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The Man Who Would Be King

Part of The Art of the Novella

Literature’s most famous adventure story, this stirring tale of two happy-go-lucky British ne’re-do-wells trying to carve out their own kingdom in the remote mountains of Afghanistan has also proved over time to be a work of penetrating and lasting political insight—amidst its raucous humor and swashbuckling bravado is a devastatingly astute dissection of imperialism and its heroic pretensions.

Written when he was only twenty-two years old, the tale also features some of Rudyard Kipling’s most crystalline prose, and one of the most beautifully rendered, spectacularly exotic settings he ever used. Best of all, it features two of his most unforgettable characters, the ultra-vivid Cockneys Peachy Carnahan and Daniel Dravot, who impart to the story its ultimate, astonishing twist: it is both a tragedy and a triumph.

RUDYARD KIPLING was born in India to British parents in 1865. After a Dickensian childhood in an English boarding school, he returned to India and became a journalist. In the late 1880s his short fiction began appearing in inexpensive editions for rail travelers, and he soon became famous. In 1892 he married Caroline Balestier, moved briefly to the U.S., then returned to England after their daughter, Josephine, died of pneumonia. In the aftermath, Kipling wrote some of his best-known books and poems, including The Jungle Book, Kim, and Gunga Din, and in 1907 he became the first Englishman, and the youngest person ever, to win the Nobel Prize. After his only son, John, was killed in World War I, Kipling’s writing decreased, until he died in 1936.

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