All the King's Men, the classic novel by Robert Penn Warren, is the story of Willie Stark, a "rags to riches" Southern governor, and a man with a gift for power. Attracted to him is Jack Burden, a political aide and special agent, and Jack's childhood friends, Adam and Anne Stanton. When Willie asks Jack to dig up some information on an old friend, Judge Irwin, the story is set into motion and the stage is set for tragedy.
From this description, as well as the first chapter, one might think that this book is solely about the politics of a political boss.
"In some ways, the story of Willie Stark is the story of Jack Burden," I quote Jack Burden who is the narrator of the book, and from his pessimistic and cynical viewpoint, the reader is told this tragic story of one man's battle to find himself. What he actually finds, though, is something entirely different than what he had set out looking for, something wonderful and terrifying.
Mr. Warren has penned an amazing novel in All the King's Men. To some, it may not sound all that interesting, but this is not a book about politics per se, rather, politics are a vehicle to drive home the themes of the story.
This is the sort of book that, while you're reading, you skim along the top, just barely getting your feet wet. But then something grabs you, tugs a little, then a little more, then pulls you under completely, submerging you entirely into the story. You feel as if you are Jack Burden, reading about yourself, about your own past. You feel his joy and his anguish, his moments of victory and defeat, his love and indifference. The other characters become your best friends and your worst enemies.
Then you finish, all too fast, exhausted and gasping for breath. Indeed, All the King's Men makes for swift reading as the story is very fast paced and the action is intense. The philosophies and opinions about love, power, the world, life and a host of other topics are extremely deep and moving. This is not a book to be finished and forgotten; it is to be mulled over long after the last page is turned, the ideas to be slowly absorbed. Some views may be rather disturbing and may be rejected - Jack's overall tone is very pessimistic. However, other opinions may be warmly embraced, providing new insight.
All the King's Men is the greatest work of literature I have ever read and probably will ever read. It is a book that has deeply moved me in many ways and has changed how I see things and what I believe in. Mr. Warren has truly written a masterpiece, and I very strongly recommend it to anyone looking for some heavy reading. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.