This book is stunning. I went so far as to write “masterpiece” on the last page after I finished it. It shocked me. There were two actual spots in the book where the story left me in awe. I simply did not see it coming. I can usually spot the direction a novel takes and I was taken by surprise not once but twice in All the King’s Men. The way the stories wove together was masterful.
Despite being written in 1946, it has echoes of our current political climate. The book follows Willie Talos, a politician who starts out with grand visions of studying “the heart of the people.” He quickly gets disillusioned and attempts to make good out of the bad. The bad consists of the situations he must work in and the manipulation of people he must do to get them to do what he wants, which he deems the good.
It’s an uncomfortable book. It’s uncomfortable because of that discussion about good coming out of bad. Bad coming out of good. It’s uncomfortable because Willie the politician’s worst sins are not those of bad speeches, poor legislative ideas, or ineptitude. No, his worst sins are calibrated and are those against those closest to him. This is micro, not macro. This is devastation at the family, friend, and colleague level.
But that’s where it always starts, isn’t it? It’s all connected. If Willie the politician’s lust for power devastates those closest to him, what do you think it’s going to do to the state he governs?
I can’t wait to read this book again some day.