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The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan (2004)

by Ben Macintyre

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316283,372 (3.92)3
The true story of a brazen American adventurer who briefly proclaimed himself Prince of Ghor and Lord of the Hazarahs in 1838 by planting an American flag on the Hindu Kush chronicles the life of soldier, spy, and naturalist Josiah Harlan.
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Ben Macintyre's biography of Josiah Marshall, Pennsylvania Quaker turned Afghan adventurer, is an interesting if somewhat uncritical treatment, relying as it does mostly on Marshall's own (and thus presumably biased) accounts of his adventures. Marshall's exploits certainly are worthy of attention, but a bit more perspective on them would have been welcome. A few other small errors marred the book for me too (George Washington did not sign the Declaration of Independence!), but on the whole it's a perfectly acceptable popular history (and the last couple chapters on Marshall's post-Afghanistan life are very well done). ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Jan 2, 2015 |
A piece of forgotten history made incredibly relevant by the times. But the author wisely avoids the temptation to draw too much from it. Instead, he simply presents the story of a man who throws his Quaker upbringing to the winds to seek fame and fortune in an unknown part of the world. A good retelling of an interesting story. ( )
  teaperson | Mar 13, 2007 |
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The saga of the First Afghan War, one of the greatest disasters ever met by the British army, has been told many times before, and I had vowed to throw any book that told it again away in the bin. But Ben Macintyre has found a wholly original angle on it by turning the spotlight on a mysterious American, Josiah Harlan, whose story briefly crosses other accounts of this period. In doing so, he has produced a riveting book and a valuable contribution to Great Game literature.
 
Josiah Harlan was a mountain man. That description of an early 19th-century American usually implies some buckskinned fur-seeker loping west to the Rockies just ahead of the covered wagons, but Harlan turned in the opposite direction coming out of the family gate in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1820. His noddle was filled with manifest destiny. Not fantasies about crossing the wide Missouri and the plains, however, but the exploits of Alexander the Great: he sailed east out of Philadelphia.
 
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Josiah Harlan's hunt for a crown began with a letter. A grubby, much-handled, unhappy letter, it followed the young American from Philadelphia to Canton, China, and finally to India. The year was 1822 ...
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The true story of a brazen American adventurer who briefly proclaimed himself Prince of Ghor and Lord of the Hazarahs in 1838 by planting an American flag on the Hindu Kush chronicles the life of soldier, spy, and naturalist Josiah Harlan.

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