The Man Who Would Be King

I just finished the book, The Man Who Would Be King; The First American in Afghanistan by Ben Macintyre.  I first saw the book for sale over at the ISAF compound, which is the NATO camp where all the political strap-hangers spend their time here in Kabul.  Most everything for sale requires Euros.  So, I always have 40 or 60 Euro on me whenever I traipse over there.  Anyway, they wanted something like 30 Euros for the book.  No way.  I ordered it on Amazon, bought it used, and spent a total of about $12 for it.

In order to gain a real appreciation for the book, one should have seen the classic movie titled the same as the book (without the subtitle).  It stars Sean Connery and Michael Cain (when they were young men) and they portray characters from the  short story by Rudyard Kipling about two British Army deserters in India who pass through the Khyber Pass and on to Kafiristan  to claim riches and thrones.  They both are rogues and Freemasons.  I liked their characters immediately.  As I find out now, Kafiristan is a real place.  It is a region of Afghanistan where wild tribesmen reside, far from the reaches of the Kabul government.  Kafir means "infidel," and this is the region where Islam couldn't successfully convert the populace.

Kipling based his short story on a real character, a Josiah Harlan, an American free spirit who spent 10 years in Afghanistan in the early 1800s.  Like the characters depicted in the movie, Harlan was a Freemason (like Kipling) and spent earlier years in India and served as a surgeon in the East India Company's Army.  Harlan changed alliances with the various nabobs and maharajahs during his time over here.  But in the years he spent here, he acted as a doctor, political appointee, governor of various regions in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan, military leader and adviser,  and explored the remote regions beyond the well traveled Silk Road where the British thought there was no passageway.

The book is very well researched and written.  Besides providing an interesting tale of an early American adventurer, it portrays a period of Afghan history that is fascinating and that still has import during these days of Taliban insurgencies and American occupation.