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All the King's Men (Penguin Modern Classics)

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One of the unfortunate characteristics of our time is that the reception of a novel may depend on its journalistic relevance.

Or we’ll learn about Jack’s relationship with his four-times-married mother, still beautiful and rich, and Jack’s love for her, mingled with his resentment at all she stands for. The novel is a personal study of the forces of resentment, bigotry and paranoia that energise populist movements.Jack investigates thoroughly and finds what he is looking for: an incident many years ago when Judge Irwin took a bribe to dismiss a lawsuit against a fuel company, resulting in the personal destruction of a man named Mortimer Littlepaugh. Despite the positive reviews, in 1974, All the King's Men was challenged at the Dallas, Texas, Independent School District high school libraries for depicting a "depressing view of life" and "immoral situations". Jack also grapples with his troubled romantic relationship with Anne Stanton, who becomes Willie's mistress, complicating Jack’s personal and professional life further.

Though Stark enters public service in the Depression-era Deep South with ambitions of holding crooked politicians and unethical businessmen in Louisiana accountable, he finds over time that mixing with the corrupt ultimately corrupts him. Warren brilliantly portrays the transformation of Willie from naive lawyer to a ruthless political machine who employs blackmail, bribery, and bullying to secure his power and propel his ambitions. He goes with the flow, trying to swim in clear waters and avoid joining the sewage that surrounds Stark.

Yes I always find the process of politics more interesting than books with a political agenda, and this one gets that balance perfectly.

I really picked up on the themes of corruption when I revisited Penn Warren’s novel, and the manners in which it is expressed. The great Gothic plot turn of the book has Jack Burden unearthing a secret in the past of Judge Irwin, his mentor and guardian. Jack is tasked with digging up dirt on Judge Irwin, an honorable man and family friend from Jack's past, whose integrity stands in the way of Willie's power.On one hand, there were those who took the thing to be a not-so-covert biography of, and apologia for, Senator Long, and the author to be not less than a base minion of the great man. Jack Burden's story introduces an examination of the role of history in individual lives and in the life of a social group. Chapter Four then moves the reader even further back, to sometime between 1918 and 1921, when Jack Burden was a graduate student in history. Willie’s teetotalism is a signifier both of his devotion to his wife and a reflection of his moral lawfulness, through his refusal to break the Prohibition.

All the King’s Men is not merely the story of Willie Stark, as Warren’s world is brimming with fascinating side characters.But nothing goes far enough to obliterate this book’s merits: Its portrait of politics and people, of town squares and village courthouses that have vanished into time and of the maneuvering and manipulating that will continue as long as democracy itself. The novel is narrated by Jack Burden, a political reporter who comes to work as the governor’s most trusted aide.

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