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~FREE BOOK ☦ All the King’s Men ⚖ More Than Just A Classic Political Novel, Warren S Tale Of Power And Corruption In The Depression Era South Is A Sustained Meditation On The Unforeseen Consequences Of Every Human Act, The Vexing Connectedness Of All People And The Possibility It S Not Much Of One Of Goodness In A Sinful World Willie Stark, Warren S Lightly Disguised Version Of Huey Long, The Onetime Louisiana Strongman Governor, Begins As A Genuine Tribune Of The People And Ends As A Murderous Populist Demagogue Jack Burden Is His Press Agent, Who Carries Out The Boss S Orders, First Without Objection, Then In The Face Of His Own Increasingly Troubled Conscience And The Politics For Warren, That S Simply The Arena Most Likely To Prove That Man Is A Fallen Creature Which It Does All the King s Men, Robert Penn WarrenAll the King s Men is a novel by Robert Penn Warren first published in 1946 Its title is drawn from the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty In 1947, Warren won the Pulitzer Prize for All the King s Men It was adapted for a film in 1949 and 2006 the 1949 version won the Academy Award for Best Picture It is rated as the 36th greatest novel of the 20th century by Modern Library, and it was chosen as one of Time magazine s 100 best novels All the King s Men portrays the dramatic and theatrical political rise and governorship of Willie Stark, a cynical, liberal populist in the American South during the 1930s The novel is narrated by Jack Burden, a political reporter who comes to work as Governor Stark s right hand man The trajectory of Stark s career is interwoven with Jack Burden s life story and philosophical reflections the story of Willie Stark and the story of Jack Burden are, in one sense, one story 2007 1397 570 97860066620461946 1947 1949 2006 1949 19231930 This was a wonderful book I listened to it on Audible, but it was so well written that I have ordered hard copy as well The story of Willie Stark and Jack Burden which are the same story as the narrator says is both poignant and realistic Seen through the cynical and poetic eyes of Burden, the Southern cronyism of Huey Long is parodied here and honestly reminds me of recent and current American political history The writing is absolutely spectacular Penn Warren is the only person ever to win Pulitzers for both Fiction and Poetry and even his prose here is chock full of vivid images and analogies I loved all the characters Sugarboy, Ann and Adam Stanton, the Judge, Jack s mother, Sadieeach one is perfectly crafted even when they are somewhat one dimensional, there is still humanity in each of them The one negative is the use of the n word, but I suppose that Jack would have spoken this way and that back in 46 when it was written, attitudes were definitely different That being said, Jack does seem to take some offense at how blacks are treated he is less obliging about women in my view , despite his nihilism towards everyone and everything else The side story of Cass was excellent as well There is almost nothing to fault in this book and it deserves a place up with the greatest American 20th century fiction Five stars hands down. All the King s Men Robert Penn Warren s Spider Web This Novel was chosen as a group read by members of On the Southern Literary Trail for July 2012 and again in October,2014.It all began, as I have said, when the Boss, sitting in the black Cadillac which sped through the night, said to me to Me who was what Jack Burden, the student of history, had grown up to be There is always something And I said, Maybe not on the Judge And he said, Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud There is always somethingThere is always something, even on the Judge Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark, John Ireland as Jack Burden, and Adam Greenleaf as Judge Stanton from the 1949 film The film changed the identity of Judge Irwin to Judge Stanton A slight problem with the object of Jack s romance. First Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1946If you re expecting a fictional recounting that serves as a short cut to T Harry William s masterful biography of Huey Long this isn t it But Williams does have something to say that pointedly echoes the themes Robert Penn Warren wove into a masterpiece of American politicsI believe that some men, men of power, can influence the course of history They appear in response to conditions, but they may alter the conditions, may give a new direction to history In the process they may do great good or evil or both, but whatever the case they leave a different kind of world behind them , p.ix, Preface, T Harry Williams, Huey Long,Alfred A Knopf, 1969.That Willie Stark is a stand in for Huey Long, Robert Penn Warren frankly admits I was fortunate to find the Thirty Fifth Edition of the novel, published in 1981 It contained a new, and very informative introduction by Warren.Warren did not originally envision this work