The idea that every moment in the past contains the seeds of the future is constantly explored through the novel's non-chronological narrative, which reveals character continuities and thematic connections across different time periods.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
(6) I think I thought this was 'All the President's Men' when I picked it up off the shelf of a used bookstore and I didn't read the blurb very carefully. American political novel; popular film, etc. Anyway - this is all the KING's men and it is about Willie Stark, a country boy who ultimately becomes the Governor of Louisiana, on a rising tide of a populist platform and political blackmail. It is told by one of his henchmen of sorts, Jimmy Burden, journalist and would be historian turned errand-boy for Stark. It is as much about his life as Stark's - his past, his childhood friend and love - Adam and Anne Stanton, and his complicated relationship with his mother. All of these seemingly disparate players intersect in what really is a tragic novel. It is widely believed to be based on the life of Huey Long - Governor of Lousianna in the late 30's.

The author Robert Penn Warren is apparently a poet, this a rare piece of prose (ultimately winning the Pulitzer Prize) for him. His poetry roots are evident in the writing. It is written in what I think is called the 'modernist' style - much stream of consciousness, free association-type of narrative. But it is not particularly difficult to follow, though difficult to get into. I don't think I really liked the book until at least 1/2 way in. Warren is most effective when telling a discrete story from the past - the 'Cass Masterson' reenactment, the story of Jimmy and Anne's magical summer when they fell in love. The present day action felt watered down - Jimmy seemed so detached from everything it almost felt like a dreamscape.

Anyway, this novel drips with atmosphere. You can feel the ennui, the heat, the cigarette smoke, the sweat. You are never quite sure of the motivations of the characters and some of their actions are unpredictable. The dialogue is often repetitive especially in scenes of great emotion. So realism as opposed to a dramatization - it is what is both the power and the Achilles heel of the novel. Achilles heel because it often made it difficult to read and made the characters hard to sympathize with. I can't believe there is anyone who didn't rather loathe Anne Stanton by the end. Loathe them all really.

Very memorable. powerful. dark. tragic. tough and not always enjoyable to read, but in the end I am glad I did and it will stay with me. Apparently the star-studded remake of the old movie in 2006 was a flop - but I might just try and find it.. . ( )
  jhowell | Feb 7, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men" is magnificently vital reading, a book so charged with dramatic tension it almost crackles with blue sparks, a book so drenched with fierce emotion, narrative pace and poetic imagery that its stature as a "readin' book," as some of its characters would call it, dwarfs that of most current publications. Here, my lords and ladies, is no book to curl up with in a hammock, but a book to read until 3 o'clock in the morning, a book to read on trains and subways, while waiting for street cars and appointments, while riding elevators or elephants.
 

» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Warren, Robert Pennprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Koskinen, JuhaniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Mentre che la speranza ha fior del verde.

--La Divina Commedia, Purgatorio, III
Dedication
To Justine and David Mitchell Clay
First words
MASON CITY.

To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we went up it.
Quotations
It was like the second when you come home late at night and see the yellow envelope of the telegram sticking out from under your door and you lean and pick it up, but don't open it yet, not for a second. While you stand there in the hall, with the envelope in your hand, you feel like there's an eye on you, a great big eye looking straight at you from miles and dark and through walls and houses and through your coat and vest and hide and sees you huddled up way inside, in the dark which is you, inside yourself, like a clammy, sad little foetus you carry around inside yourself. The eye knows what's in the envelope, and it is watching you to see you when you open it and know it, too. But the clammy, sad little foetus which is you way down in the dark which is you too lifts up its sad little face and its eyes are blind, and it shivers cold inside you for it doesn't want to know what is in that envelope. It wants to lie in the dark and not know, and be warm in its not-knowing. The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can't know. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can't know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge he hasn't got and which if he had it, would save him. There's the cold in your stomach, but you open the envelope, you have to open the envelope, for the end of man is to know.
It was not so much any one example, any one event, which I recollected which was important, but the flow, the texture of the events, for meaning is never in the event but in the motion through event.  Otherwise we could isolate an instant in the event and say that this is the event itself.  The meaning.  But we cannot do that.  For it is the motion which is important.
So there are two you's, the one you yourself create by loving and the one the beloved creates by loving you.  The farther those two you's are apart the more the world grinds and grudges on its axis.  But if you loved and were loved perfectly then there wouldn't be any difference between the two you's or any distance between them.
The creation of man whom God in His foreknowledge knew doomed to sin was the awful index of God's omnipotence.  For it would have been a thing of trifling and contemptible ease for Perfection to create mere perfection.  To do so would, to speak truth, be not creation but extension.  Separateness is identity and the only way for God to create, truly create, man was to make him separate from God Himself,and to be separate from God is to be sinful.  The creation of evil is therefore the index of God's glory and His power.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Haiku summary
The rise and fall of

a demagogue, based somewhat

on a real statesman.

(legallypuzzled)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156004801, Paperback)

This landmark book is a loosely fictionalized account of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, one of the nation's most astounding politicians. All the King's Men tells the story of Willie Stark, a southern-fried politician who builds support by appealing to the common man and playing dirty politics with the best of the back-room deal-makers. Though Stark quickly sheds his idealism, his right-hand man, Jack Burden -- who narrates the story -- retains it and proves to be a thorn in the new governor's side. Stark becomes a successful leader, but at a very high price, one that eventually costs him his life. The award-winning book is a play of politics, society and personal affairs, all wrapped in the cloak of history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:02 -0400)

(see all 10 descriptions)

Set in the '30s, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel traces the rise and fall of demagogue Willie Stark, a fictional character who resembles the real-life Huey "Kingfish" Long of Louisiana. Stark begins his political career as an idealistic man of the people but soon becomes corrupted by success and caught between dreams of service and an insatiable lust for power. The model for 1996's best-selling novel, Primary Colors, and as relevant today as it was fifty years ago, All the King's Men is one of the classics of American literature.… (more)

» see all 12 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
34 avail.
60 wanted
8 pay5 pay

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4.1)
0.5 1
1 14
1.5 3
2 34
2.5 13
3 132
3.5 40
4 314
4.5 78
5 356

Audible.com

2 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Store | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 105,353,528 books! | Top bar: Always visible