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Thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining and informative account of Kipling’s years in America, from about 1889-1899.  Meticulously researched and written in a lively and accessible way, this is biography at its best. Essential reading for anyone interested in Kipling.
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The author's painstaking research and attention to detail is obvious in the writing of this book.  There were many facts that I only discovered after reading this!
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Christopher Benfey has written a masterful biography of Rudyard Kipling's years in the United States. It is a little-remembered period from the life of the youngest ever Nobel Prize winner for literature.

"At this remove, it is difficult to recover the sheer depth of reverence once accorded Kipling. "He's more of a Shakespeare than anyone yet in this generation of ours," wrote the great American psychologist William James."

He was friends with Mark Twain. One of Kipling's books, The Jungle Book, was in Sigmund Freud's top picks for important books in his life. He has inspired generations of authors and readers with his Just So Stories and poetry.

My husband used to quote some of his poetry to me from memory when we were first dating. Rudyard Kipling is a giant of literature.

Yet he's also a complex historical figure. "With the rise of postcolonial theory — a view of literature that assesses the human cost of colonial arrangements —Kipling is often treated with unease or hostility in university literature departments, as the jingoist Bard of Empire, a man on the wrong side of history."

And there's reasons for this distrust. Kipling penned "The White Man's Burden", asking the United States to take up Great Britain's colonial interests.

So when Benfey examines the life of Kipling, it's not all hero worship. He is aware of and acknowledges Kipling's failings, but doesn't take it out of the context of Kipling's life and times. 

If brings to light previously unknown portions of Kipling's life and legacy. Some new poetry and personal papers have recently been discovered that Benfey uses to paint a more complete picture of Kipling than perhaps ever before.

Readers learn of the friendships Kipling had with some of the political giants in the United States. We also get to peek into Kipling's private life and share some of the intense sorrows he experienced in his own childhood and with his children.

There's an examination of how opium use affected Kipling's writings. We travel with Kipling to Japan on his honeymoon. And we learn about the great writer's obsession with, of all things, beavers.

This most interesting part of all of it is, though he lived in the Gilded Age, how similar Kipling's times were to today.

"It was an era, like our own, of vast disparities between rich and poor, of corruption on an appalling scale, of large-scale immigration and rampant racism, of disruptive new technologies and new media, of mushrooming factories and abandoned farms, of vanishing wildlife and the depredation of public lands."

So, despite his astonishing literary genius, Kipling was just a man. He had his flaws and his dark side. And after his death, he left behind a treasury of written works that carry his legacy into the unknowable future. A future that, if we try, perhaps we can make more than one man's limited imagination could contain.

Recommended for readers who enjoy forgotten history in all its imperfections and glory. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free digital advance reader's copy of this book. The brief quotations I cited in this review may change or even be omitted in the final version.
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I’m not entirely surprised to be the first person reviewing this book. The subject, after all, is fairly esoteric. Kipling is nowhere near as famous of an author as he should be, considering how popular and beloved his stories were and are. Just recently there’s been another (admittedly inferior) Jungle Book remake on Netflix. If, Kipling’s famous poem and the title of this book, is quite possibly the most widely quoted one at graduations, etc. At one time and for many years Kipling was the best selling most popular author there was, even becoming the youngest man to win Nobel Prize for literature and the first in English language. And yet…sadly, the man’s politically incorrect views and his outspokenness of them seem to have marred his reputation. So that Kipling is often thought of as an unpopular imperialist with a jingoistic streak instead of just someone whose books you might have had the pleasure to be brought up on. Sad indeed, this sign of times…the insistence of viewing people through the horridly inflexible self righteous prism of modern age instead of considering them as representatives of their times, social status, etc. At any rate, Kipling’s life isn’t very well known and this book aims to change that and triumphantly succeeds. The author presents a measured unbiased portrait of a man, whose life was fascinating and at times fraught with tragedy, whose views were strong and often unfashionable and whose talent was undeniable and prodigious. It has been said that Kipling was a modern Shakespeare of his time, in a way he added words and idioms to the English language. He hung out with luminaries of his day, traveled wildly, impressively so considering the times and led a storied and interesting life. Certainly one worth reading about. Though the author chooses to concentrate on Kipling’s American years, the book does a pretty good job of covering Kipling’s entire life, only skimping on the later years. His American years, really a decade in the late 1800s very significant because he was so happy and productive here, finding a place of his own for his new family and him in Brattleboro, Vermont. Politics eventually made him leave and personal tragedy saw to it that he never returned, but for a while he was very happy there, setting out a goal for himself to become a proper American author, to write the quintessential great American novel. Which, of course, he did. Or maybe even one upping that, writing great novels of international resonance. Some to delight children of all ages across the globe, some, oddly enough, to be used as spy manuals in military conflicts. The entire final chapter is devoted to the latter, which is sad in a way, because it isn’t the association someone who grew up on Jungle Book and Just So Tales might wish to have. Nevertheless, it’s certainly fascinating and definitely sobering to see the far reaching effects of literature on the world, intended or not. But then again, it works very well within the context of the book, because it doesn’t just describe one literary life, it talks about a variety of personal and professional connections, thus giving the readers a terrific view of a Gilded Age of America, where things that glittered weren’t always gold and times were as challenging and turbulent (racism, nationalism, immigration, to mention just a few) as they are today in a way, speaking to the cyclical nature of the world and people’s essential inability to learn from the past. So you won’t just learn of one man’s life, you’ll learn of many, you’ll learn about the life of a country on a brink of a new era. And for such a relatively slender volume, this book offers tons of information and does so in a thoroughly engaging, edifying, entertaining way. It’s all you can ask for from nonfiction. There are even photos. This was a fairly random selection for me and somewhat outside of my normal reading fare (I normally don’t do biographies), but now I’m very glad to have found and read this book. The author did a terrific job of enlightening the world on its subject, Kipling’s life was just as interesting as his books in a way, though nowhere near as exciting and no talking quadrupeds either. I learned a lot about Kipling and his times from this book and enjoyed it thoroughly. I can only hope my glowing review might help this book finds its audience. It certainly deserves one. Read this book. Read Kipling too. You (at least in spirit and at least in theory) can never be too old for an armchair adventure. Thanks Netgalley.
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