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The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan Paperback – May 4, 2005
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The Man Who Would Be King is the riveting story that inspired Kipling's classic tale and a John Huston movie
In the year 1838, a young adventurer, surrounded by his native troops and mounted on an elephant, raised the American flag on the summit of the Hindu Kush in the mountainous wilds of Afghanistan. He declared himself Prince of Ghor, Lord of the Hazarahs, spiritual and military heir to Alexander the Great.
The true story of Josiah Harlan, a Pennsylvania Quaker and the first American ever to enter Afghanistan, has never been told before, yet the life and writings of this extraordinary man echo down the centuries, as America finds itself embroiled once more in the land he first explored and described 180 years ago.
Soldier, spy, doctor, naturalist, traveler, and writer, Josiah Harlan wanted to be a king, with all the imperialist hubris of his times. In an extraordinary twenty-year journey around Central Asia, he was variously employed as surgeon to the Maharaja of Punjab, revolutionary agent for the exiled Afghan king, and then commander in chief of the Afghan armies. In 1838, he set off in the footsteps of Alexander the Great across the Hindu Kush and forged his own kingdom, only to be ejected from Afghanistan a few months later by the invading British.
Using a trove of newly discovered documents and Harlan's own unpublished journals, Ben Macintyre's The Man Who Would Be King tells the astonishing true story of the man who would be the first and last American king.
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
“One of the most remarkable discoveries in the history of biography . . . It is a far more adventurous tale than the one invented by Kipling: its twists and tensions and dangerous escapades make it more like a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson or John Buchan or Rider Haggard . . . It's a 'ripping yarn' as we used to say, and Macintyre is an excellent narrator, describing with skill a spirited and fast-moving life.” ―David Gilmour, The New York Review of Books
“Macintyre unearths a trove of unseen documents...and imparts a tactile understanding of Afghanistan's cultural impulses. B+.” ―Raymond Fiore, Entertainment Weekly
“Macintyre has been able to piece together this never-before-told story by a great archival find...[He] also tells with unflagging élan...There is so much tragedy, cruelty, and general badness afoot in this book that I wonder how to explain how really funny it is. But it is.” ―Katherine A. Powers, The Boston Globe
“Macintyre's riveting, scrupulously researched book [on Josiah Harlan] should place this remarkable man where he rightfully belongs.” ―Alexander Frater, The New York Times Book Review
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First edition (May 4, 2005)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0374529574
- ISBN-13 : 978-0374529574
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.84 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,086,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Why didn't I give them more stars? I just didn't get the feeling of greatness! But you be the judge. These stories are certainly worth your time.
The characters the writer encounters were likely somewhat common after finishing military duty in a far-off land and being at somewhat loose ends once mustered out. Going a bit "native" was probably not uncommon for those stationed throughout the reaches of the British Empire at its height (and decline). Ideas by those staying behind which appear hare-brained were possibly fairly familiar given the tenuous situation some of the ex-pats may have found themselves in. Heck, it might have even worked if they'd stuck to the original plan! It gives you a lot to think about as far as power vs. ego is concerned.
Read the story first if you haven't already seen the movie. You'll appreciate the writing's compactness and choice of style and flow that way. However, my feeling is that although this is an excellent read and definitely a classic, many readers may find watching the movie (which is absolutely in my top ten favorites of all time) helpful in understanding some of the more subtle aspects of the story. For example, the fairly obscure references to the Masons' rituals (perhaps by necessity at the time of writing) - which are in effect the central underlying theme in regard to the various characters' undertakings - are made much clearer in the film.
When Kindle became available on the PC, it struck me to look up TMWWBK on Amazon books. I figured, if there was a book version, I'd enjoy the piece much better than if I got hold of a DVD. Connery and Caine are two gorgeous men with a lovely accent, but I have to admit that their looks and manner of speaking sometimes gets in the way when I'm trying to understand a movie.
I was pleased to find out that there is a book version, but pretty much surprised to find out that it was written by Rudyard Kipling. I had always thought of him in terms of jungle books for kids and Gunga Din. Anyway, cheapskate that I am, learning that the author is Rudyard Kipling presented me with an added pleasure. I knew right away that there would be a free version on Kindle!
Enough of the backgrounder and on to my review proper: the book is an eye opener. It's a window into the mind of the colonizer; not the "noble" mind of the British statesman, but the more down-to-earth view of the British mercenary. It offers a simplistic analysis of what it takes to make subjects out of a bunch of natives and points out the important role of religion in the work of colonizing. It all seems so crass and mercenary, but in the end, the bumbling pair find out what true and lasting leadership requires.
This is great reading, especially for an election year like 2012. People should read this book before heading out to the polling places. And really, for Americans who take their right to vote for granted, TMWWBK will open your eyes to your responsibility to elect a true leader who will serve the people and lead them towards a shared vision of a better America for all. Enough of the squabbling and let's all get to work behind one man with a vision and the determination to serve no matter what the personal consequences.
And BTW, someone finally gifted me with my very own Kindle, the one with ads. It's a totally different experience from reading on your PC or even your iPad. It's so gentle on the eyes that I've read more books in the last few months than I have in the last five years. Not just the free classics, Amazon will be happy to note. Those ads of yours are so darn effective!
Top reviews from other countries
Two men against the world, against nature.
Novices in the Craft, but using for their most advantageous benefit.
Became Kings and God's then torn down, vilified and destroyed.
Crackerjack of a book!
I had never read any Kipling before-so this was ideal-short, easy read. I found the style a bit dated and not as graphic or entertaining as the film-but for free it's worth a try.