Summer Reading List — The 3 Best-Ever American Novels about Elections — “The Ninth Wave”, “Last Hurrah”, “All the King’s Men”

Jim Sills Jim Sills 11 Comments

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!  The   Ninth   WaveKings  Men  and  Hurrah

Here are the three best American novels ever written about politics and elections. Each is first and foremost a Work of Art, but they are also entertaining and brilliant, making for good Summer Reading. Here they are:

All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren. Pulitizer Prize winner, and Academy Award for Best Picture when Hollywood did its version.

The Ninth Wave” by Eugene Burdick. Written by a Californian about California politics of the 1940s and 1950s. A masterpiece at many levels, and a best-seller to boot, proving the public can get it.

The Last Hurrah” by Edwin O’Connor. Another Pulitzer Prize winning author, recounting Boston
politics of the 1950s. Made into a fine film with Spencer Tracy as Mayor Frank Skeffington.

Eugene Burdick was a political science professor at UC Berkeley in the 1950s and early 1960s. The title of his breakthrough success, “The Ugly American” went into the language as a cautionary tale about America’s duty to live up to its ideals. Other smash hit novels include “Fail Safe” and “The 480“…. But the Ninth Wave is his greatest work, partly a history of our State from the 1930s-1950s, partly a psychological thriller, but always returning to a race for California governor and how it shapes the participants.

Robert Penn Warren was a lifelong Poet, named “Poet Laureate of the United States” by President Ronald Reagan during Warren’s stay-in-residence at my alma mater, the University of California at San Diego. Robert Penn Warren wrote one Novel, about Huey Long and Louisiana … and he made it count !.. “All the King’s Men” won the Pulitzer Prize for Best American Novel. The film version won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor (Broderick Crawford) and nominations for John Ireland and Mercedes McCambridge
(best supporting players).

Take a chance on these 3 great books this Summer. Many are available at no cost in local public libraries. You won’t be disappointed.

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Comments 11

  1. Hey, we have something we can agree. I loved The Last Harrah and recommend it to everyone.

  2. If you and other readers have not seen the 1958 movie,
    “The Last Hurrah”, you are missing something special.
    It is faithful to the tone and story of the Novel.

    Mayor Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy) is directly
    based on longtime Boston Mayor James Michael
    Curley, a legendary politico. The character portrayed
    by Pat O’Brien is really Martin Lomasney, the
    real-life boss of Boston’s East End and Mayor Curley’s
    most loyal ally for decades.

    The movie begins with a torch light mass parade led by
    Mr. Tracy and Mr. O’Brien, as the Main Title and stars’
    names are superimposed over them.

    Their crowd of supporters roars out this campaign song:

    “Skeffintgon, Skeffington,
    Cast Your vote for Skeffington.

    He’s the Man, with a Plan
    The Plan for You and Me.

    He’s for You, He’s True Blue
    He’s our Favorite Son.

    Hurry up, Hurry Up, Hurry Up
    Vote… for Skeffington ! ”

    Campaign songs… a sadly forgotten part of
    the American election scene. 🙁

  3. Read the book and seeing the movie didn’t disappoint me too. Normally you can’t read a book and see the movie.

  4. John Gorman from The Last Hurrah is one of my favorite characters.

    The interesting part of the book is the description of why the old political machines collapsed… and what led to the new ‘civil service’ machines.

  5. John Gorman was a tall, superlatively erect old man,
    7 years older than Mayor Skeffington; he had come to
    his new country as a boy, he had made politics his life,
    and so conspicuous had been his talents, and so
    assiduous his application, that for nearly fifty years he
    had been a Ward boss of unchallenged authority.

    In all those years this withdrawn, celibate, soft-spoken
    man had never once held public office, and he had
    rarely so much as appeared on a public platform, but
    from a single dusty room in an old waterfront building
    he had ruled his ward firmly, efficiently and with an
    inflexible adherence to the rules of party discipline.

