Kipling is considered a British author; however, he was born in Bombay, India in 1865. He was educated in England and then returned to India as a young man to live and work. An extremely prolific writer, Kipling produced stories and poetry about India, the British army, and various other things he saw and heard while traveling all over the world. His training as a newspaperman enabled him to observe and clearly write about his observations, portraying characters, terrain, and animals alike simply but evocatively. However, he was also a satirist with a keen sense of irony. Near the end of his life, Kipling used his writing to influence politics, both by writing war propaganda and by publishing articles critical of various government decisions.
Rudyard Kipling published The Man Who Would Be King in 1888. It was published by A.H. Wheeler and Company of Allahabad, in the province of Uttar Prajesh, India. It was part of the fifth volume of a collection called the India Railway Library and therefore intended for an Indian audience, not a European one. At the time, Kipling was living in Allahabad and working for a newspaper, occasionally publishing stories or poetry on the side. He subsequently left India in 1889, traveled extensively, and met with other authors, including the celebrated Mark Twain. Kipling lived in the United States from 1892 to 1896, at which point he and his family moved back to England.
In Kipling's India, the British Empire and the East India Company had been present for a long time. The main language of business and commerce was English, but there were relatively few English people acting as administrators. Many English families had lived in India for years or even decades, although they did not integrate with the local people. Thanks in part to British technology and investment, India was spanned by a network of railways and telegraph lines. Modern conveniences such as electric lighting were well known, although they tended to be concentrated in urban areas.
In Great Britain, Queen Victoria had been ruling for fifty years and had just celebrated her Jubilee. There was a growing interest in horror literature, and public imagination had been excited by the Whitechapel murders, said to have been committed by the serial killer "Jack the Ripper". Kipling's ability to create a unique narrative voice for characters such as Peachey, and his ability to portray such horrific things as a military execution or a crocodile attack, fascinated an audience that was more than ready to absorb stories from another world.
At the time The Man Who Would Be King was written and published, England and several other European nations were still trying to expand and keep their far-flung colonies. India was by far the most lucrative for England, producing vast amounts of cotton, spices, sugar, and tobacco that were sold at a profit both in England and elsewhere. The nation now known as India was governed as a set of separate regions, each one of which had a local ruler. Not all of the rulers were competent or effective, and not all the regions were equally developed economically. However there was a great deal of interest in India from other parts of the English-speaking world, and the development of modern transportation infrastructure made it possible to export more than just raw materials. The board game "Snakes and Ladders", which originated in India, was introduced to England in the same year The Man Who Would Be King was published. So newspapers and publishers in India were not simply puppet offices controlled by British interests, but were legitimate vehicles for promulgation of news and culture.
The Man Who Would Be King was reprinted several times and has been made into a major motion picture.