as a novel, but as a tragic drama entitled Proud Flesh Warren ended up putting that manuscript away He realized that he had focused on a man of power rather than those few people who are always surrounding that man of power, and in writing All the King s Men, Warren focused on the Greek chorus to whom he had not given proper voice in his originally conceived work.So, there we have the title, All the King s Men, the chorus that relates the rise and fall of Willie Stark For all great men have an inner circle, some of whom are as vague as phantoms, performing the will of the King and they will perform that will whether it be good or evil But all the King s Men cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again should the King fall.Warren proposes the question of whether those minions are mere pawns or whether they recognize the consequences of their actions and accept responsibility for them, and if so, can they find redemption for the evil they do, even when it is couched in terms of doing good Willie Stark, the Boss, is a practical man So, politics is a dirty business He tells us,Dirt s a funny thing, come to think of it, there ain t a thing but dirt on this green God s globe except what s under water, and that s dirt too It s dirt makes the grass grow A diamond ain t a thing in the world but a piece of dirt that got awful hot And God a Mighty picked up a handful of dirt and blew on it and made you and me and George Washington and mankind blessed in faculty and apprehension It all depends on what you do with the dirtJack Burden is a one man Greek Chorus that tells us the story of Willie Stark And it is Jack Burden who provides the moral center of the novel In one long narrative voice, Jack, a child of privilege, intrigues us relating the present and the past, not only Willie s but his own Willie s rise is rather straight forward As Williams tells us in Long s biography, Willie appears on the Louisiana scene in response to conditions of the Great Depression, which seemingly provided the fuel for Populism common to that era.Jack comes from a level of society that comprised the previous leaders of Louisiana, a class who would forever be opposed to a man of Willie Stark s origin and philosophy He is the friend of Adam and Anne Stanton, the children of the governor preceding Stark His mentor is Judge Irwin who advised and influenced Jack from his youth His father, Ellis Burden, the scholarly lawyer is a good friend of the Judge His mother is beautiful, poised, and confident.So, why would Ellis Burden walk out of his law office one day to become a street evangelist But Jack s mother has no problem keeping a stream of husbands in her bed It s enough to make a fellow a little cynical Rebellious, too Rebellious enough to go to State University and study history Jack has a future He s working on his doctorate, studying the papers of an ancestor named Cass Mastern The papers of Mastern serve as a mirror of Jack s life But Mastern, who betrayed a friend by having a love affair with his friend s wife, lives the rest of his life with the knowledge of that betrayal It is Cass who writes in his journal, The world is all of one piece He learned that the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy nobut springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide It does not matter whether or not you meant to brush the web of things Your happy foot or your gay wing may have brushed it ever so lightly, but what happens always happens and there is the spider, bearded black and with his great faceted eyes glittering like mirrors in the sun, or like God s eye, and the fangs drippingThe long and the short of it is that our actions have consequences and we owe a responsibility for the consequences of our actions This is a premise that Jack would rather reject.Rather, Jack grasps on to the theory of the Great Twitch, a world in which the actions of people are nocontrollable than the muscles of a frog s leg twitching in response to an electrical impulse However it is Cass Mastern who was correct In rejecting his ancestor s journal, Jack becomes the cynical, wisecracking news reporter assigned to cover Willie Stark s first gubernatorial election It is Jack Burden, along with savvy political advisor Sadie Burke who tell Stark he s been duped into running to split the vote of the opposing candidate to bring about the win by yet another politician Jack Burden and Sadie Burke telling Willie he s been had. It is that campaign that transforms not only Willie Stark into a Kingfish lookalike, but transforms Jack into Stark s most trusted fix it man Maybe not the Judge Oh, yes, even the Judge And so it is that a chain of consequences begins to be unveiled, each the result of a deliberate, undeniable action Even the death of Willie Stark is a consequence of one of the Boss s improvident decisions As Warren wrote,The end of man is knowledge but there s one thing he can t know He can t know whether knowledge will save him or kill him He will be