The Life and Times of Huey P. Long
Email this review


 A masterly biography of the redneck messiah who, before he was assassinated in 1935 at age 42, played a leading role on the US political stage. Setting Long and his Louisiana regime in the post- Reconstruction context of America's Deep South, Hair (History/Georgia College) provides an unsparing, albeit scrupulously documented, account of a backwoods pol whose will to power almost defies belief. The author's interpretive analysis of the self-styled Kingfish's rise and violent end represents a persuasive challenge to the standard 1969 reference (Huey Long) by T. Harry Williams, who credited the charismatic Long with a measure of benign intent. By contrast, the author portrays the politician as a calculating control freak, essentially contemptuous of his fellow man, for whom politics was a blood sport. A son of landed yeomanry, Long spent his young manhood as a traveling salesman for patent medicines and other dubious products. Having crammed his way past the bar exam, the high-school dropout practiced law for a while, soon winning a seat on Louisiana's Public Service Commission. The governorship followed, allowing Long to begin turning Louisiana into a personal fiefdom. Playing the patronage game, he rewarded friends and punished enemies, and promoted laws that made Louisiana a virtual police state. Even after surviving impeachment proceedings and moving on to the US Senate in 1932, Long retained his regional as well as local influence. A spellbinding orator, he made no secret of his presidential ambitions. Having cobbled together a populist coalition whose adherents encompassed the radical, racist likes of Gerald L.K. Smith and Fr. Charles E. Coughlin, he had a third-party candidate's plausible chance at the White House. But the dream (or nightmare) died in a hail of gunfire--and Hair leaves little doubt that the country was the better for the untimely demise of a rabble-rousing demagogue. A consistently engrossing portrait of a despot who sowed discontent among the electorate's disaffected and reaped the whirlwind just as he was hitting his stride. (Illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-8071-1700-5
Page count: 430pp
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991