Considered to be Robert Penn Warren
's greatest piece of fiction
, All the Kings Men was published in 1946 and won the Pulitzer Prize
for literature in that year; it was adapted
into an Academy Award winning film
in 1949, and has also been wrought into a play (as Warren had originally intended) and, strangely enough, an opera
The novel is based upon the real life of politician Huey Long, an energetic lawyer and then corrupt senator in depression-era Louisiana, embodied as a red-necked country boy, Willie Stark, or more simply, " The Boss". The story is narrated from the perspective of the (completely fictional) Jack Burden, a journalist and historian hired by Governor Willie Stark as a dirt-digger, black-mailer, palm-greaser and extortionist. Through the narrator, Warren treats several issues, such as poly-ticks, corruption, action and consequences, religion, fathers and sons, and Southern Culture.
On a personal note, it is one of the most heart-achingly beautiful books I have ever read - and with great apology to the author and Harcourt Brace publishing, here is the opening of Chapter One (~slightly~ edited for content.)
To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we went up it. You look up the highway and it is straight for miles, coming at you, with the black line down the center coming at and at you, black and slick and tarry-shining against the white of the slab, and the heat dazzles up from the white of the slab so that only the black line is clear, coming at you with the whine of the tires, and if you don't quit staring at that line and don't take a few deep breaths and slap yourself hard on the back of the neck you'll hypnotize yourself and you'll come to just at the moment when the right front wheel hooks over into the black dirt shoulder of the slab and you'll try to jerk her back on but you can't because the slab is high like a curb, and maybe you'll try to reach to turn off the ignition just as she starts the dive. But you won't make it, of course. Then a man chopping cotton a mile away, he'll look up and see the little column of black smoke standing up above the vitriolic, arsenical green of the cotton rows, and up against the violent, metallic, throbbing blue of the sky and he'll say, "Lawd God, hit's a-nudder one done done hit!" And then the next man down the next row, he'll say, "Lawd God," and the first one will giggle, and the hoe will lift again and the blade will flash in the sun like a heliograph. Then a few days later the boys from the Highway Department will mark the spot with a little metal square on a metal rod stuck in the black dirt of the shoulder, the metal square painted white and on it in black a skull and crossbones. Later on love vine will climb up it, out of the weeds.