killed, all right, but he can t know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn t got and which if he had it would save himDo the ends justify the means Can Willie Stark find redemptionWillie s death comes about, not from an assassin who believes him to be a dictator, but for a very personal reason Nor will I even resort to a spoiler alert I m simply not going to tell you, because I want you to read this book And what of Jack I will share the final sentence, and I remind you that Jack is the narratorGo out of the house and go into the convulsion of the world, out of history into history and the awful responsibility of TimePerhaps Jack Burden has come to terms with his ancestor, Cass Mastern.To say this is a masterpiece about American politics is true But it goes much further than that It is a reminder that the past is the father of the future They are inevitably inseparable.EXTRAS EXTRAS Huey Long The Man Behind Willie StarkHuey Long s Share the Wealth Speech Huey Long on the Difference between Democrats and Republicans The Assassination of Huey Long A Biographical Documentary of Robert Penn Warren Robert Penn Warren, All the King s Men, and Huey Long WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERSSoundtrackLouisana 1927 by Randy Newman Kingfish by Randy Newman Every Man a King, written and sung by Huey Long. Robert Penn Warren s, All the Kings Men won the 1947 Pulitzer prize, and could also have won that prize in the next three years Is this 400 pages of poetic prose or a great epic prosaic poem This work would make a great primer for college English lit majors, I think Warren used every literary device and may have made up someAnd like so many master performances of art or sport, he makes it look effortless, he makes it look easy This was like watching Joe DiMaggio glide across the outfield or Ted Williams at the plate, or Led Zeppelin on stage, this was swaggering virtuosity Telling the fictionalized account of Huey Long, Warren goes on to create the great American novel Though the setting is politics, the book is not really about politics, the political stage is just a vehicle by which Warren explores a multi layered, complicated series of thematic, interwoven observations on Western Civilization, and particularly our American chapter in that saga This is periodically correct and yet timeless Beautifully written and absolutely brilliant. All the King s Men is one of my favorite books, and I find it hard to write about my favorite books When you are swept away by something a book, a movie, a girl all objectivity tends to disappear Instead of pointed analysis, cold eyed criticism, and thoughtful chin stroking, there is gushing and platitudes and hyperbole In fact, instead of writing a review, I prefer to strip naked and run around the block screaming Robert Penn Warren s many virtues.Okay, I m back There are a lot of great books, and movies, and sandwiches floating about the world I ve read plenty of great books, seen plenty of great movies, and eaten plenty of awesome sandwiches, but only a few ten, to be exact make the personal top ten lists I carry around in my head It s all a question of context, as seen by the following equation Quality Work of Art Context in Which You Experience Said Art All Time Favorite Work of Art It s hard to be objective about art that touches us deeply and profoundly, and not just because it is great art, but because we found it or it found us at a particular moment in time when we were most receptive to it, or when we needed it most I suppose it s the way parents feel about their children, or I feel about my Chia Pet Total, unconditional, critic proof adoration.I was reading All the King s Men the weekend I got engaged to be married I finished it in that warm afterglow following the engagement, when all the world was roses and possibility Truth be told, I could have read an Arby s receipt and been enraptured That is to say, it s quite possible I d feel differently about All the King s Men if I read it today, now that I ve been married for awhile and have discovered that a marriage is a long struggle for the remote control that is fought with passive aggressiveness and fake headaches just kidding, dear Now, I m not suggesting you got out and get engaged, just to enjoy this novel but if you do, please tell me, so I can be sure to make fun of you , I m merely warning you that I m powerless to stop myself from overselling this book If I try to view All the King s Men from the vantage point of a bitter English teacher or a bitter English student, I can see the potential criticism You ll hear the critics say it s over plotted, melodramatic, and filled with purple prose They ll tell you they can see the plot points coming down a dusty road a mile away They ll grouse that narrator Jack Burden s story tends to overwhelm that of the putative main character, a Southern politician named Willie Stark These are fair points, but even taking them into account, All the King s Men remains at the top