In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Executive Editor Rand Dotson writes about The Earl of Louisiana.
A. J. Liebling, the celebrated New Yorker journalist, came to Louisiana in 1959 like dozens of other writers to cover the strange saga of the state’s governor, Earl K. Long, whose recent confinement to a state mental institution was making national news. Whether he had gone mad or not, Earl Long was sure to make a great story: like his brother Huey, he was a wildly entertaining populist and a master politician who rarely lost an election and was frequently at the center of one controversy or another. Elected three times to the governorship, Earl Long was already a Louisiana legend—“the last of the red hot papas” he dubbed himself—when his wife and political foes tried to curtail his reign by having him locked up in a Texas hospital for the mentally unstable. Their scheme ended in failure after Long arranged a transfer back to a Louisiana facility, fired the head of the state hospital system, and appointed an ally who immediately ordered his release.
At that point, most of the reporters covering this bizarre story departed. Liebling stayed, and over the following year, he wrote a series of dispatches about Long’s final days that chronicled an era of politics and political behavior so divorced from today’s political status quo that it is barely recognizable. Long was not just flamboyant, self-destructive, and outlandish; he was also someone that Liebling and his fans grew to admire as a serious advocate for array of progressive social issues, including black suffrage rights.
A year after Liebling’s stories about Long appeared in the New Yorker, he turned them into a book. Published initially in 1961, The Earl of Louisiana was nearly forgotten by 1970, when LSU Press republished it with a foreword by T. Harry Williams, an LSU historian and the author of the definitive biography of Huey Long. In print ever since, the book has gone on to garner national and international acclaim for both its subject matter and style, which is commonly cited as one of the first and finest examples of the sort of “new journalism” practiced later by writers like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson.
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