For its 75th anniversary, the editors at Parade Magazine asked author and Nashville bookstore owner Ann Patchett to compile a list of the 75 best books from the past 75 years. One of the books she recommended from the 1940s-era was Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. Published in 1946, ATKM chronicles demagogue Willie Stark’s election and subsequent governorship in the deep south; Warren always minimized comparisons to Louisiana’s own Huey Long, but the similarities are strong. The story is told through Jack Burden, a political reporter who becomes Governor Stark’s assistant. Burden, a man of ethical and moral scruples, must wrestle in the mire of politics throughout the novel. Response from the public and critics was positive. George Mayberry, in the New Republic, compared the book to such classics as Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby. He ended his review with high praise: “All together it is the finest American novel in more years than one would like to have to remember.” Warren received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for ATKM. Hollywood adapted the book into film in 1949 and 2006. The 1949 version won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The novel is rated the 36th greatest novel of the 20th century by Modern Library and Time magazine chose it as one of the best 100 novels since 1923.
The Robert Penn Warren Library housed in the WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections includes Warren’s own personal copies of ATKM as well as numerous editions, printings, and foreign language editions collected by Warren’s bibliographer Dr. James A. “Bo” Grimshaw, Jr. The bibliographer’s collection contains 94 copies of ATKM, including copies of the first edition and many printings of paperbacks that have been used by high school and college students in literature classes for decades. Bibliographers of literary figures are often engrossed with locating every edition and printing of an author’s works.
Ann Patchett’s novels include Bel Canto, The Magician’s Assistant and Commonwealth (due out in September). She is the co-owner of Parnasus Books in Nashville with Karen Hayes.