of my must read list I guarantee you will like this And if I m wrong, I ll deny we ever had this conversation Unfortunately, All the King s Men has been described as a political novel , perhaps the American political novel, a roman a clef about Louisiana s one time governor, Huey The Kingfish Long It s muchthan that, and such a description is far too reductive There is politics, of course, with backroom deals, garden variety chicanery, and bombastic speeches, but there is also the wide sweep of human emotion and behavior, and the wages thereof greed and corruption, hope and redemption, secrets and lies, the dreams of youth and the realities of age, vendettas and murder, and love.Warren s novel centers on Willie Stark when the story begins, he is a small time politician in an unnamed southern state it s Louisiana who is tapped by the local Democratic bosses to run for governor Unbeknownst to Willie, he has been asked to run in order to split the rube vote you see, us rubes usually vote together When Willie finds out he s been duped, he gets angry, and sets out to campaign as a populist with nothing to lose he s a bit like a Tea Party candidate, being mad as hell, and all, except that every one of his positions would be the exact opposite of an actual Tea Party candidate One of Willie s missions is exposing the graft and corruption of contractors who build public works, such as schools Later, the collapse of a school due to the aforementioned graft and corruption lifts Willie to the governorship This is but one of many contrivances that fuel the plot As governor, Willie does a lot of good things He builds roads and schools and hospitals He s the man of the people However, he s also a man, and All the King s Men follows Willie on this path from good intentions to rot This theme is encapsulated in the book s most famous line, spoken by Willie Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the diddy to the stench of the shroud The narrator of All the King s Men is the aforementioned Jack Burden Jack is a former history student who begins the novel as a journalist and later joins Willie s campaign He s something of a narcissist, and insists that Willie s story is also his own Jack tells the story in the first person making him a cynical, somewhat unreliable narrator , though he often slips into the second person to directly address the reader I liked how Warren did this it gives the novel a certain immediateness Also, like Jack, I m something of a narcissist, and enjoy when a book s narrator speaks directly to me Robert Penn Warren employs a distinctive style He was a poet by trade, and his writing takes on certain cadences, like poetry, that had an effect on me that I felt but cannot describe An element that is easy to point out are his long, detail packed sentences, filled with rhythm and repetition, sentences that start one way, seem to veer off, then loop back to their origin For instance, at the start of the novel T his is the country where the age of the internal combustion engine has come into its own Where every boy is Barney Oldfield, and the girls wear organdy and batiste and eyelet embroidery and no panties on account of the climate and have smooth little faces to break your heart and when the wind of the car s speed lifts up their hair at the temples you see the sweet little beads of perspiration nestling there, and they sit low in the seat with their little spines crooked and their bent knees high toward the dashboard and not too close together for the cool, if you call it that, from the hood ventilator All the King s Men is about Willie Stark in the same way that Moby Dick was about Ahab Stark, like Ahab, is the center of gravity, but not necessarily the focus The guy we spend the most time with is the lifetime grad student in history, Jack Burden The drama may flow from and to Willie Stark, but the perceptions and the voice is that of Jack Burden Usually, at least in my experience, a first person narrator doesn t work as a character When you re inside someone s head, you re only looking outward Any interior life you get is self fulfilling and biased You actually need another s perception to make a character whole Call this the Dickens Effect, wherein a blank first person narrator is surrounded by people farinteresting and rounded However, I came to really like the character of Jack Burden Not because he s a great guy, but because he s an interesting, complex person He s also a cynic who likes history, and that s a man I can vote for So you work for me because you love me, the Boss said I don t know why I work for you, but it s not because I love you And not for money No, he said, standing there in the dark, you don t know why you work for me But I know Why I asked Boy, he said, you work for me because I m the way I am and you re the way you are It is an arrangment founded on the nature of things Ultimately, whether you love as I did or hate like Hitler did this book will be determined by how you feel about Warren s