Long indeed. And long indeed.
So Long. So long. Too long. Pro Long.
I’m not making double entendres here, this book about Huey Long is very very long.
I mean yeah, what did I expect for 876 pages? A fair question.
Well, I think that while it’s quite the read, and I understand why it gets the label of greatness it does, it’s too long (also too Long but we’ll talk about that more) for its own good.
I’ve dealt with long books before. This is someone who’s read and enjoyed Robert Caro’s legendary tome The Power Broker.
But I just think this book, while fascinating and full of hilarious anecdotes and great stories about how power is utilized in American politics, both at a state and federal level, just really could have been sanded down.
There’s a lot of myth surrounding legendary Louisiana Governor/Senator/Strongman Huey Long. T Harry Williams cuts through it to find that the truth is often stranger than fiction. In a region, especially a state, known for its characters, Long stood out. A larger-than-life Governor who rode a wave of class resentment to the heights of power rarely seen among non-Presidential figures.
The problem is (or maybe it’s not a problem depending on how you feel about it), Williams is determined to document in minute detail every single backroom deal. Every single political maneuver. Every single intrigue. Every. Single. One.
What made Caro’s book so great, and what makes Chernow’s books so interesting, is their respective abilities to create narrative. Caro is fascinated with the acquisition and use of power. Chernow is moved by how historical circumstances force unlikely men into roles that echo through generations. They are biographies, especially Chernow’s, but there’s a narrative thrust.
There’s no such thrust here. Williams just wants to document stuff, and editorialize why Long’s reputation isn’t often as bad as it seems. He documents the abuses but also defends some of Long’s maneuvers. He shows how Long put himself in the forefront of the American fascist movement but Williams doesn’t desire to cast Long as a fascist. Instead, he views Long as a complicated figure, not a tragic one, but one who defied the odds for what he thought was right (sometimes that was self-glorification, other times, it was Long’s genuine interest in helping the lower class). Long is neither a hero or villain, Long is Louisiana personified.
That’s all well and good. It just doesn’t need 867 pages chock full of political intrigue to paint that picture.
It’s a good book, as evident by my 4-star rating. It should be read by any political junkie. But in my estimation, it falls short of greatness. It can’t get out of its way to build narrative momentum and your tolerance for learning about the nuances of Louisiana state politics needs to be sky high.