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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

All the King's Men

In 2016, the New York Times commemorated the 70th anniversary of All the King's Men and described it as "by wide consensus...America’s essential political novel".  The book tells the story of the rise and governorship of Willie Stark, who transforms, mostly by accident, from a naive country lawyer to the "Boss", in charge of a corrupt political machine.  It is told from the perspective of Jack Burden, a failed historian turned reporter who abandons that career to become Stark's right-hand man (basically a Doug Stamper, for those who get the reference).  

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Stark has generally been perceived as representing Huey Long, a governor from Louisiana who remains controversial to this day for his tactics.  Oddly, Robert Penn Warren said that the book was never intended to be about politics.  Instead, the politics were intended as a framework through which the novels other themes could be explored.  Through Jack, Warren explores morality, memory, love, family, and legacy, among other concepts.  

I generally enjoyed the book.  While the content of the novel is often gritty and dark, the language is beautiful and evocative.  My only complaint is that there were points where I couldn't tell where the novel was chronologically.  It would jump in time and I was unclear about what time period was being described.  Even with that, I would recommend the book.

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