decision to move away from Willie in the novel s latter stages and to focus on Jack Burden In an extended flashback, Jack takes us back to his childhood, and his experience falling in love with a girl named Anne Stanton during one shared summer Throughout the novel, Jack has been probing his past his history with the kind of moralistic, intellectual rigor one expects from a history grad student history grad students having nothing better to do than probe the past with moralistic, intellectual rigor Suddenly, at the end, Willie s story is concluded, and there is a total shift to Jack putting the fragmented memories of his life into some sort of coherent whole At one point, Warren, through Jack, delivers what I find to be one of the great passages encapsulating the ineffability of love So maybe she was up in the room trying to discover what her new self was, for when you get in love you are made all over again The person who loves you has picked you out of the great mass of uncreated clay which is humanity to make something out of, and the poor lumpish clay which is you wants to find out what it has been made into But at the same time, you, in the act of loving somebody, become real, cease to be part of the continuum of the uncreated clay and get the breath of life in you and rise up So you create yourself by creating another person, who, however, has also created you, picked up the you chunk of clay out of the mass So there are two you s, the one you yourself create by loving and the one the beloved creates by loving you The farther these two you s are apart thethe world grinds and grudges on its axis But if you loved and were loved perfectly then there wouldn t be any difference between the two you s or any distance between them They would coincide perfectly, there would be perfect focus, as when a stereoscope gets the twin images on the card into perfect alignment See what I mean about context When I read this, it was at a time when I most clearly understood what Jack Burden was trying to say It s an understanding I ve kept through the years since I first read All the King s Men It s there as a reminder that even though life is often mundane, or tedious, or fraught, there are moments of transcendence Great works of art capture that transcendence, and become a sort of time capsule of the moment you and that work of art first met, and realized it was meant to be. At first glance, Willie Stark seems like he would have been the perfect Tea Party candidate He uses fiery rhetoric to stir up crowds by claiming to be just like them and that he s going to bust the heads of those evil ole politicians at the state house to force them the straighten up and do things the right way But on the other hand, Willie actually knows something about government and uses his tactics to improve the lives of poor people by taxing the wealthy and using that money to do things like improve roads and provide free health care so maybe he wouldn t fit in with Sarah Palin after all.This classic novel tells the story of Willie Stark through the eyes of Jack Burden Jack came from a privileged background but eventually turned his back on that life and became a cynical political newspaper reporter in an unnamed corrupt southern state When Jack first meets Stark, he thinks of him as Cousin Willie from the country because of his rube manner Stark is a smart, hardworking and principled county commissioner, but he gets in over his head when he tries to award a government contract to the actual best bid and the corrupt politicians trash him for it.Then Stark is tricked into running for governor by the state political machine to split the rural vote and make sure that the party favorite wins Stark had been getting nowhere with his carefully planned speeches that patiently explained needed changes to the tax codes and other government business, but when he finds out he s been played for a fool, Stark finds his voice as an angry hick who is tired of being abused by the politicians Using his new populist tactics of playing up his upbringing as a poor farm boy who taught himself law at nights and promises to kick the collective ass of the political good ole boy network, Stark eventually does win the governorship, and Jack joins him as his political hatchet man.Stark no longer cares about doing things the right way He becomes a political force in the state through a combination of bullying, cajoling or bribing anyone who gets in his way To Willie s way of thinking, the state is full of sons of bitches that he either has to buy or break to get things done, and he is now fully convinced that the ends justify the means He does actually follow through on his promises to try and help the common people of the state, but many consider him evendangerous than the corrupt people he s fighting.Jack has no problems with the way that Willie runs thing until the governor gets angry at the incorruptible Judge Irwin for backing a rival in an election When Willie can t charm or bully the Judge into