Search Site
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.


All the King's Men (1946)

by Robert Penn Warren

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,4161141,158 (4.12)366
The fictionalized account of Louisiana's colorful--and notorious--governor Huey Pierce Long, All the King's Men follows the startling rise and fall of Willie Stark, a country lawyer in the Deep South of the 1930s. Beset by political enemies, Stark seeks aid from his right-hand man Jack Burden, who will bear witness to the cataclysmic unfolding of this very American tragedy.… (more)
1940s (195)

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

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 366 mentions

English (113)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (114)
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
Case 13 shelf 1
  semoffat | Aug 30, 2021 |
  hpryor | Aug 8, 2021 |
This story is about Willie Stark, man of humble origin who rose to power as a governor of a Southern state (based on the life of Huey Long, the Governor of Louisiana) and his right hand man, ex-reporter, Jack Burden. Jack becomes a key player in the research, blackmailing and political intrigue surrounding the Governor, as he becomes a public legend for the tackling backroom politics of a corrupt and backward state. Jack's relationships with his boyhood friends, Anne and Adam Stanton, the childen of a former Governor, and Jack's own family play critical roles in the story. Published in 1946, this novel won a Pulitzer Prize and is considered a classic, but I found the first 100 pages tiresome, and did not like the interminable introspective nature of Jack's narration.

( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
fiction (1946) - swampy politics and fatal entanglements, as seen through the eyes of 1940s misogynist governor's ex-reporter aide. This was ok; the editor's remarks at the end were more interesting than the text, but I am not much of a literary analyst, so I'd have missed all that stuff with Jack's seemingly pointlessly meandering, self-absorbed narrative. There aren't really any good characters--the men are mostly jerks/caught up in blackmail/politics/dirty business and the women are dismissed as flighty, foolish, crafty but homely, or else being heavily criticized for having an unfavorable opinion of the narrator (who, not surprisingly, also calls her stupid). I'm not sure it would win any prizes when put up against today's writings, but apparently this has been continuously in print for 50 years and has its share of fans. ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
This is commonly billed as a "political novel", but much like its close spiritual successor, Billy Lee Brammer's The Gay Place, much of it doesn't really have anything to do with politics at all in the sense of policy. This is understandable, because the technical vocabulary of statutes, subclauses, and ad valorem taxes is essentially antithetical to most people, and also because the book is more about the effect of politics on people's lives and behavior, especially the seedier types of behavior, which are always the most interesting. Warren packed some great character studies of ambitions, infidelities, and aspirations inside a great big sprawling tome of a novel that contains some epic plot twists and soaring language, only very rarely ever feeling less than grandiose and all-encompassing in its examinations of the life of a politician who chased his dreams at all costs.

The novel is told through a frame story of journalist Jack Burden recounting his life with Governor Willie Stark. Despite Stark disappearing from the book for several long stretches, it's fair to call him the center of the story and the most important hook for readers, since it's his ambitions that drive the action. After all, an adulated orator is on the front cover of my edition and the back cover promises a tale of the rise and fall of a populist Depression-era governor who "resembles" infamous Louisiana Governor Huey Long. Though the book is very carefully set in an unnamed Southern state with no discernible Cajun identity at all - no Desautels or LeBlanc or Breaux characters show up, and all the towns have perfectly generic names like "Mason City" - many elements of Stark's background do resemble those of Long's even if this isn't quite a roman à clef. Even his nickname of "the Boss" echoes Long's own "Kingfish" sobriquet. One portion of Stark's backstory that vividly recall Long's also shows off the kind of sweeping Steinbeckian meditations/psychoanalysis that Warren engages in from time to time:

"He was a lawyer now. He could hang the overalls on a nail and let them stiffen with the last sweat he had sweated in them. He could rent himself a room over the dry-goods store in Mason City and call it his office, and wait for somebody to come up the stairs where it was so dark you had to feel your way and where it smelled like the inside of an old trunk that's been in the attic twenty years. He was a lawyer now and it had taking him a long time. It had taken him a long time because he had had to be a lawyer on his terms and in his own way. But that was over. But maybe it had taken him too long. If something takes too long, something happens to you. You become all and only the thing you want and nothing else, for you have paid too much for it, too much in wanting and too much in waiting and too much in getting."

