All the King’s Men Is a Terrible Novel

Re-evaluating Robert Penn Warren’s timeless “classic.’

A new film version of Robert Penn Warren’s novel All the King’s Men opens today, starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet (click here to read Dana Steven’s review). Whatever its reception, no praise could possibly top that piled upon the book—an English-class staple and recognized Great American Novel. But is it actually any good?

In 2002, Christopher Caldwell and Erik Tarloff revisited the text in a Slate dialogue. Caldwell excoriated it, calling it a “lazy, long-winded piece of pseudo-intellectual palaver.” Tarloff offered a “yes, but” defense, conceding its many flaws but maintaining that:

[All the King’s Men]is a big, sloppy, flawed, powerful book. Its ambitions are huge, and it doesn’t always fulfill them. But it manages to do what good books do: It sucks you into its world and keeps you there.

Click here to read Christopher Caldwell and Erik Tarloff’s discussion of Robert Penn Warren’s All the Kings Men.