    It was he who found jobs and homes for the recently
    arrived, who supplied funds in time of distress, who
    arranged for hospitalization and the payment of medical
    bills, who gave the son of the family a start in life, and
    the subsequent necessary pushes up the ladder, who
    built the playgrounds for the children of this populous
    district, and who in these days when the aged, the
    helpless and the indigent had come increasingly to
    depend on government benificence, saw to it that the
    baffling complexity of preliminary paper work was
    solved, and that funds were ultimately secured.

    John Gorman had won for his efforts the devotion and
    obedience of most who lived within the ward, and this
    in turn, as it was the largest ward in the city, had given
    him an extraordinary significance.

    Although it was possible for a candidate to be elected
    to municipal office against Gorman’s wishes — it was
    not easy; all aspiring politicians recognized his immense
    power and all, at one time or another, had asked for his
    favor.”

    …………..John Gorman profiled in, “The Last Hurrah”

    John Gorman was modeled on real-life Boston ward boss
    Martin Lomasney, the staunch lieutenant of Massachusetts
    Governor and Boston Mayor, James Michael Curley.

    Lomasney must have smiled from political Nirvana when the
    most beloved Irish-American actor, Pat O’Brien, personified
    him in the 1958 film.

  6. We can see why Duane would totally relate to the Gorman character, except for maybe the celibate and soft-spoken part…

    “…had never once held public office…but from a single dusty room in an old waterfront building he had ruled his ward firmly, efficiently and with an inflexible adherence to the rules of party discipline.”

  7. A young Robert Duvall or Bruce Dern could do justice
    to Duane on the silver screen.

  8. We’re thinking James Caan, not Robert Duvall, especially if the character was gunned down in the toll plaza … or if the Bruce Dern character was doing a silent running. Sorry, Duane. LOL!

  9. I’ve written about half of a Treatment already, with
    the working title….. “All the Duane’s Men.”

    Synopsis: Mild-mannered law student goes to
    the capital of mythical Kalifornia to overthrow a
    corrupt & oppressive government by peaceful
    and democratic means. His mystical focus
    wins a cadre of dedicated adherents.

    The ominous Purple Shirts oppose his plans and
    lure him to a late-night ambush under the ornate
    State dome…. [Scary background music by Devo].

    At the last moment Mrs. Dichiara (Rene Zellweger)
    steps from behind a marble column with a dainty
    chrome-plated .22 caliber pea-shooter and disables
    the Purple Shirts’ staple guns …(reminiscent of Grace
    Kelly saving Gary Cooper at the end of ‘High Noon’).

    “That’s some mighty fancy shooting, M’am”, says an
    admiring State Police Chief….[Tom Selleck]….as he
    handcuffs the villains and leads them away.

    The Dichiaras leave the Capital hand-in-hand and
    Duane quietly asks, “Could we get past LAX in less
    than 5 hours from right now?”

    [“I’m a Highway Star” by Deep Purple plays over the
    closing credits].

  10. What I like about Gorman is he symbolizes a time when politics was more about personal relationships, and where services for people who need them were handled internally within the community, by people in the community, rather than by faceless civil servants. I’m not a romantic, and I understand government was not perfect under ‘boss rule’, but I think it was more human, and there was more participation by the public as a whole. The do-gooders complain about voter turnout – well that question is answered in Plunkett’s book… if you take the rewards away from participation the young people won’t work, the parades will end, and government will become soulless. The government is soulless to me now, and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and there is very little joy or influence for the numbers of people who are ruled, maybe some joy and certainly much influence for a very few people who rule. And that wasn’t how it was supposed be. It was supposed to be grand, for the whole community, a pageant to the Republic.

  11. Duane nails it. John Gorman was all about Loyalty.

    Gorman won the loyalty of people in his ward with
    personal service, and Gorman was unfailingly Loyal
    to Mayor Frank Skeffington. Loyalty is so prized in
    politics to this day, precisely because of its scarcity.

    Plunkitt of Tammany Hall” includes the memoirs
    of New York state senator George Washington
    Plunkitt, a turn of the 20th century clubhouse leader
    in New York City. Reporter Willian Riordan compiled
    an “Oral History” of Plunkitt under the title, “A series of
    Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics.” It remains
    a standard work, honored by academics and politicos
    alike.

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