The Riveting Account of the American Who Inspired Kipling's Classic Tale and the 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Using a trove of newly discovered documents and Harlan's own unpublished journals, Ben Macintyre's The Man Who Would Be King tells the astonishing true story of the man who would be the first and last American king.
While many know Sean Connery as "The Man Who Would Be King," few know 19th-century maverick Josiah Harlan, whose adventures probably inspired John Huston's version of Kipling's tale. But the research of British journalist Macintyre (The Englishman's Daughter) gives readers both Harlan's story and a thought-provoking perspective on the history of superpower intervention in Afghanistan. Born to a Pennsylvania Quaker family in 1799, the self-educated Harlan studied Greek and Roman history before becoming a Freemason and shipping out to Calcutta at age 21. Jilted by his fianc e, Harlan decided to seek his fortune on the Asian subcontinent. Calling himself a doctor, he briefly served as a military surgeon with the British army in the Burma War, before tales of Afghanistan fired his imagination. Disguised as a Muslim holy man, Harlan wheeled and dealed his way to Kabul, buying up mercenaries and bribing tribal leaders like a seasoned Afghan warlord. In 1838, Harlan was crowned king of the fierce Hazara people, although the British overthrow of the sitting Afghan ruler soon forced his departure. While mapping Harlan's adventures, Macintyre entertains readers with odd episodes (e.g., Harlan visiting an Afghan sauna fueled by burning night soil) and myriad ironies (e.g., Freemason Harlan trading secrets with an old Rosicrucian sorcerer in an Afghan cave). Harlan's story alone is fascinating, but its resonance with modern-day struggles Harlan urging the British to try "fiscal diplomacy" (i.e., gold) instead of "invading and subjugating an unoffending people" makes it compelling. Maps not seen by PW.