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All the King's Men ()

The Hungry Mind Review's 100 Best 20th Century Books

Robert Penn Warren, who in 1986 was named the nation's first Poet Laureate, won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for this tremendous novel.  It is my personal pick for the Great American Novel and I would place it just below Orwell on the Top 100 of the 20th Century list.

Most will be familiar with it's Huey Long derived tale of the rise and fall of populist politician Willie Stark.  Jack Burden, the narrator, is a newspaperman who hitches himself to Stark's rising star.  Eventually, Stark calls on Burden to get the goods on the lilly white Judge Irwin, the surrogate father of Jack's youth and a man of widely acknowledged rectitude:

    Jack: But suppose there isn't anything to find.

    Stark: There is always something.

    Jack: Maybe not on the Judge.

    Stark: Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the
             stink to the diddie to the stench of the shroud.  There is always something.

Sure enough, Jack digs until he finds the ugly truth and unleashes a series of
shocking revelations and tragic deaths.

I'm sure that this must seem too cynical to some, but it is actually a marvelous retelling of the essential Puritan democratic myth that informs the American system.  Politics after all is nothing but a system of choices about how some men will wield power over other men.  All of the choices are bad, but the
alternative--the lawless State of Nature--is worse and so we try to make the best bad choices possible.  But we must remain ever vigilant against those who wield power over us & noone is more dangerous than the populist or the do-gooder who cloaks himself in the mantle of the Good & the Right.  FDR and his New Deal come hand in glove with interring the Japanese Americans and packing the Supreme
Court.  LBJ and Civil Rights are accompanied by profound personal corruption and Viet Nam.  And, of course, when you elect the purely evil, you get Detente + Watergate or the Health Care Plan + Monica + Chinagate, etc.  The only politicians who are even mildly trustworthy are those who renounce the very powers of government--George Washington, William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge, Eisenhower & Reagan.

This is a book that John Adams would have loved and you will too.


Grade: (A+)


Robert Warren Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Robert Penn Warren
-TRIBUTE SITE: Robert Penn Warren (
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Robert Penn Warren(1905-1989) (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Robert Penn Warren (Poetry Foundation)
    -ESSAY: Robert Penn Warren as political Cassandra in ‘All the King’s Men’ (Bruce Edward Walker, 6/10/24, American Habits)
    -ESSAY: A Pair of Moles: Robert Penn Warren & William Styron (Robert Cheeks, April 23rd, 2024, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: All the populist’s men: The fictional Willie Talos was more real than Trump (MARY GAITSKILL, 12/21/22, UnHerd)

Book-related and General Links:
    -KYLIT (a site devoted to Kentucky writers)
    -Poetry Exhibit (
    -Robert Penn Warren Birthplace Museum (Guthrie, KY)
    -OBIT: Robert Penn Warren, Poet and Author, Dies
    -ESSAY: IN THE TIME OF 'ALL THE KING'S MEN'  (ROBERT PENN WARREN, May 31, 1981, NY Times Book Review)
    -ONLINE STUDY GUIDE : All the King's Men (Brian Phillips, Spark Notes)
    -REVIEW : of ALL THE KING'S MEN by Robert Penn Warren (Nick Cohen, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren  Man of Letters: Collected missives give insight into great author's early years (Diann Blakely, Nashville Scene)

    -Declaration of Independence
    -The Federalist Papers
    -Gettysburg Address
    -United States Constitution

If you liked All the King's Men, try:
    -The Anti-Federalist Papers
    -The Federalist Papers

Anonymous (Joe Klein)
    -Primary Colors : A Novel of Politics

Bernstein, Carl and Bob Woodward
    -All the President's Men

Caro, Robert
    -The Power Broker : Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
    -Years of Lyndon Johnson : The Path to Power
    -Years of Lyndon Johnson : Means of Ascent

Cramer, Richard Ben
    -What It Takes : The Way to the White House

Hobbes, Thomas

Locke, John
    -Two Treatises of Government

Maraniss, David
    -First in His Class : The Biography of Bill Clinton

McCarry, Charles
    -Shelley's Heart

O'Connor, Edwin
    -The Last Hurrah

O'Rourke, PJ
    -Parliament of Whores