falling into line, he orders Jack to dig up some dirt on the man However, Jack has known and admired the Judge since childhood so he has reservations about the assignment Trying to find the Judge s dirty laundry brings back Jack s issues with his mother and father, and the girl he loved and lost, Anne Stanton Things get even stickier when Willie decides that the only man to run his new pet project, a huge modern hospital, is Ann s brother and Jack s childhood friend, Adam.I absolutely loved the way that Stark is portrayed in this book It was inspired by Huey P Long in Louisiana, a politician who accomplished a lot for the poor of his state but did so with highly questionable methods Willie does indeed want to protect the common people from the sons of bitches who have let the state wallow in poverty and neglect while lining their pockets, but this isn t a simple case of power corrupting either Willie always had a lot of ambitions for his political career, and he tried to play it straight at first because he thought that s how it was done Once he saw the ugliness of reality behind the scenes, Willie seemingly adopts the same tactics without a second thought Power didn t change Willie, he changed to get and keep power, and he seems to relish his opportunities to take revenge on the types who screwed him over early in his career Warren s prose is elegant and lyrical He brings an entire region alive with a cast that includes everyone from the high society to the poorest farmers His descriptions are so good that you can almost feel the humidity and hear the insects at times However, he did tend to go on a bit long for my taste when relaying Jack s personal history and insights I would have likedof Willie laying on the charm or ruthlessly taking down an opponent.They say that watching government work is like watching sausage get made Everyone wants the finished product, but no one wants to see how it s done This story gives weight to this idea It s something that will make any reader think about whether one can get anything done in a democracy without deals being cut or threats being made Even if the goal is accomplished, is the whole thing tainted because of how it came about And how can a person with even the best of intentions work in a system like this without becoming corrupted King of Pain Storytelling and copulation are the two chief forms of amusement in the South They re inexpensive and easy to procure. Robert Penn WarrenRobert Penn Warren had been teaching at LSU for about a year prior to the 1935 assassination of U.S Sen Huey P Long La , nicknamed Kingfish, the populist and crooked 42 yr old senator and former Louisiana governor, on whom his novel is loosely based The title comes from Long s motto, Every Man a King, and a Humpty Dumpty verse.The story follows the political rise and fall of the fictional Willie Stark, who came from modest roots as a small town lawyer and made it into office as a populist before the Depression, to be elected twice as governor of a Southern state Warren left references to location intentionally vague, even throwing in red herrings about coming in from the beach at a close by vacation home Louisiana has lakes, but no beaches it s oceanfront the wetlands leading into the Gulf of Mexico.Jack Burden, the novel s narrator, was a former newspaper columnist and history student before becoming Governor Stark s right hand man He is exceedingly dispassionate as a bystander and participant in the ongoing tragedy, and remains so despite watching the tragedy unfold and suffering two epic betrayals Maybe Penn Warren was going for the shock or sense of bewilderment a reader may feel about the narrator seemingly not being affected by occurrences that would likely devastate any normal person This is not simply a political novel as I thought I was surprised to learn that Warren said he didn t intend it to be one The book is muchabout all actions having consequences, intended or not accepting responsibility for one s actions issues of identity, such as how a boy can be affected even as a man in his 30s upon learning the true identity of his father and, maybe most substantially, the variety and grades of betrayal and the impact of each on the betrayed and the betrayer As I think about it, I m certain All the King s Men covers all 7 deadly sins, particularly the Big Five Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy and Wrath.A quote from the novel I found most poignant as I was reading it, but not quite as much so today the air so still it aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how things once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened I must admit I tuned out a couple of times when the author narrator trailed off into 2 to 3 page abstruse ramblings on the meaning of life in relation to space and time I don t like lectures.All in all, I enjoyed the book immensely for its political nature, its place and time and its exploration of these various