Contemporary response to the novel was largely positive.
Writing in the New Republic, George Mayberry wrote that the novel was "in the tradition of many classics", comparing the novel favorably with Moby-Dick, The Sun Also Rises, and The Great Gatsby. "The single quality that encompasses these varied books", he wrote, "is the use of the full resources of the American language to record with imagination and intelligence a significant aspect of our life." He ended the review saying, "All together it is the finest American novel in more years than one would like to have to remember."
The New York Times Book Review's Orville Prescott praised the book's energy, writing that "[i]t isn't a great novel or a completely finished work of art. It is as bumpy and uneven as a corduroy road, somewhat irresolute and confused in its approach to vital problems and not always convincing. Nevertheless, Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men is magnificently vital reading, a book so charged with dramatic tension it almost crackles with blue sparks, a book so drenched with fierce emotion, narrative pace and poetic imagery that its stature as a 'readin' book', as some of its characters would call it, dwarfs that of most current publications."
Despite the positive reviews, in 1974, All the King's Men was challenged at the Dallas, Texas, Independent School District high school libraries for depicting a "depressing view of life" and "immoral situations".