One of My Favorite Books: All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren


Let me just say, my blog is not where you'll find reviews of the latest books. First of all, I'm not a book reviewer, per se. And second, I often like to find my next good read at second hand and thrift stores, so the newest books (unless they're terrible) don't make it there right away. Today I'm sharing a little about my favorite book, that was first published in 1946.

All The Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren is narrated by Jack Burden, primarily in a conversational style of Louisiana in the 1930s, a journalist following the campaign and career of one of Louisiana's most colorful and energetic governors. Fiction, of course, but said to be based on a real life politician of the same place and time.

I can't help but love them all, but Jack is my favorite character. He tries so hard not to care, not to get invested and merely observe and record. But the events that unfold become increasingly personal to him, despite his trying very hard 'not to know what anyone anywhere is doing at any time', and he is no longer able to escape the burden of being intricately involved.

At an innocuous meeting in the back room of a bar one afternoon, Jack meets a local do-gooder councilman named Willie Stark who appears to be there for inspection to be set up as a vote-splitter for the reigning corrupt politician. Convinced to run for Governor of Louisiana, when Stark goes on the campaign trail, Burden follows him to report the story, all the while knowing that Stark's encouragement to run is not as authentic as he thinks it is and that he's certainly not expected to win. Stark is full of heart, but it's not until he realizes he's been set up that he truly finds his voice, and then he takes the election by a landslide. When Jack is hired by Stark to be part of his personal entourage, his position as intellectual observer begins to disappear and the politics of the state become entwined with Jack's past, his family, his best friend, and his first love.

A few years after I first read the book, the movie came out (the 2007 version, anyway. It was also made into a movie back in 1949 that I have yet to see). It was hard for me at first because the characters I knew so well from the detailed descriptions by author Robert Penn Warren looked different on screen. Willie Stark was a large man, James-Gandolfini-esque in my mind (Gandolfini actually plays a different character in the film named "Tiny" Duffy), but he is played by not-very-large Sean Penn. And Stark's associate and mistress Sadie Burke (my second favorite character), a chain-smoker with nervous energy and jet black hair, is played by the refined and strawberry-blonde Patricia Clarkson. But they nailed the ethos of the story so I have long since forgiven the visual disconnect.

All the King's Men is one of only a handful of books I've read more than once, and I'm sure will read again. You won't regret it. At the very least, see the movie!