themes. Compelling, overstuffed, overplotted, sexist, labyrinthine, poetic, atmospheric To me this book s status as The Great American Political Novel seems like a terrific bitter joke, because the author s vision of politics is comprised entirely of blackmail, physical intimidation, pork barreling, rabble rousing, nepotism, bribery, rigged elections, and hilariously contrived family values photo shoots I love the scene where a photographer and two aides attempt to wrestle a comatose, foul smelling dog into position for a shot of the dog leaping up to greet its beloved master, the Governor I would place this novel in the Philosophical Potboiler genre together with East of Eden and Sophie s Choice There are lengthy meditations on the Human Condition, the nature of History, the problem of Free Will, the Original Sin of slavery as a hereditary taint corrupting the southern upper class, etc woven among scenes featuring such archetypes as the Angelic Woman Anne Stanton , the Demonic Woman Sadie Burke, and Cass Mastern s mistress , the Saintly Aesthete and Crypto Homosexual Adam Stanton , the Seductive Mother, the Colonel Sanders With a Secret Judge Irwin , and What s Bred in the Bone Coming Out in the Flesh Tom Stark, the embodiment of his father s egoism and brutality In the ranks of minor characters we find the Long Suffering Wife in the Country Mrs Stark , and Flannery O Connor style Mad Missionary Jack s father What an array There are a number of rather heavy handed themes, of which I thought the most interesting was the contrast between Jack the self identified student of history and product of History, and Willie the man without a history no family, no formal education, no tradition, nothing to explain his ambition, charisma, ruthlessness, and power over others There seems to be a trade off between History and Act Jack is Burdened by the past at every level his parents broken marriage, his half mad father, his unfinished dissertation, the end of the plantation class s reign in Southern politics, the guilt of slavery He lives in a fog of depression, cynicism, sophistication, and rationalization He is fascinated by Willie at their first meeting because Willie is his opposite an earnest rube who seems unaware of his own dorkiness and believes the political game could and should be played fair But Willie isn t just a naif He s also a kind of monster Even at that early stage there s a monstrous ego and ambition germinating inside him ambition not for political goals but for personal power and domination Where does his ambition come from What sets Willie apart from any other impoverished child of dirt farmers in any other wretched little town like Mason City And which side is the true Willie Stark the idealist who fights on behalf of poor farmers and families, the builder of new roads and schools and hospitals, or the bully who fights for the sadistic joy of humiliating and dominating others These mysteries haunt the novel, and Penn Warren never offers a solution Willie remains an enigma from start to finish In fact I felt that Penn Warren wrote himself into a corner he COULDN T solve the enigma of Willie Stark s origins and essential nature, so he shifted focus to thesolvable mysteries in Jack Burden s past.I don t think the Jack Burden plot has aged particularly well It has the kind of heavy handed Freudianism you see in 1950s movies the seductive mother, the discovery of the True Father the taboo of virginity the sorting of women into angels and whores, spirits and bodies Almost every character has at least one light or dark double Willie Jack, Willie Adam, Jack Adam, Sadie Ann, Burden Irwin, Lois Ann, etc , which is very schematic The happy ending is only achieved by the death disappearance of everyone but Jack and Ann they don t so much overcome or escape the Burden of history as have history conveniently relax its grip on them. Meaning to do good, Willie Stark rises from self educated lawyer to political bigwig and eventually governor Along the way he loses his moral compass and develops a taste for power, resorting to bullying, bribery, blackmail whatever it takes to get what he wants.Willie does manage to help some of his constituents, taxing the wealthy to provide schools and hospitals for the poor But he also betrays his wife raises a selfish, self absorbed son corrupts good people and eventually reaps the consequences of his actions.Willie s story is told by Jack Burden, a journalist who signs on to be Willie s right hand man Thinking of himself as essentially a good guy Jack believes he s only doing his job when he betrays some of his closest friends at Willie s behest.I gave the book 4 stars rather than 5 because the philosophical rantings of some characters was tedious and incomprehensible to me Overall, this is a superbly written book with fascinating characters and the trajectory of a Greek tragedy Though published in the 1940s the book seems just as relevant today in it s depiction of political machinations Highly recommended.You can follow my reviews at