This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
This Pulitzer Prize winner, considered by many to be the classic book on American politics, was fascinating. In it, the narrator Jack Burden relays the rise and fall of farm-boy-turned-politician Willie Stark in the political world of the American South in the 1930s. Stark is by all means a deserving main character, loved by the common people in part because of his own common upbringing and in part because of his initial authenticity, but as a successful politician he quickly learns to use even those qualities to his advantage, manipulating the voters in the same way that used to appall him. But perhaps an even more compelling character is the narrator himself, who the reader gets to know pretty well throughout the novel. Burden is a historical researcher by training but a “sidekick” of sorts on Stark’s team, tasked with digging up dirt on Stark’s enemies to potentially use as blackmail bait. Burden generally tries to stay out of the thick of things and just do his job quietly and well, but things get interesting when one of his assignments ends up getting personal.
This book drew me in in the same way that The Great Gatsby did, narrated as it is by someone who is close to but not usually deeply enmeshed in all the action, and (as I may have mentioned before) a book that can get (and keep) me interested in a topic with which I’m unfamiliar and by which I’m usually not inspired gets major points with me. It’s a testament, then, that I made it through all 650ish pages in less than a week.
When it comes to being Louisiana’s pick on the 50Nifty list, as far as I can remember, the actual name of the state in which all the action takes place is never explicitly mentioned, but the character of Willie Stark is often assumed to be based on real-life Louisiana politician Huey “Kingfish” Long. There are also geographical details that imply Louisiana, and overall (even if Louisiana is not explicitly mentioned*) I think it’s a great pick for the 50Nifty list.
*It is a very real possibility that I just overlooked any mention of the exact state in the novel, so don’t take my word on it.