So Stark starts off small and gradually rises in importance over time, using every weapon he can to get his ambitious program of public works and infrastructure investment accomplished. To do this he uses the services of Burden, a nihilistic, somewhat directionless journalist who he meets early in his career and whose personal life becomes ever more entwined with that of the Boss who rescued him from his previously aimless existence. Burden's role as a journalist/researcher/fixer for Governor Willie Stark requires him to recruit his childhood friend Adam Stanton, a gifted yet ethically over-rigid doctor, to run a new hospital the Governor is having built. He also does odd jobs for the Boss like digging up dirt on political opponents, including Judge Irwin, a close family friend of both Burden and the Stantons. The entire middle third of the book is centered on Burden and his turbulent love affair with Adam's sister Anne Stanton, for whom he has a complicated series of emotions that take up big chunks of time. I found Burden's rhapsodizing on his infatuation with her interesting for a bit, but dangerously dilatory until the plot picked back up again, although Warren does deploy some more good prose that keeps it from being too slow:

"So maybe she was up in the room trying to discover what her new self was, for when you get in love you are made all over again. The person who loves you has picked you out of the great mass of uncreated clay which is humanity to make something out of, and the poor lumpish clay which is you wants to find out what it has been made into. But at the same time, you, in the act of loving somebody, become real, cease to be a part of the continuum of the uncreated clay and get the breath of life in you and rise up. So you create yourself by creating another person, who, however, has also created you, picked up the you-chunk of clay out of the mass. 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 it 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. They would coincide perfectly, there would be a perfect focus, as when a stereoscope gets the twin images on the card into perfect adjustment."

The turning point of the novel arrives when a girl that the Governor's hot-shot football star son Tom has been fooling around with gets knocked up, and one of his political opponents tries to use it as leverage in an upcoming race for the Senate. The price for the scandal being kept quiet is that the contract to build that new hospital has to be awarded to an ally of his enemy. The Governor has Burden try to use evidence of a long-ago bribe to convince the Judge to help him out, however it's revealed that the Governor has also been cheating on his wife with, among others, Anne Stanton, and also that the Judge's relationship to Burden's family is much more complicated than he had known. The end of the book is basically one long string of corpses as Jack and Anne are about the only two people left standing and Stark's career follows roughly the same path that Huey Long's did in real life.

One interesting point in the book is that while Stark is portrayed by his enemies as being awash in graft, he's actually about as clean as could be expected in a fairly corrupt environment. In fact, the climactic scandal of the book doesn't involve much actual wrongdoing on his part at all, really. He's had to crush his opponents, but only so that they didn't stand in the way of his efforts to improve people's lives, such as with the hospital. It's a common pattern for popular politicians with populist/left-wing economic policies to set the terms of the debate so completely that using tawdry scandals is the only way for their opponents to fight back at all after being crushed at the ballot box. Meanwhile, the lesser people involved have to weigh their own senses of morality and loyalty - are they following their own consciences, the leader's goals, or simply the leader himself? One of the most riveting sections of the book that deals with loyalty and humanity has basically nothing to do with the main story at all. It's the story of a research project that Burden abandoned years ago, a history of Civil War-era plantation owner Cass Mastern, who gets involved in an affair that ends in the suicide of the wronged husband. Burden's early inability to finish the story says a lot about his own immaturity, which gets highlighted even more by his reaction to his discovery of Anne's sleeping with the Boss. Do Burden's efforts at the end to get rid of painful parts of his past show his growth?

While I, and evidently most readers, enjoyed Warren's treatment of those questions, I don't like that the book dodges the question of whether the Governor's actions were "worth it" overall, and that it treats Burden's personal fulfillment or lack thereof at the end as the main yardstick by which to judge everything preceding it. In The Passage of Power, the fourth volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, there's a section describing how, very early in his Presidency, Johnson has to decide whether to expend his precious political capital on pushing civil rights legislation. During one particularly contentious late-night debate, his advisers tell him it's a bad move, and LBJ replies with "Well, what the hell's the presidency for?" That's a brilliant response - the point of being elected is to improve people's lives. Stark is certainly portrayed as trying to do that, yet seemingly all anyone can talk about is irrelevant trivialities. This exactly same thing happens in real life too, so I can't blame Warren for writing the book that he did. I won't call it the "ultimate" political novel, since there's certainly room for more, but it's certainly worthy of all the acclaim it's been given. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 113 (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 (20 possible)

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

--La Divina Commedia, Purgatorio, III
To Justine and David Mitchell Clay
First words

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.
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
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

The fictionalized account of Louisiana's colorful--and notorious--governor Huey Pierce Long, All the King's Men follows the startling rise and fall of Willie Stark, a country lawyer in the Deep South of the 1930s. Beset by political enemies, Stark seeks aid from his right-hand man Jack Burden, who will bear witness to the cataclysmic unfolding of this very American tragedy.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary
The rise and fall of

a demagogue, based somewhat

on a real statesman.


Popular covers

Quick Links


Average: (4.12)
0.5 1
1 19
1.5 4
2 41
2.5 13
3 156
3.5 48
4 380
4.5 86
5 452

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

» Publisher information page


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 162,318,786 books! | Top bar: Always visible